I was eleven or twelve the first time I attended a school dance.

I remember being so excited as I fretted over what to wear, and what to do with my hair. My mother actually allowed me to wear makeup and had applied just the tiniest bit of eye shadow and lipstick. She smiled at me and curled my hair.

Looking back I realize now that she had tried to warn me, that things don’t always turn out like you see on television and in the movies. I was imagining a magical evening spent dancing with boys, laughing and enjoying myself, and she was remembering the reality of them, the awkwardness and the nervousness of boys and girls alike.

“Don’t be sad if the boys don’t want to dance,” she counseled, doing a final fluff on my hair. “Everyone is shy at things like this.”

I didn’t really pay attention to what she was saying, all I could think about was how fun it would be to dance and finally have boys look at me and pay attention to me. I had on my cute new jeans, with the ballerina shoes appliqued on the back. They were pink satin. My top was a beautiful red-purple velour, gathered and tucked at the shoulders.

It was 1981 and I felt beautiful.

I practically flew out of the car when my mom dropped me off and ran to find my friend. I only had one, but that was enough. She looked nervous too, all awkward angles and knobby knees. We were both in that weird, half child, half adolescent stage. Nubby little breasts and long, stick legs and the beginnings of acne. Suddenly, looking at her, I didn’t feel so beautiful any more. I was just another wallflower, the one no one really liked to hang out with, the one always picked last at sports, never the one that boys looked at.

What had I been thinking? I had actually convinced myself that tonight was special. I had dared to dream that the rules in full force during the day did not apply and that, like magic, I would dance at the ball like Cinderella.

We stood there, terrified grins plastered on our faces and watched the boys, looking away the minute they looked at us. We merged with others into packs, outcast pack here, popular packs over there and the dance floor remained empty.

Hours later I was sitting at a table alone. My one and only friend had managed to find a boy who wanted to dance with her. I sat alone and hated myself for believing in magic, for being so stupid, and for being so plain-looking. I would never be the girl that all the boys wanted.

I glanced up and was startled to find my stepfather standing in front of me, he smiled at me and said, “Hi beautiful, do you want to dance?”

I looked up and did the first thing that made sense to me at that moment. I burst into tears. They were body-wracking, soul-crushing sobs. They didn’t stop, not once, during the hurried trip back to the car. They didn’t stop during the ride home with a stop to drop off my friend who looked confused and worried about me.

I was devastated. I had held such hope, such a naive certainty that things would be different that night.

Instead it would be many, many years before I felt comfortable in the presence of others. Years before I could laugh and not give a damn whether I was beautiful or just okay-looking. Decades before I would feel at ease in a crowd or be able to hold my own in conversations.

I’m older now. A lot older. I stand up in front of groups and teach classes regularly. I’ve self-published my own book. I’ve even been on the radio. I’ve got the perspective, the distance and the experience that will save me in the weeks to come.

You see, today I put together a query letter for the first book that I hope to have published through an agent. I looked carefully for the excerpt I wanted. I read, re-read and edited the query letter over and over. I packaged it all in an envelope and put extra postage on it just in case. It’s sitting here, on my desk, and after I type this I’m going to walk out to the mailbox and set it inside.

It’s kind of like asking the agent if they would like to dance. And I’m afraid that they’ll say no. But I can’t let that fear stop me anymore. I can’t stand in that little outcast’s circle and pretend to be having a great time when all I want to do is dance.

And even if the first agent doesn’t want to dance with me, I’ll smile, and say “thank you for your time.” And then I’ll ask someone else to dance. And another and another and another.

And one of these days, I’ll dance like I dreamed about dancing when I was twelve years old.

And you know what?

It will be worth the wait.

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