Tuesday, February 21, 2012

First Kiss, Last Dance

I am 11 years old.  I am going to the school dance with my friend.  We are positively giddy.  She is my best friend, even though I don't get to see her much.  My stepfather is letting me go tonight because he says I will never ask to go anywhere again when I see how much the boys will hate me- I am ugly and no one will dance with me. 

 I am too skinny to wear most anything of my friend's- I settle on spandex leggings and a cropped top.  I am taking a risk wearing this outfit- it's a bit over the top and I feel self-consious, but it's all I can manage to put together.  I am taking a risk even going to the dance anyway- I am not popular. I do the best I can to look presentable, even though I am ugly.  Most of the kids at school aren't too mean to me anyway, though sometimes the boys make fun of me.  They make quiet jokes about something that I can never quite hear.  I don't have enough room in my mind to think about it much and I am used to it by now.  Sometimes I feel bruised, but I can always count on those feelings disappearing, just like all of the other things that impose on my mind day in and day out.

At the dance, I am glad that it is dark.  I stand by myself, enchanted by the disco ball that throws light, like sparkling sprites, on the floor.  I look over the couples who came together and those who choose each other specially to dance.  I listen to the music that I am sure is all the rage.  I have never known anything but my stepfather's music and one Dolly Parton record that I play over and over.  I am happy just to be here.  It's okay if no one asks me to dance.  I even get to spend the night at my friend's house after.  This is the best night of my life.  

A boy I have seen at recess is walking towards me.  I guess he is getting a drink from the water fountain.  I know he isn't coming to talk to me since he is often the one who points and laughs at me at school.  I think he hates me.  When I realize that it is me who he is meaning to approach, I see him through a narrow and spinning tunnel.  My legs are uncertain under my feathery weight.  My heart trips along- a butterfly in the swift passing of a breeze.  I think about running, but he is here and I am suddenly disabled.

He wants to dance with me.  It's a slow dance!  I have practiced this kind of dancing with my friend, but I know that neither one of us really knows what we are doing.  I see her dancing with someone too, so I gather the courage to follow when he takes my hand and tugs me toward the lights.  I have never in my life, ever, been so happy.  And yet already I am sad, because I know this dance will end.  I think that if I could have a magical power it would be to be able to stretch time.  Maybe dancing to a slow song at a dance means that we will be a couple. My head is in the clouds- anything is possible for this girl who used to be nothing.

We stand close- his hands on my pubescent hips, my hands on his shoulders.  We sway together- I am reminded of how seaweed looks in the lake as it sways to the gentle lappings of shore water. I am lost in this peaceful notion- I am the seaweed and he is the water.  None of the other couples on the floor are looking directly at each other and I am glad that this is how it's done.  I couldn't possible do that.  I still can't believe that it is me he chose- I am dancing with a popular boy under the lights- me! He looks at his friends a lot and they give him the thumbs up.  Are they suggesting that I am worthy?  He pulls me closer.  My arms are commanded to hold him now and I thank God for that, because pretty soon he might have to hold me up for the weakness in my ecstatic knees. 

He says we can go outside when the chaperones aren't looking.  He wants to kiss me.  I have never kissed before, not even my step father.  I am wrought with indecision until I realize I don't have a choice.  I can't say no. 

Behind the school, in the cool evening, he kisses me.  I make us clumsy with my uncouth performance, but he says it's okay because he has kissed a lot of girls and he can teach me.  I think he is sweet- much more charming than I have thought in the past based on his schoolyard antics.  He has said things to me during the light of day that were not very nice about my stringy hair and my ratty clothes.  Those things are  distant and forgivable now as he whispers candied words to me. 

I am sufficiently seduced by the wonder of this moment to let him put his hand on my chest. It doesn't register as an offense.  I know what that feels like.  But when he slides his hands into my tight, stretchy pants I take pause.  It has been a while since my step father has touched me there. Usually I do all of the touching. I don't even touch myself there- not even in the shower.  In fact I don't  shower anymore.  I haven't in a long time, since my stepfather decided to watch me wash and teach me how to do it right.  The look my mother gave me after my showers was unbearable.  He would leave the bathroom first and she would be waiting in the hall to yell at me to get to my room and cover up.  I felt her hot contempt throughout my entire being.  She must have gotten mad at him too, because he doesn't force me into the bathroom anymore.  Now I just use a washcloth with water from the sink to wipe dirt from my skin as fast as I can.  I wash my hair in the kitchen sink if I can find the time. No one has said anything so I think I am clean enough and I have become immune to the itching between my legs. 

As soon as his fingers have probed inside of my underpants, he breaks away from me and tells me he is done and wants to go back.  He walks a few strides ahead of me and I have barely kept up enough to enter the gym in time to see him run to his friends with his fingers held in the air.  The dancing crowd parts as he cruises through to his posse.  I am already confused by his sudden departure, but am even more disconcerted when kids turn to look at me and cover their giggling mouths.  He waves his fingers past all of the boys' faces and I die a thousand burning deaths when they all cover their noses and pretend to gag.  I don't stay long enough to watch more heads turn.  I sit out the rest of the dance in the field behind the parking lot.  My best friend waits with me for her parents to come get us.  I just want to walk home.  I never want to see anyone again, not even her.  Not even myself.


 I know that prevention of bullying has become a fairly new focus- thank God. Having worked in middle and high schools, I am quite certain and sad that not much has changed. Here are some statistics and facts about bullying:

Child Abuse, Sexual Abuse, PTSD, Anxiety, Self-harm, Depression, Survivor, Survivor of childhood abuse, Post-partum depression and psychosis, OCD, Recovered memories, Repressed memories, Spousification, Stockholm Syndrome, Suicide, Teen Suicide, Bullying


  1. You were never ugly, Cairn. Not then, not ever. There's very little in this world uglier than cruelty. You're one of the most beautiful people I have the pleasure to know.

    1. *blushing* :) Thank you A.J. I am so fortunate to be counted as that. I am only as beautiful as the people I surround myself with. <3

  2. Just as A.J. says...you ARE beautiful in every way. I remember the bullying too but never recall something that horrific. I cringed because I knew where it was going and I didn't want to believe that this happened to you, after everything else.
    As an adult, I find I am very defensive for others because of bullying and what happened to me. If someone comes to me with something that is bothering them in a relationship, I tend to get very defensive FOR them. I know how awful it feels to never be heard or believed and to be at the receiving end of such heartlessness. It is not, as they say, just kids being kids.

    1. HAving worked in a school system has opened my eyes to the fact that not much has changed. I do what i can, whenever i see or hear things that could even develop into a problem. It is part of our work as survivors to gently sway these impossibly difficult situations the other way. xoxoxoxoxo

  3. Awe sweety, how were you to know what is right and what is wrong? how are you to take a stand when you have never been allowed to claim your body as your own? how are you to protect yourself? I feel for you.
    I have another story that I can say, I can see where you are coming from. As usual, it is never anything as heartbreaking as yours.. but I can somewhat say, I know what bullying is. and I know what sexual,, umm.. manipulation is. Mine was MY fault.. unlike your was though..

    1. I am sure that your story is just as painful to you as mine was to me. There is no comparing- only compassionate understanding. I wonder what your story is and whether it really was your fault. Somehow, if you suffered at the hands of someone else who should have known better, I doubt very much that it was your doing.