On this day in particular a group of my friends and I were thinking about going to a dance at a boys' school in North Buffalo. Canisius High School. It was not in close proximity to us at all, but we went to an all-girls' school. Any invitation to a place filled with boys was exciting.
I was becoming chummy with a girl named Sara who was inordinately tall and, if you noticed, did not spell her name with an H at the end (a trend I've always found bothersome). Sara heard our plans for the dance and cheerfully invited to transport all of us both to and from Canisius via her parents' roomy station wagon. I am not an automobile snob, but I do hate station wagons. It's the name. I think it forces me to imagine cruising down a highway in a Radio Flyer, which does not seem altogether safe. It's nightmarish, really.
All the same, our plans were complete. All that was left to do was go home and prepare.
Readying for the dance was a big deal. Getting ready for dances was always a big deal for me because of an embarrassing incident called "The Skirt" which I won't go into here. That night I was wearing a sage green tee shirt and jean shorts with Keds sneakers. Keds were all the rage back then, the little white canvas shoes that you weren 't supposed to tie or wear with socks. My hair was chin length, freshly straightened, and probably looking too big for my body, a situation I never knew was an issue until my brother pointed it out to me years later. That night I felt, as every fourteen year old girl does before a dance, fresh and ready to go.
The main reason we had decided to go a Canisius dance, I suppose I should explain, was not just because it was a place to find boys. It was actually because my good friend Alice had a boyfriend who went there. So upon arrival, the first thing we needed to do was locate him. Once that was done, we entered the dance.
The gymnasium/auditorium (Gymnorium? Auditasium?) was dark, and not as crowded as other dances we 'd been to. The sound system was staticky and too loud. The other girls in attendance were not from our school. They seemed to know all of the boys. This put us at an inconvenient disadvantage and made us uncomfortable, but, as I 've already said, we were really only there because of Pat.
We immediately fell into a stereotypical circle of side-to-side dancing. There was Kristin, of the long curly hair, and Carolyn, my closest friend from grammar school. I don 't really remember anything about Sara other than the station wagon, and of course there was Alice in the arms of her beau. And there was Kelly.
Kelly became a Best Friend to me some time during my freshman year. She was always on top of the world, even when it was falling down around her. She was the girl in high school that that everyone knew, who was always surrounded by a crowd from the second she entered the room.
After about an hour, a boy with blond hair and blue eyes and a striped shirt appeared. He approached us with great deliberation, and I felt my heart race. He greeted Pat. He was wearing a Notre Dame baseball hat. He had enormous feet and a very...nice way about him. I don't mean nice as a euphemism. I mean that in high school, boys are good-looking or athletic or smart, but it's not so often you mean one that just looks like a really nice person. And this one, in addition to being good-looking (and clearly athletic, he is making me add), appeared to be a truly good guy. I instantly whispered my claim over him to myself.
He stayed in our circle from that point on, not really dancing so much as talking to Pat. I continued to eye him, every so often doing what I thought was a playful tug on his arm and telling him in what seemed like a Fun and Exciting voice, "Dance with us! Dance!" Fun and Exciting were two words that meant everything to my image in high school. What I did not realize, of course, and what I wish I could share with all fourteen-year-old girls trying to nab a guy, is that I was annoying. Instead of teasingly tugging at this poor guy's arm, I was actually yanking wildly on it. Additionally, my fun way of urging him to dance was more of a whine, which isn't at all Fun and Exciting. It's a bit Grating, actually.
I suppose then that it should not have been a surprise when Kelly danced in on me. She was so smooth, I don't really know how it happened. You could never tell with Kelly because she was natural about things like this. One minute I played my yank and nag game and the next Kelly grooved in the arms of My Mr. Wonderful. He wasn't exactly grooving along with her, but an alarming vibe of togetherness was established.
I clearly remember marching up to Alice and Pat, deeply involved now in some sort of intimate embrace, and announcing, "Kelly has stolen your friend from me."
Pat was very mellow, and intelligent. He said mildly, "Stolen?"
"Yes," I insisted.
"Really?" asked Alice. She furrowed her eyebrows while fighting off a smile. It was an expression she used often when speaking to me. "What 's his name?" she pressed.
It probably should have fazed me that I could not answer this. However, it was starting to feel like an Emergency as I glanced over Pat's shoulder and saw that Kelly had now taken Mr. Wonderful's hands in hers and was twirling him. Kelly was the sort of girl who got away with twirling guys. She was just so darn smooth (and tall).
Pat seemed to sense my growing panic. He smiled gently and said, "His name is Joe. Joe Bielecki."
Looking back, it could have just been meshed together with a million other innocuous moments of my life, a million other moments I saw a boy and thought he was something special. But this moment, this one moment...it changed my whole life.
I had an emergency chat with Kelly, who backed off instantly. Pat got the low-down: no girlfriend. Carolyn, as she always did for me in Emergencies, gave overt and enthused compliments about how Fun and Exciting I was.
And then, in the strobe-lit, smelly Auditasium of Canisius High School, I slow-danced with Joe Bielecki.
On the way home that night, I rode in the back of Sara 's station wagon staring out the hatch window at the stars and wishing with all my heart that Joe Bielecki might fall in love with and one day marry me. I know it sounds lame, but I think in every girl's life there are moments equally lame. Doesn't every girl long for a nice beautiful romance? Though I might have been a bit more naive, a bit more literal, I really just wanted to fall in love like anybody else. And on this night, I wanted to fall in love with Joe. So I did.
Luckily, it all worked out.