I woke with the following paragraph in my head. So I transcribed it and wrote the rest–a post about watching kids from my hometown fall in love happily-unhappily ever after. Now I’m smiling on this screened-in porch in Hudson, a beautifully rural region in which I’ll never have any roots. Because once again spirit gave me an answer when I asked. The question, desperately phrased last night, was: Why the fuck am I writing a book about my hometown?
What I remember most about those school dances was the shock of watching two people find each other. The music wasn’t cheesy to us. It was full of hope and longing and sweet discovery. Which is why, I think, 80s ballads boast such a strong appeal some three decades later.
Wheels go round and round
You’re on my mind.
Sleep alone tonight
Sending all my love
Along the wire
Watching a boy take a deep breath, shove his hands in his pockets, and stride across the great divide of the gymnasium to ask a girl to dance. She quiet, while her friends gossiped and chewed gum, flipped hair. The boy saying something super small– yawannadance, probably. She saying something even smaller, a barely perceptible nod.
And then the two step into that light–strobe, disco, maybe just a stage-crew spotlight. In my memory there was always something glowing on the dance floor, the miraculous inception of an ancestral line. For in that light I saw the first dances of humans who went on to marry and have children, buy houses, share private jokes and tired smiles for 30-odd years. Also beat each other to a bloody pulp of infidelities and defaulted mortgages and sometimes actual bloody pulps. All those births and holidays and deaths spinning out from that moment, spinning like a clown.
I could list the kids’ names here and if you’re from our town you might even know them. Definitely you’d remember some softball game along the way, the soft hiss of a beer can, the light hum of crickets. Maybe even the swift sorcery of a firefly in a stagnant night sky.
Because more than anything, that’s what my parents gave me when they raised me from kindergarten to high school in the same town–in a tribal town, no less. I have no continuity in my own clan–never really fit in on either side. But I have known the same kids since we were jump-roping to the Sugar Hill Gang in first grade and barfing chunks on whale-watching trips and finding first love in the beautiful artificiality of a school dance. Magic is what we make of it–really, it’s the unholy-holy marriage of will and willingness, desire and destiny–and I saw it happen in real-time. Soul time, even. Sure, I was always off a little to the side, and sure I never found anyone of my own, not at those dances, not at any dances. And it’s more than true that I moved away at 18 and never came back for any real length of time. But I witnessed the first entwinement of hands so young, so new, that skin was still smooth and dimpled. I saw the gorgeous flush of a boy’s neck as he bent over someone who in that moment he loved maybe definitely forever. I saw a girl tentative and then sure as she swayed in his still-scrawny arms. I saw the human parade in action and knew its names.
For that I’ll always be grateful.