This morning I was watching the Friday cliffhanger episode of One Life To Live on YouTube, and I had a disturbing flashback. The previously goody-two-shoes character of Matthew Buchanan, who has been acting out recently in order to impress Becca, his No. 1 crush, into thinking he's a bad boy, was at his first high school dance and ended up on the receiving end of the worst kind of humiliation. After the two shared a slow dance, she revealed to him in front of everyone that she'd only danced with him on a dare, laughed in his face and walked away.
Poor thing, I thought, both sympathetic and empathetic with Matthew. I knew exactly how he felt. When I was in 8th grade, I had a major crush on this girl named Kim LaRose. If you don't count Ricky Sampson, Kim was the only person I'd liked since I laid eyes on Sandra Runyon, in 3rd grade. My unrequited admiration of Sandra (or was it? -- interestingly, Sandra always picked me as her square dance partner in music class) lasted until she moved to Utah the summer before 6th grade. Then along came Kim. I was no prize back in the day -- a chubby nerd in unfashionable too-tight clothes. I was also incredibly shy. So my love for Kim went unannounced -- except to all of my family and friends.
But I decided that the night of the end-of-the-year 8th grade banquet, during which we celebrated our graduation from middle school and the beginning of high school the following fall, I I would finally make my move: I'd ask her to dance. The night of the banquet, I tried to look as sharp as possible, and after my mom and sister wished me good luck, my dad drove me to the banquet. My stomach was in knots the entire way there. I was certain that I couldn't do it. I was an outcast of sorts: smart, nerdy, heavy, poor and black in an early '80s deep-south society that rewarded coolness, beauty, richness and whiteness.
Then the opening strains of Air Supply's "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" came over the sound system. It's now, I thought to myself, or never. I walked straight over to Kim and popped the question: Could I have this dance? She looked at me in astonishment, started laughing and walked away.
I was a humiliating moment that wouldn't be equalled until years later when Kevin dumped me by email while I was on vacation in Rio. Kim stuck that knife in even further, and twisted it around, when moments later, she was on the dance floor with Stacey Sparkman (yes, a boy), my main rival for her affection. I spent the rest of the night sitting on a table against the wall, as various friends approached me and tried to console me. One of mutual friend of Kim and mine even came up with this most ridiculous story about how she and Kim had made a bet about whether I'd ask her to dance. Kim was allegedly so certain that I wouldn't ask her that her laughter was more a sign of her shock than rejection. The Carrie in me was not amused.
A few hours later, my dad arrived to pick me up. I spent the entire truck ride in the passenger seat silently weeping. When we got home, I went straight to my room and sat in the dark, crying and wondering what was wrong with me. One by one, my sister, my mother and my dad came in to console me. They didn't exactly make me feel better, but it was nice to know that they cared. It was one of two times in my entire life that my dad and I have had a true father-son talk. Several years later, in college, I wrote an essay about it and earned high marks. My sister, untrue to form, threatened to kick Kim's ass. And mom did what mother's do, wondering how any girl could not fall in love her son.
In some ways, the Kim LaRose episode was a defining moment of my life. Although I eventually blossomed, losing the baby fat as well as the nerdy tendencies (at least on the outside), inside I will always be that chubby unattractive kid that Kim LaRose rejected. She ended up moving away that summer, and I never saw her again. But I'm sure it's only a matter of time before she turns up on Facebook. Doesn't everyone at some point?