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Day 5: Lesson Learned In Middle School

The gym was steamy. A sweaty fog hung low around groups of preteens and teens who had yet to learn that "people don't dance no more, all they do is this..."

Back at the house, before arriving at the dance, I had struggled to decide between three sweater suits. I don't know if that's what they were actually called but my mother dressed me like a young lady most of the time. I assume it was based on my personality because I don't recall my younger sister being dressed in the same or similar clothing, despite it being perfectly natural for her very first inheritance to be all things that once belonged to someone else. I'll go on and claim it. I must have been girly. Because I'm girly now but I think the right word is 'feminine.' I love colors. I love soft. I like bows. I've been told I like ruffles, though I refuse am unable to confirm. If memory serves correctly, there were three options: blue, pink, and grey. My suits were sturdy but soft looking sweaters with matching skirts, hence the suit. I liked the grey and the blue one best and had soft grey flats that had something of that '80's edge with a little point at the toe. That night I opted for the grey sweater and skirt set, tights, and my grey flats. It was my first junior high school dance and, while I wasn't quite sure how my friends would be dressed, I put on what I thought made me look like the mature seventh grader I believed myself to be.

My hair was a different story altogether. Two years prior, one Saturday my mother decided that the wash and braid weekends weren't worth it. It was probably the combination of the time, me being "tenderheaded," and the potential for tears that helped her detach from the biweekly ritual. I had a lot of hair, though not nearly as much as she had at my age, and perhaps reminded her of the hours she sacrificed between someone's knees. My sister's hair, at four years and eleven months my junior, didn't require quite as much work yet so she was safe from such rash decisions. Fifth grade was a hair abomination for me and I begged to be allowed to grow it back, which I did in the sixth. By seventh grade I hadn't returned to my full glory and the length at the time made for some less than acceptable styles in my mother's hands. For the dance my mother brought back a classic that made all kinds of sense in the Afrocentric community I had come from, but not in my new public school arena where patterns in your cornrows and the density of your bush ball were acceptable, even expected, standards. The cornrows up into a well-intentioned puff was what my mother crafted for my attendance at this dance. I was horrified to almost considering staying home. This could be inaccurate, but my mother wasn't allowing me to squander her time tackling my kinks and coils for the dance and then opting out.

My best friend since third grade walked casually out of her house to our car and we rode to school together, like we did every day. The cold evening air was something of an aphrodisiac. I was eleven and full of feelings I could explain scientifically as a well educated girl of parents who believed in information. The night felt promising, though I had no idea what it promised, and I was eager for the five minutes, or less, drive to end at the door to the school gym. My best friend since the third grade got out of the car and we did what we had been doing for a few weeks and entered separately, remaining that way until we were picked up at the night's end. Her budding breasts, chemically treated hair and American last name made her acceptance beyond the friends who matriculated together from our elementary school much easier. A loyalist, I had remained true to the bonds from before class schedules and walking hallways without teacher escorts. I entered and found a comfortable place to stand where I could survey the whole gym and keep an eye out on the dance partners chosen by the boys I thought most about out loud in my diary.

I joined my friends from the girls basketball team, a tall girl with Sunshine in her actual name and quirky girl whose parents gave her room to make personal choices I didn't even know to consider based on how I was being raised. Their dancing wasn't something I understood, but I appreciated their indifference to the eyes set in melanated heads that stared with curiosity and something bordering on repulsion and comedic overdose. Confusion lead to two-stepping because I certainly wasn't going to waste my best moves with my friends who would eventually learn to check Caucasian and Other on census forms. Bored with the left, right of it all, I excused myself and went back to my spot.

We called him Teddy, because he allowed it, because he was soft like a teddy bear, because he protected us all the way bears protect their cubs, but he was a Mr. and he taught P.E. We loved him and respected him, trusted him, and basked in his attention. He found his way to me, concerned about my peripheral experience of the Winter Social. He bumped me; a hilarious move given his height and shape like Sinbad, the comedian. I was short for every age and, in hindsight, feel like there was no way his hip didn't bump my head. But I'm sure I'd have remembered if it had. Cameo's "Candy" came on, Teddy looked at me knowingly, and I swelled beyond my insecurities and found my way to the dance floor with my friends.

That night, as would be confirmed over and over in my life, I realized that music blurs lines and heals much.


I messed up. My goal was to find a way to weave the truth into a fictional story for all of these challenges. This truth, I'm sure is easy enough to be given life under the name or circumstance of one of my imaginings, but this story, in its true form kept pushing away words that weren't directly associated with the exact way in which this lesson was learned. This deviation from my plan reminds me what many lessons have served to remind me in the last few days: know thyself and follow your heart. Done and done.

Watch me move.

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