There is going to be a school dance the year you are in 7th grade. You have to go, and you want to go, because this is the year that you feel more grown up. You’re not a little 6th grader anymore, you are in Junior High. This is something you bring up with your mother and she agrees, except, she plans on giving you the taxi fare instead of taking you herself. Some of your other little friends are going too. It’s a girl thing that year, to be the first time you will all be dancing with a boy. Either it’s rock and roll or sometimes slow dances, and you have practiced for hours in front of the television to American Bandstand and Soul Train.
Mom’s closet stretches before you and it’s vastly stuffed with clothes. Sometimes you borrow them from her, and her caftans are voluminous balloons. Today you slip into one of her tunics, that’s black with laces up the front. On you it becomes a mini dress and this is what all your friends wear everyday to school. The girls line up in the bathroom at the mirrors spraying Love’s Baby Soft perfume on themselves, and applying white lipstick. You got one too, at Woolworth with your allowance money. All by yourself, after school you saw the shoes as you walked down State Street. They were in the window of Leeds, smoked charcoal with a little heel and furled fabric roses at the toe. Your first heels. Your mother didn’t want you in heels. You bought them anyway and it was a defiant act. She was used to picking out all your clothes and you always felt like a freak because you didn’t match the other girls whose dads were sports coaches.
“What does your dad do?” Eileen asks. She’s the worst of them ever since 6th. One of the pushiest, bossiest girls you will ever meet.
“You’re wearing that?” she says the day of your graduation. It made you so ashamed the year before. She made you ashamed, by making that face where her eyes screwed up like she was going to laugh.
“I don’t want anyone laughing at you,” your mother is saying. “Not like they laughed at me.”
“Mom, can I just borrow this tunic?”
“I want to go to the school dance.”
She is already on her fourth Gimlet that night. She had the first three at El Cielito with all her women friends.
“All my friends are going.”
“It’s too short.”
“Mom, everybody dresses like this.”
“I don’t care how everybody else dresses.”
“Mom, please let me wear it.”
She’s giving you that look again, her eyes half mocking. It’s the split personality you know she falls into after too many drinks. Sometimes what she says is so mean that it cuts you to the core as if she is hurling darts straight into your soul. It will take you years of therapy to figure this out later. To begin the extraction process.
“Everybody is going Mom.”
Everybody is wearing hot pants that year and painting their nails and these things are forbidden to you, by your mother. She’s never going to let you wear them. She tells you that these things are cheap, and that no daughter of hers will be seen like that. You haven’t met your best friend yet. The one with the mother that you fall in love with. She is so much different than yours. Not that she’s less drunk, just that her daughter runs free and there is a daddy there, not the horrible man your mother chose to have an affair with that split up her marriage to dad. You make up your mind that it’s going to be normal for you. You’re watching Brady Bunch. You’re watching Marcia and she is exactly your age. It doesn’t seem fair this year. Everything changed when your mother said, “I’m not going back to him.”
“I’m going Mom.”
The tunic is Young Miss. You’ve seen the dresses. You’ve borrowed the Mary Quant. You’ve stood in the bathrooms navigating the worlds that the girls run in. It’s just that you’ve got outsider eyes. This will come in handy later,remembering everything you saw and felt, standing there as the music swirled around the room, and all the colored lights and all your friends lined up along the wall as Mungo Jerry played. Girls don’t dance together that year. You wait for a boy to come over and ask you to dance, and you’re standing at the wall when he arrives, for the very first time, and he’s taller than you. It’s not a slow dance yet. He just wants to dance with you, dance with you, dance with you and suddenly he’s grabbing your body and pulling you up against his and you feel scared because he is so close. He’s too close and you are only thirteen years old. He’s pulling you tighter and tighter to him until you can smell his cologne and you want to push him away but nobody has shown you how to.
The light glances off your first pair of little heels, and your first little evening purse that dangles from your wrist. You are supposed to call your own cab.
Years later you remember this.
You remember how you were able to go over to a teacher, because you felt scared suddenly. He was staring at you. He was going to try and dance with you again, and you were really frightened he was going to hurt you if you went outside alone to wait for the cab. Your mother has tried to train you in the art of navigation, and she has told you that she is stronger than any man. She says she’s both mother and father.
But that’s not true.
You never went to another dance ever again. Not even your prom six years later. They begin to come out of the woodwork in those years, all the men with staring eyes, and all the boys who try and slip their hands around you.
Later you will wish your dad had been there. He would have known what to do, and he would never have let you go all alone to something in a cab at thirteen.
“We’ll give you a ride home,” says Mary Jane. Suddenly you can breathe again. You’re among friends. Mary Jane was there too, but the two of you were so busy dancing you never even noticed each other until it was time to go.
copyright 2014 all rights reserved
*author note on music:
My father was Don Brown of Surfing film fame until he became the pornographer Bob Vosse. My mother divorced him and the last I saw of him was in the early 70’s. I am writing this memoir for him, even though he passed away in the late 90’s. He never knew what it was to have to try and navigate the 70’s and on without him. This memoir will show the experiences of a girl from age two to about age 23, who grew up without her father.
I loved Dad. He was very good to me as a child, and it was my harshest loss.
If you are interested in this memoir contact me in FB, by clicking on the about.me you see at the upper right where the rose is. I have been writing it on and off for some time, because it’s a very hard place to go in writing, at first I was calling it “whitegirrrl” but this is the new name for it. Girls really need a father figure in order to help them individuate starting at about age nine. This memoir is for fatherless girls, and chronicles every experience of growing up heterofeminist in the generation that straddled the cusp of the Second Wave into Third Wave.