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Slow Dance

Amaya Smith - January 18, 2023

When you’re a little girl, you watch Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast, and read books about princesses, shiny castles, moms and dads. You observe their warm, rosy faces which smile as they admire each other, you feel the light of a candle or the pink moon come out from the static television screen, painting your skin with heat, and you cuddle into your blanket as the lovers move closer; holding each other as mama holds you. They dance in an elegant, graceful rhythm with slow, deliberate steps. He holds her face in his hands and admires her doe eyes, her pink lips, the softness and perfection of her skin. He tells her how much he loves her, and then he kisses her, and she likes it.

This is what you want, little one.

You grow up remembering this, waiting for the boy to complete you. In the meantime, you run track, you slap paint on a canvas, you ride your bike and scrape your knees, you love dancing, and you watch old movies with your Gramma Marge. She likes to talk about how Grampa used to take her out dancing and teaches you to slow dance when you’re little so you can impress all the boys you go out with when you’re older. She says you’ll go out with lots.

Your friends have boys, and at your first homecoming, you all decide to go together. You pass your sacred dancing knowledge to your friends, but you are the seventh wheel. The couples look at each other excitedly when the slow dance song comes on, and they all flood the gym floor like little blots of watercolor paint. You watch alone from the bleachers with your arms around your knees, the room feeling far away. The breathing and talking are hushed, and you hear the lovely music meant for all your friends, all your peers, everyone except for you. They sway together, he twirls her, they grin, and then kiss. You are supposed to feel happy, but instead, you sit and feel sick.

The girls talk about how nice it was to be held and kissed, to feel the power of their boy and melt gently and softly into him. They have flowers on their wrists, glitter all over, flowing hair, full bodies, and the shade of their lipstick is rubbed off on his mouth. You suddenly feel inadequate. When they talk about him, their eyes shine like the moon watching over the ocean; they radiate contentedness and peace.

“What was it like to dance?” you ask with wonder and a bubbling, seeping envy which you stuff down into your chest.

“It was bliss,” they sigh, smiling in a daze and staring off at nothing, feeling the memory over and over again.

'Bliss’, you think. A scratching, burning gust of emotion chases down your throat and tries to burst out. You hold it down while it struggles, you panic as your eyes prickle, hot and wet. There’s a croak in your voice as you say, “I am so happy for you.” You know you’re lying. You hope they don’t.

When you are 17, your boy finally comes. He is sort of cute, tall and lanky, has chapped lips, and smells like garlic. Every time you see him, you hope he smells better. He never does, but you decide to see past it. He has dark hair and quiet brown eyes that you like to look into, seeing earth and maple syrup in the sun. You both like old movies, and he teases you because your favorite is Back To The Future, he thinks it’s too mainstream. He doesn’t ask you a lot of questions, but he seems to like your conversations, and you beam. This is what you want.

He takes you to the movies, he brings you to his favorite restaurant, his car smells the same way he does and you pretend not to be bothered by it. He only ever seems to want to talk about himself, but that’s normal, isn’t it? You want to make him feel seen and you listen. You tell him about your Gramma and how much you like dancing, and he nods without looking up from his phone. Something in you shudders, but you’re being selfish. How could you condemn him for being himself? You are so lucky.

You date through the summer and tell yourself it’s great, and you tell your friends you feel loved so you can have this in common with them. You are complete now. He kisses you for the first time, and you feel the dry skin on his lips scratch your mouth.

After school starts, he asks you out to the dance with flowers and a big white sign with colorful letters, all in front of the whole lunch room. You know it’s a sweet thing to do, but your chest feels tight, he and the flowers become invisible, and all you see are the watching eyes of your peers. He never asked if that was a gesture you would like, but you tell yourself you’re being silly, everyone likes to be loved.

You say yes, and your Mom and Gramma Marge are both ecstatic. They scrape together sixty dollars for a dress, and feeling like a woman, you can’t wait to impress him.

You buy a pretty purple gown that fits you like a glove, a dark lavender, you wear sparkly shoes that your Mom wore to your aunt’s wedding, and spend an hour, two hours, admiring yourself and dawdling with your face and your hair in the mirror. You shape it into something you like, hoping he likes it too, giddy with the idea of his affectionate words cascading into you. You put pink on your lips so he’ll want to kiss them. You feel like a sugar plum fairy, and you daydream about him calling you beautiful. However, you are most excited about the dancing, you are going to get your dance at last, and the thought of melting into him fills you with warmth.

"I hate purple.” he says with a pinched face when you arrive at his door. “That’s a lot of makeup, huh? I dunno, I kinda like girls better natural.” He takes a quick, hungry look down at your body.

You step back, searching deep into those honey-brown eyes, hurt and confused by his words. You try to make yourself smaller, wishing the earth would swallow you.

"Oh, um…I’m sorry.” You say as you conceal your chest, not knowing what to be sorry for.

This is what you want.

The whole night, you worry about if he’s having fun. In the gym, you can feel the music call for you in your bones, but he goes on talking about cars and video games and how he would rather be at home, and you wish he would just shut up. His hands are restless, touching your arm, your hands, your thigh, your waist, every chance he can get, and people are seeing, looking at you. Every touch and stare stings you like hot oil, and you begin to feel like something is wrong. You wonder if this feels good, you tell yourself it does, it has to, all your friends told you so. What’s the matter with you?

He speaks, but you can’t hear over the music. It was something something ‘backseat’. What? You ask him to repeat it but he won’t, he just laughs. He takes his hands away at your mumbled, shriveled request, and he props his elbow on the table, resting a tired cheek on his palm. Bricks lifts off of you as he retracts, and his eyes drift listlessly around the room.

You wait for him to ask you to dance as your friends run by with their boyfriends, giggling and shining with sweat.

His glowing phone screen illuminates his face, and he answers your attempts at conversation with one-word replies. You start counting ceiling tiles, and minutes pass until you lose track. Impatience is welling up inside you, brewing to the top, rising and rising in temperature until-.

“Do you want to dance?” You ask, the words falling out of you and dropping at your feet, shocking you with your own boldness.

“Huh?” he pushes his hair back, “Oh, no way. I hate dancing. I mean, just look at how stupid they look.” He points out to the gym which is crowded with people in suits and fluffy dresses. They’re moving, singing, shouting, jumping to the beat of the music, exiting the dancefloor short of breath, wheezing with laughter. The blood in your body bubbles, pleading you to join.

You repeat his words in your head, feeling their prickliness, and then, it clicks. A realization tingles up your spine. The sentence reverberates through you, rushing into every cell, levitating the hairs on your neck and arms: You will never be good enough for him. You are proud of yourself.

You say his name and when his lazy eyes look up, you finally let yourself be revolted by him. “This isn’t gonna work out,” your voice shakes but you continue, “We’re done. I’ll get a ride home, don’t wait on me. I’m gonna go dance.” You declare it with a grin you can’t contain, not looking back, not having time for his disappointment. The freedom in your veins beats like the bass from the speakers, filling your head with sound.

This is what I want, you feel in your chest, as you skip off to the dancefloor unashamed.

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