Lessons of Youth

“Beppo, I have to tell you something,” AlmostGF said to me in the back during some downtime at our part-time job. “CuteGirl only went with you to [Winter Dance] so she could try to hook up with [Very Effeminate Guy].”

I sighed. That explained why she acted the way she did at [Winter Dance]. I hadn’t talked to or acknowledged her since that night. Having a girl reject you, without an actual rejection does that.

“I’m so sorry,” AlmostGF said. “I introduced you to CuteGirl, and I feel real bad about it. I didn’t know what she was doing until recently.” She actually had tears in her eyes.

I smiled in understanding. “You had no way of knowing. Thank you for telling me. It clears up a lot.”

She gave me a hug and then went back up front. I wondered again for the umpteenth time: why did I not want to date this girl? She was into me, was cute, and was nice. That scared me for some reason. But that’s another story altogether.

More important: CuteGirl played me for months.

———–

Flashback to September. I was getting ready to go to the Homecoming dance at AlmostGF’s school. Her school’s Homecoming was a week or two before my own. She had asked me a few weeks prior if I wanted to go, and I said yes. She was very happy about it, and I was looking forward to going with her.

While we lived in the same town, AlmostGF and I went to different high schools. There was a historical “rivalry” between them. I only cared about that “rivalry” when I was playing sports against them. Though it felt sneaky to be heading into “enemy” territory. I had never been to one of their dances, so this would be a first-time for me. Also a buddy of mine from my school was also going, so I’d see another familiar face there.

The plan was that AlmostGF would first come over to my house. This would let us put on her corsage and my boutonniere, and also have our parents take some pictures. I’d then go with her to another friend’s house for punch, followed by us going to the dance. Seemed straightforward.

AlmostGF was wearing a long red dress. It went very well with her fair skin. She also had her brown hair done up, but not in the over-fancy way you see with girls who’re going to prom. A touch of makeup to accent her blue eyes and lips. Looking back, she did look good.

After our parents took pictures, we went to the friend’s house for an hour for punch. Eventually we got to the dance and got into the photographer’s line for pictures.

I looked around and caught the eye of a few girls that I worked with. They came over, said hi, and we all chatted for a bit while the line snaked forward towards the cafeteria. The sun was still up with its rays lighting up the dance floor in the gym ever-so-slightly.

Eventually we had our picture taken. With AlmostGF slightly getting flustered about remembering her homeroom number. She was a nervous as I was. At that time, I hadn’t taken a date to any of my school’s dances. Taking or being a date was new to me. Going stag was alright, it did allow you to dance with a lot more girls.

Having gotten the pictures out of the way, we rejoined the rest of our group and went into the gym. The sun was finally setting, bringing darkness to the gym. The DJ’s accent lights poured out some faint illumination on the ceiling.

While inside I ran into another guy from my school: [Very Effeminate Guy]. I never actually had any problems with him personally. Though he did do two things that rubbed me the wrong way.

First was where the nickname I’m using came from. He came across as very limp-wristed and weak (or, to use another euphemism, he was “half a fag”). One of my buddies used impersonate him by putting on a very flowery and campy gay voice. Then he’d say, “I’m [Very Effeminate Guy]” while gesturing with a limp-wrist. I used to always laugh at that.

Second was that he used to talk a lot of shit, but would shrink when called out on it. We were in the same group in photography class my sophomore year. He’d start “commenting” on others with heavy passive-aggressive snark until someone else would get to a “put up, or shut up” boiling point. From there, he’d usually wilt like a violet and be quiet for a few classes, where the cycle would begin again. He wasn’t physically imposing, which was strange. He had maybe five to ten pounds on me, with none of it being muscle. Even the slightest threat of violence would have him stammering apologies and disengaging. There were a few times where I myself stepped up and he backed completely down. In his own mind, he was a wannabe bully.

A lot of people didn’t like this guy for obvious reasons. Like I mentioned above, I had no real reason to hate him. I tried to get along with everyone, since I floated through so many different social circles at my school. But I wouldn’t count him as either a friend or an acquaintance. He was someone to talk to in a sea of people I didn’t know.

The dance went on. I danced with AlmostGF and talked to my buddy and [Very Effeminate Guy]. Saw the girls I worked with a few times (one I had a slight crush on made a point to smile and wave to me every time she saw me). I clapped at the Homecoming Court being announced. I was having a great time. Then this girl walked over and began talking to AlmostGF.

She was very cute. Shoulder-length brunette hair. Italian. In shape. Elfin features accented by her being a full head shorter than me. I was enamored.

I asked AlmostGF a little while after, “Who is that?”

“A friend of mine, her name’s CuteGirl,” she replied. “Want to meet her?”

“Sure.” AlmostGF was a great girl.

We got introduced and started talking in a group. While I was there with AlmostGF as her date, she knew that I was smitten with CuteGirl and helped me along. There was only one problem. I was also competing with [Very Effeminate Guy] for her attention that night. I saw this happening and I pushed that thought to the back of my mind. Being the better guy, so I thought, I shouldn’t have any problems.

I ended up dancing with her later. Since this was before I knew what I was doing, we didn’t say much to each other while dancing. I did know that I liked her and wanted to see her again. The night went on and the dance eventually ended.

While we were waiting to get picked up, AlmostGF asked me with a slight smile on her face, “You like CuteGirl, don’t you?”

I shrugged my shoulders, but I could feel the heat at my cheeks from blushing.

“She seems pretty cool,” I replied.

“Okay, I’ll see if I can help you out with her.”

I was taken aback. “Really?”

“Yeah. I’ll see if she’s single or not. Promise.”

“Thank you, AlmostGF.”

“You’re welcome, Beppo.”

———–

AlmostGF did follow through with her promise: CuteGirl was single. Going by the note she wrote me on the back of her picture (an “individual” from her swim team team photos of her in her team bathing suit), she seemed very interested. More important, she wrote down her number. I did a mental fist-pump.

“You should definitely call her soon,” AlmostGF said when she gave me the picture.

I was in uncharted territory at the moment and was both scared and elated. “I will,” I replied.

It did take me a few days before I gathered enough courage to call her. The first call went well, we chatted about nonsense for the most part. I was walking on clouds. The conversation then started to wind down.

“I have swim meets tomorrow and all weekend, but I can talk again on Tuesday,” she said.

“Sounds good, I’ll call you then. Good luck at your meets!” I replied.

“Thanks! Bye!”

“Good bye.” The line clicked off and I heard the dial tone.

I held the phone receiver in my hand for a moment before placing it back on its cradle. It felt like I had run a mile. My heart was racing and I could feel the burning at my cheeks. I was still nervous. Hopefully I didn’t mess up too much or sound like an idiot.

Over the next few weeks the calls got easier to make. AlmostGF tried to get CuteGirl to come out for Halloween, but it didn’t happen. Even my own date requests got brushed off with noncommittal non-answers. This was strange. I had fulfilled the last tic on my “stuff necessary to be able to date list” with getting my driver’s license. She was having none of it, and always gave some excuse for being busy.

Later in November, AlmostGF brought along CuteGirl to [Redacted] as a part of [Redacted] to hang out. To her credit, AlmostGF was doing all she could to help me out. CuteGirl was very hesitant. She seemed as if she wasn’t as interested in me as she first seemed. Gave one word answers to my open-ended questions. Didn’t stay in proximity to me. Didn’t try to start a conversation. I was flummoxed.

While we both were members of our school’s respective Indoor Track teams, I never saw her at any of the meets. They were at the same college’s indoor track every time and the same schools always showed up. She wouldn’t even come over to say hi to me and chat for a bit.

Looking back, I now can see that she had the “I’m just not that into you” vibe. I refused to see it in my idealistic, hormone-ruled teenager state. Catharsis is good for the soul, but I digress.

In spite of the coldness from CuteGirl, I decided to ask her to my school’s [Winter Dance]. She accepted, and I was elated. AlmostGF was going to be there too.

———–

The night of the [Winter Dance] arrived and I was standing on CuteGirl’s porch about to ring the bell. Since I didn’t take Driver’s Ed that summer, my Dad was driving us. I had a license but it wasn’t the “unrestricted” license to drive after 9PM. My parents were strict about me driving after 9PM with my “restricted” license unless I was coming home from my part-time job. I even had a note in my wallet from my manager to produce in case I got pulled over by cops (which never happened).

Standing there in my pleather jacket and while holding the container with her corsage in it, I rang the bell. For some reason I had a lot of expectations about what was going to happen that night. I was psyching myself up. Taking a date to a school dance was something I hadn’t done before. Her mother answered the door.

“Hi! You must be Beppo, come on in!” she said while smiling. “CuteGirl is just finishing up getting ready. How are you tonight?”

“I’m alright. How are you?” I said while feeling my cheeks beginning to flush.

Pull it together Venerdi!” I told myself while taking in a deep breath and letting it out.

I ended up chatting with her mom and her sister for a few minutes before CuteGirl came downstairs. She was wearing red and had her hair done up in a bun of large curls at the nape of her neck. I blissfully ignored or didn’t notice the “let’s get this over with” look she tried very hard to conceal on her face. She put on the corsage I bought her (small roses), which her mom and sister complimented and admired. With that we were ready to go.

The drive over to my school was a quiet one. She really wasn’t that talkative, even with my Dad trying to prompt some conversation out of her. I probably should’ve took note of that as a red flag. We arrived at my school and my Dad dropped us off.

“I’ll be out here to pick you both up at 10,” he said.

“Alright, we’ll see you then,” I replied.

He smiled. “Have a good time.”

My Dad drove off and we walked up to the main doors to my school.

Now you might be thinking: “No problem. You both go inside to the dance without a hitch. After that was where things start getting weird.”

Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

My school had a policy that you needed to have ID to get into the dances. When you bought the tickets, they were sold numbered. The person you got them from would write your name and your date’s (if applicable) name down next to each number. You needed both the ticket and some form of picture ID to get in. Most people used their school ID. There was also a safety aspect to this policy too.

Keeping that in mind, I did tell CuteGirl a few times before tonight that she did need to bring ID with her. The problem was that I didn’t check to see if she had it with her before leaving her house. Silly me for thinking people are responsible for themselves.

I pulled the [Winter Dance] tickets out of my pocket. “Do you have your ID?”

“No. Was I supposed to bring it?”

I bit back a curse. “Yeah, you were. Let’s see if we can still get in.”

This was 2001 and cell phones weren’t ubiquitous. And I didn’t have a quarter for the payphone.

What happened was that it took 20 minutes for me to get her in. Normally you breeze through, depending on the line length. My math teacher at the time had to take us down to the school office. This was so he could call CuteGirl’s home and make sure they knew she was going to the [Winter Dance] with me. I was both embarrassed and fuming.

“Next time, remember your ID,” he told us after hanging up. “Enjoy your evening.”

“Thank you, Mr. Smith,” I replied as we walked out of the office to the cafeteria to take our coats off.

She didn’t even apologize to me for the mess up. A normal girl that legitimately forgot something would say “I’m sorry” at the least. Another red flag I should’ve noticed. I didn’t care, even with my enthusiasm beginning to drop.

We put our coats down on one of the tables and got in line for pictures. While we were waiting, I tried to make some small talk with her. She wasn’t having it, lots of one word or short answers. I gave up by the time we were next in line to be photographed.

A few weeks later, when I got the pictures you saw two different people in it. First was myself. I had a big genuine smile on my face and I looked happy. The second was CuteGirl. There was a forced smile on her face. A smile of obligation. One of “I don’t want to be here.” I kick myself thinking how blind and stupid I was. Live and learn.

We finished up with pictures and went into the gym. It was already dark and the music was playing. The clustering of groups of people chatting and having a good time. We found my friends and joined their group. Later on, AlmostGF and the guy she came with, [Stoic Guy], came over to join us too. It was a good time.

Throughout all this I’m talking to my friends. And while trying to include CuteGirl in the conversation. I don’t really remember exactly when I noticed she was gone. Around the time of the first slow dance, I couldn’t find her. She had disappeared.

“Where’s CuteGirl?” asked [Stoic Guy] while he was dancing with AlmostGF.

“Beats me,” I said while shrugging. “Maybe she went to the bathroom?”

“I don’t know. I was just in there a few minutes ago and didn’t see her,” replied AlmostGF.

“Shit.” I stood where I was and looked around for her as the last notes of the song faded away. A fast pop song started playing.

Where did she go?” I thought.

The rest of the night was a repeat of that. She’d be around for a little while and then disappear for long stretches. The disappearances happened around when the slow dances would come up. I was not amused at this.

I danced with CuteGirl a total of two times the entire night. Both times were when AlmostGF brought her back onto the dancefloor. She didn’t look at me or say anything. I was pissed, but I didn’t have the balls to address the elephant in the room: “Where did you go for most of the night?”

Pissed because of the disrespect. Pissed on the money I had metaphorically flushed down the toilet. Pissed on my expectations not living up to reality. Pissed at myself.

The lights came up. The [Winter Dance] was over.

“C’mon, let’s go,” I brusquely led her to the cafeteria where we got our coats.

She followed in my wake to my Dad’s car. We got in the back and he drove us back to her house. I was seething and staring out the window, knowing I’d been slighted. How I was slighted was the real question.

We got back to her house and I walked her to her door. I’d at least keep my dignity.

“I had a good time,” she said hollowly.

“Yeah, me too,” I replied. “Good night.”

With me saying that she opened the door and walked inside. I turned around and walked to my Dad’s car. Sitting down with a thump in the passenger’s seat I buckled my seatbelt.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I said while looking out the window.

He was silent for a moment. “You can’t expect everything to work out the way you want it to, Beppo.”

“I know, Dad. Thanks.”

I felt the car shift into gear as my Dad backed out of the driveway to take us home. I tried not to look at CuteGirl’s house as we left.

That one question remained: Where did she go?

———–

After the [Winter Dance] I never spoke to nor saw her again. I knew deep down that something else was going on. AlmostGF letting me know I was played (and for a guy that I deemed lesser than me!) gave some clarity and closure.

I did keep CuteGirl’s picture (I still have it in an album in a box). Using it as a reminder of my Dad’s words: “You can’t expect everything to work out exactly the way you want it to.”

The Lessons of Youth.

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