Eighth Grade Dance

It was one of those occasions rumored to have magical qualities to it, a night when 14-year-olds are transformed into resembling handsome and beautiful adults. The eighth grade end-of-the-year dance is a cheap imitation of the high school prom. “Cheap” is not to give the impression that it’s like a Gucci knock-off bought from a street vendor, but rather it’s got a cheap price tag attached to it compared to what these young teens will one day dish out for their proms. There were no limos or tuxedos. In fact, two boys arrived wearing matching Hawaiian shirts and shorts to compliment their sunglasses, which would come in handy in the midst of a darkened dance surface.

Many of the masses of adolescence weren’t used to wearing shirts-and-ties or nice-looking dress shoes or heels. Towards the end of the evening, shoes were being rested like thoroughbreds needing water. I heard the moans: “My feet hurt so much!” “I hate the straps on these heels!” “Why did I wear these?”

Boys displayed shirts saturated in the armpit areas with gigantic sweat stains, a sign of their emerging masculinity. One boy from my class wore a toboggan hat to accessorize his suit. Young girls with heavy make-up still possessed with the same giggles roamed back-and-forth in packs. Others nervously stood around, hoping someone wearing a tie would ask them to dance, but also fearing the same question. After all, what if Johnny, who gets on their nerves and has breath that could kill a cow, asks for the next song and it ends up being one of those numbers that requires close bodily-proximity?

And then there were those who frequented the concession stand that I was working. Five-dollar-bills were burning holes in the pockets of their trousers. “Lincolns” would be handed over in exchange for a Coke, Sour Skittles, Starburst, a Kit-Kat, and a bag of Takis. We kept everything a dollar to simplify the math. No one was taken in by my “Yes, a Coke is a buck, or two for three!” One health-conscious young lady checked the number of grams of sugar in a bottle of Strawberry Lemonade, compared a bottle of Gatorade with it, and then went with the one that was only slightly more than the recommended daily limit of sugar grams.

There were disappointed romantics, surprised-accepted invitations, and future hope. By the end of the night there was a sense of sadness. As school staff ushered the students toward the exit doors, they didn’t want to leave. It was the end of an event, a new memory, that they didn’t want to end. For some, it was the realization that middle school, a place that they whined about and moaned their way through many a day, was also a good place, a place of refuge that they were about to graduate from.

They had longed for this time, but now a strange kind of grief was being felt. They might not remember the major battles of the Civil War, but they would remember the moments that punctuated the past year, the rights and wrongs, friends and foes, blunders and blessings.

And now they would be the new rookies roaming the hallways of new schools where no one knew of their past accomplishments…or, in a good way, their mistakes.

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