For my friends and me, our Sophomore year looked like it was going be a smooth year for us. We weren’t the lowest men on the totem pole anymore. We were men… men among freshmen boys. More importantly, we were men among freshmen girls.
Sometimes in high school in the little town of Oak Harbor, Ohio there were days when you felt like there was nothing much worth getting out of bed for. But then, you remembered you were going to see…her. Your day was going to have all these moments that were full of possibility. You just knew that would see her in the hall. You hoped that you would catch a glimpse of her as she walked into the cafeteria. Maybe as the both of you switched classes between science and math class, there would be a possibility of you catching her eye and give her a little smile. Not too big….just enough to send the message that you approved. All you could do was hope that she didn’t catch you starring.
Ahhh… fifteen… You’re too young to vote and too old not to be in love. Or at least in what you thought was love. You live in a house someone else owns. Your dreams are already somewhere else. You are already planning your escape from the tiny confines of that small Ohio town. You face the future armed with nothing but the money you’ve earned from mowing lawns, a three-dollar corsage and a light blue leisure suit. And you hope against all hope that that will be enough.
There are very few things in life as purely terrifying as calling a fourteen-year-old girl on the telephone. Especially a really cute fourteen-year-old girl… I asked and she said yes. Her parents would only allow her to go if they could drop her off and then pick her up after the dance. I agreed and as much as that kinda stymied my expectations and definitely ruined most of my plans for the perfect date, I was still excited. I would meet her at the school for the Homecoming Dance on Saturday night.
Now, most people don’t know this but there are two kinds of logic. There’s logic-logic and then there’s 15 year-old in love logic. I was sure that nothing bad could happen. At least nothing that would leave a permanent mark. Had I known then what I know now, I would have walked the other way.
So, that Saturday, I stood there in my light blue leisure suit with my new floral silk shirt. We met in the middle of the hallway. The same hallway that we passed each other everyday for months. She walked into the hall with a beautiful red dress on. She looked just as I pictured in my mind, she looked beautiful. I gave her the three dollar-corsage and we entered the dance. The measurement of success that night was more about the entrance to the dance than the actual dancing. All eyes were fixed on the door for the next couple to come through the paper machete streamers. We made the grand entrance and for a brief moment the world was spinning and revolving around us as we made our way into the room. We were the center of the universe.
It was painfully perfect. It was wonderfully uncomfortable. It was terribly frightening.
After the third song we finally made it out to the dance floor. We slow danced to a song I cannot remember. And then she was gone. She had taken refuge in the safe confines of her freshmen girlfriends and I found myself standing with the other lonely sophomore boys. And so it happened. My poor, fifteen-year-old heart crumbled into a little pile of dust and blew away. It was over.
I still had a little self-respect. I was not going to stand there with all of my other friends and watch our dates giggle, laugh and dance together in their little group at the other end of the dance floor. I walked down to where my date was standing and I was going to tell her it was ok, we didn’t have to dance. She said that she wanted to be with her friends. I told her that I understood but I knew that it was time to let it go. Time to move on. After all, who needed freshmen girls?
I managed to slip out the side door without being noticed. I walked towards home. I put my head down as my mind raced to make up a story as to why I would be home so early. I knew I had a few blocks before I would have to face the music with my family. As I walked past St. Boniface School on my way home, I suddenly heard voices. I heard laughter. I looked up in the darkness and saw a few of my friends. They left the dance as well and they were now swinging on the swings. They were climbing and playing on the monkey bars in the playground. Something none of us had done since our elementary days.
Maybe we all realized that growing up doesn’t have to be so much a straight line but maybe a series of advances and retreats. Maybe we were learning that we were growing up too fast. Maybe it was the fact that we missed something about our childhood. I don’t know maybe we just felt like swinging. But what ever it was, my friends and I made an unspoken pact that night to stay young for a little while longer. Even if it was only for a few more hours. There was no need to rush into life. The responsibilities of growing up would come soon enough.
Eventually…I made my way home. I walked slowly. Walking past each one of those houses, called homes, I started to realize something. I was beginning to understand that in each home, with its Ford parked out front and its white bread on the table and the TV set glowing blue in the falling night, there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle to find love. I was just starting out on my journey to find it…“LOVE”…I wasn’t even sure I knew what it was anymore…but I knew I had a lot to learn and my quest to finally find it was a long way off.
Walking up my driveway, I noticed what a beautiful night it was – lit by starlight. The world smelled fresh and clean. I turned the handle of the front door and opened it. Like always, there was my mom sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. As I walked into the room, she put her paper down and stood up. I could see in her eyes that she knew that I had a tough night at the dance. She gave me a big hug. She never said a word and neither did I. We didn’t have to…for in that moment I felt like a kid again. Life and all of its responsibilities would have to wait.
Years passed and my quest to find love would be fulfilled along the way as I journeyed through life.
It was everything I had hoped it would be and more…strange thing is… thirty five years after this “Homecoming Dance” I still find love to be…
Painfully Perfect, Wonderfully Uncomfortable and Terribly Frightening.