I met him in Kindergarten. He, was Jeff; tall, lanky, spiky blond hair, brown eyes, and soulful. He was cool, he wasn’t a bully or follower, nor was he the leader of the pack. Athletic and helpful, Jeff was a kid brother and a big brother, at the same time. His older brother Kris was three years older and younger sisters, Bonnie and Laura, were a few years younger than me. Bonnie and I even share a birthday and have called each other ‘soul sisters’ since Junior High.
I went to elementary school with most of the same people for 7 years. In DC, there were a few really great public schools. Our school, John Eaton Elementary School, was one of them.
Tucked away on a tree lined street in Northwest DC, filled with big houses and no commerce for over a mile. It’s the place where rich folks sent their children to save a few years tuition on private school. Middle class families were the norm, and poor families with mothers that knew what the deal was, like my mom and my best friend’s mom, rounded out the diverse population of that community. For example, the rich girl, and the son of the maid in the rich girl’s house, were also in our class. We all knew, and it was never weird.
Needless to say, we got along and really enjoyed hanging out, outside of school…
Bridget’s 11th birthday was the event of the year. Bridget was a new kid, she had a southern twang, a cool young mom, super long curly hair, and she was beanpole skinny.
Her party was the first co-ed, Friday night event ever, in all of our lives, so everyone was there. Mix in snacks, loud music, and free reign, what more could twenty 11-year olds ask for?
It was a nice night, maybe spring time? I don’t remember, whatever I was doing, at some point I noticed I was sweating. I was chubby in the 4th grade. Sure I was teased, but we had all known each other for so long, it was like a brother or sister ragging on you, not a bully bullying you.
All of a sudden, someone puts on a slow jam and folks start to pair up. The classmates that you knew were ‘together’ paired up, the ones that you knew liked each other but they played like they didn’t know the other one liked them, paired up. Many of us, separated by our cis orientation, were happily watching by the sidelines. I’m laughing with a friend over something 11-year oldy, when Jeff steps up to me.
Mid laugh, and a bit startled, I say, “Hey! Whats up?”
He takes a breath and says, “Do you want to dance?”
Alicia, my best friend, looks at me, I look at Jeff, then Alicia. My mind is racing, and all I can think of is that I’m sweaty and I don’t want his arms and hands to touch me, out of embarrassment.
I quickly say, “ oh, no, thanks though.”
Alicia’s mouth drops.
Jeff says, “are you sure?”
I say, “yeah, maybe later.”
Alicia is going off in my ear but all I can do is watch Jeff as he walks away and goes up to the birthday girl and asks her.
I watch them awkwardly hold each other, her fingers in a typing position on his shoulders and his fingertips barely touching her back. I realized, had I said yes, Jeff’s hands wouldn’t have been anywhere near my sweaty neck. My hands, his neck. His hands, my hips. What was I thinking?
I tell Alicia why my brain just exploded. We shake our heads about it and go get a snack. A few minutes later we come back to the group and everyone is sitting in a circle and there’s a bottle in the middle of the circle.
Alicia goes and takes a seat near other classmates and I sit next to Bridget. About three turns in, Jeff is selected to spin the bottle. I will spare you the suspense, he spins and it lands right in between Bridget and I. Yes, he kissed Bridget. Of course he would, I had rejected him so why wouldn’t he kiss the chick he was just dancing with? Jeff and Bridget were boyfriend and girlfriend until the following Tuesday. Alicia and I talked about it every now and again for a few months, “can you imagine if…” type convos.
“If I had said yes, then he would have kissed me, and we would have been together at least until summer,” I would say.
“I know girl,” Alicia would say.
Jeff and I would go on to escort each other down the aisle for 6th grade graduation, and out of our entire crew, we were the only ones that went to Junior High and High School together. Making that seventeen years of schooling and growing up together.
A few years ago, I was at a dinner party and we were playing 20 questions, someone asked me, “When was the last time you slow danced?” I thought and thought, so much so that the group told me they would come back to me and continued asking questions around the room. I left the table to be alone with my memories.
I thought about my ex, my first boyfriend. Nope, not once in the 4 years we were together. I thought about the guys I had been seeing since the break up. Nope, none of them. I thought about my father. Nope never danced with him either.
I thought about college. I thought about highschool. I thought about junior high school. I thought about…elementary school.
I sat in my friend’s living room and cried quietly to myself. I turned down what would turn out to be the only time I was ever asked to dance. Sad tears were met with joyful ones when I realized I get to be really choosy about who gets my first dance. What a special gift to give someone one day.