Long Ago and Far Away

August 29, 2011




It was my first dance... June 4th, the summer of 1966... the summer after my eighth grade... I was fourteen. I had had to convince my mother to allow me to go. Both of my parents were strict about those things. I wouldn't be allowed to date until I was sixteen. But a lot of girls my age were going to this dance and my brother would be there... his rock 'n roll band "The Noblemen" was playing... and so I got their permission.

The venue was nice enough. It was a small country club by the lake, and our family had a membership. The club was mainly just a swimming pool and a very large raised patio near the building itself. I'd never been inside the building. The Lakeview Country Club was the closest pool to our house and in the summers we'd swim there a lot. The teen dances that were sponsored on their great patio were some of the few you'd find around the city in those days.

Click here to see drawings of Lakeview Country Club

I say it was my first dance... which it was... but I had been going to dance parties for a couple of years. Some kids at school would always be having parties where they would play 45 rpm records and eat chips and sodas. I went to these parties but I'd never really had a boyfriend like the other girls. The girls had mostly paired off with guys and were going steady. That is what they did... go steady. The guys had necklaces with small pendants made of their initials... called "drops"... and gave them to a girl when they went steady. At the parties I'd "dance" with someone or "sit" with someone but I'd never really "paired off."

Some of my friends who'd gone steady in the 7th, 8th, or 9th grades ended up marrying those boyfriends. At the time, I'd thought it was all to much-- too young. They'd sit on their boyfriends' laps... slow dance really close... make out in the dark... things I had thought were too "committing." It never seemed really romantic to me... to pair off so easily so young... just to go steady. I was a modern teenaged girl... I just was too painfully proper. I'd find out all the time how naiive I was and how private I was.

Most of my life, I'd shared a bedroom with my older sister who was very outgoing and confident. She eventually became quite accomplished... an advanced pianist, a prima ballerina, varsity cheerleader, homecoming princess... and she met and dated the most interesting guys in the city. I was the kind that didn't feel quite right spending lots of money on clothes and dances. In fact, I never went to a prom.

My sister talked about her dating experiences. Dating seemed even more ridiculous the more I would hear about it. (Make him -- open and close the car door for you... light your cigarette... come to the door to pick you up, not just honk... etc etc). I couldn't see a guy spending good money just for the dubious privilege of going out with me. And I couldn't quite feel right dating just to date, especially when I knew already I would never marry the guy asking me out. I could see what a farce it all was going to be. The more I'd hear about dating, the more ridiculous it seemed. There was etiquette about kissing on the first date, but I could see that the rules slid downhill once you were going steady.

I had been going steady for the first time ever with a guy from another school who I'd met through school friends. I'd worn his "drop" for a month and had found out that he'd been seeing his former girlfriend. I was ready to break up with him anyway for other reasons... and so I had planned to break up with him at the dance. As it turned out, he never showed up... but the breaking up stuff was just a formality. Everyone knew I was going to break it off. I had his "drop" in my pocket.

Someone's parent dropped us three girls off at the pool entrance. We paid admission, moved through the turnstile towards the pool, then turned left towards stairs that brought us up onto the large patio. It was not quite dusk and yet groups of teens had already arrived and were milling around... looking around... drinking soft drinks... waiting for the band to start playing.

My friends and I joined a group of girls our age that they knew from another Junior High School... who were lined on the far edge of the crowd facing the dance floor. The girl my boyfriend was seeing again was among them. I chose to stand on the opposite end away from them all. I didn't know any of them. I had no hard feelings for the girl. My mission that night was to break up with this guy, anyway. I think the only thing that hurt me was his lies. I did, however, want to break up with him officially... not through someone else. I expected him to show up soon. The girls were talking among themselves, and I stood away by myself.

Among the patches of groups of people between us and the stairs were four guys who we'd passed as we walked across the patio towards the line of girls. They were standing almost in a circle, talking closely with each other. One of the guys glanced over... I glanced back. He was nice. After a bit of time standing by myself while the other girls talked together, I decided to check out the restroom, which meant, of course, that I'd have to pass by this guy I'd exchanged glances with. I just walked away from the line of girls by myself, passing by him as I went towards the stairs.

The restroom was empty, and I stood at the mirror fixing my hair... using the light of the sun that was streaming brilliant cloud-filtered late-day rays into the room from the high windows. There I stood... when the sun caught my eyes. There I stood... in my lime-green shorts, my long-sleeved lime blouse with tiny yellow flowers all over, and the lime-green ribbon in my dark hair... with the sun hitting the blue-green in my eyes making them shine like blue diamonds. I could feel the sun piercing the ridges in my eyes, giving them genuine pleasure. I stood in the moment, seeing a beautiful me... feeling the sun in my eyes... feeling the woman in me.

I gathered myself to go back to the patio, to stand in the line with the girls I hardly knew, who had a lot to talk about... or would I find other friends who might be there? Would I meet this guy I'd exchanged glances with... maybe dance with him? I left the restroom, and felt the sun on me again. I stopped part of the way to the stairs, near a pole that supported the roof of the entrance... stopped to feel the sun again in my eyes... to feel the sharp pleasure... to look beautiful for him. I wanted him to see my beautiful eyes. There I stood... caught as if in a private moment, but for all to see... shameless. But... the sun felt divine in my eyes.

Gazing off towards the sun, I could still see vaguely the action on the patio. I could see a friend of this guy nudge him, and see him turning to look at me. I was glad that he'd looked. I drank in the sun for just another moment, then continued toward the stairs. I walked very surely up the stairs, feeling the woman in me... like I was wearing a new set of clothes. I walked passed the group of four guys.

As I passed them, one of them reached out and pinched my behind. I turned abruptly and asked "who did that?"... glad of the chance to talk with the guy I'd exchanged glances with. They all looked mystified. One of the guys acted like a supervisor and said, "Did what?" He said it so indignantly and authoritatively that I shied away from saying anything that might get him in trouble. I looked at another guy and said, "It was you, wasn't it?" Then, before I could cause any more trouble I walked off. I think I smiled when I stood again in the line of girls.

It was becoming twilight and the band began their set. The guy I'd exchanged glances with came over and asked me to dance, which I was glad about. His name was Jim. We danced- not just one dance, like I expected- but kept on dancing. I saw some friends of mine dancing in front of the band and (took him by the hand?) we went to join them. There was a line of us and several of us girls did a line dance... doing the shimmy... doing the walk... doing the swim. He was a good dancer, and we were really enjoying ourselves. We danced several dances and smiled at each other. We just kept on dancing and dancing together.

At some point, he asked me if I had any song requests for the band. I knew my brother's band had been practicing "Summertime" and it was a slow dance... and so I said "Summertime." I wanted to slow dance with him. He came back to me and as the music began... as we started to embrace... we had different ways of slow-dancing. He took my hand in ballroom style, yet I knew the way couples danced was with the girl's arms around the guy's neck. So, we danced the way everyone else danced. We danced closely... and talked.

Toward the end of the dance he asked me to take a walk with him over on the grass... in the dark (where couples would go to kiss). I told him that I couldn't help feeling that it was a joke with him and his friends, they being older than I was. (I had thought that he was in high school). He asked, "How old are you?" I told him, "Fourteen." I think this troubled him. And then I told him that I was looking for the guy I'd been going steady with so that I could break up, and that I was expecting him to be there soon... that he'd been two-timing me.

As we danced, a blonde woman with a camera stood at the edge of the crowd near the building... and with his back turned to her, she stooped down just a bit to take a photograph of me between the dancing couples.

After the slow-dance, we kissed... right there in front of the world. Then we separated. I went back to the line of girls, and he disappeared somewhere. There were lots of teenagers now at the dance and it was getting crowded. I looked for him, but couldn't see him anywhere. I wondered if he'd found someone else to walk in the dark with him. I thought I would give him an opportunity to talk with me, and so I went down to the pool and sat on a lawn chair by myself... hoping he would come to sit next to me. But the only person to come was a friend of my steady guy... who himself had been trying to pair off with me.

He sat and talked for a bit, and I still kept looking for Jim, the guy I'd danced with. Where was he? Then, I saw him... standing at the edge of the darkened lawn looking at me. I looked back at him and smiled, wondering if he was waiting for me. Wondering. I couldn't go into the dark with him. It had been a sweetly beautiful night meeting him. I was just so young... and this was just my first dance. Would he crush my trust and ravage me? But... just to be seen going into the dark with a guy... would look... kind of bad for me. How could he even ask me to do this?

The guy talking to me saw me looking and smiling and turned to see who it was I was looking at. I just kept looking at Jim and waved a small wave. It seemed to mean so much to him. Why did it mean so much to go into the dark with him? Why couldn't we just sit and talk... in a proper way? And as I looked... I wondered what we would do in the dark. Would we kiss and then confess our lives to each other? I felt in my heart that it was... it was just that sweet... that we would confess our lives. It was then that I realized what my secrets really were... and my life passed before my eyes.

My life had been of the kind that... I could never confess such secrets to anyone. I realized that I could never even tell my husband my secrets. He would never see me for the woman I was... but would only see me as a woman with shadows of indecency. I could never really be close to a husband... never be truly married to a man. I could never tell anyone about my ravaged childhood. It just couldn't be said. Truth could never be a part of my own beautiful love story. At my first dance... with my beautiful sunlit eyes... with my new feel of becoming a woman... with my sweet meeting of this guy I'd smiled at while we danced... that night was the night I realized... that I would never have my dream of love. My truths could never be told.

I would keep my truths. I wouldn't go into the dark... where unknown things happen... where tears are shed as kisses are exchanged and as truths flow out... the dark where love is born... where a sweet prince and princess of a summer dance cling to each other in moments of awakening love. Nor would I go and be deceived and shamed.

Jim went back into the dark, and so I got up from the chair and returned to the patio and the crowd. I was standing where I'd stood earlier, next to the building, and his friend came over (the one I had sort of accused of pinching me) and he asked me to dance. After a bit, I asked him "where's your friend?" He didn't know. As we kept dancing one dance to another, I saw Jim. He came out of the dark, and was bent over so sadly... as he made his way to the exit turnstile and left the dance.

Eventually the dance was over. Someone's parent would pick us up... in the long line of cars waiting for the dance to be over. I found a piece of paper (off a newspaper?) and wrote my phone number on it... and gave it to Jim's friend as he left the dance, saying "Give this to Jim."

And Jim called me. I remember trying to keep my voice low, hiding under the snack bar in the kitchen. We talked and Jim kept saying how he loved me. I was way to young to be talking love. I said that I loved him, too, but it would be years before I was old enough to be serious about someone like that, and by that time, he would have found someone else. I broke it off with him, and never expected to see or hear from him again. I felt matured and wisened... having loved and lost at such a young age.




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