It escalated quickly.
This is a story about high school, being insecure, trying to fit in, and how it led to me breaking a girl’s nose during my first dance ever. It’s not a story I’m proud of, but it is, unfortunately, true.
To begin within, I was an awkward teenager.
Painfully awkward. Obviously awkward.
I was obsessed with obscure comedy albums. I wore clothes that didn’t really fit right. And I made mix-tapes, SO many mix-tapes, for girls I coveted, but never had the confidence to actually ask them on a date.
But, as I got more comfortable at high school, I started to make attempts to become more social.
I’d spent the entirety of my freshman year avoiding any school-related functions (float-building parties, pep rallies, fundraisers), so, when I entered my more assured sophomore year, I decided that I was finally going to start taking part in the high school experience.
I was going to a dance.
I wasn’t going to ask a girl to the dance, because the idea terrified me, but there was a group of my friends who were going together and I felt confident enough to tag along (which was a big step for me).
The night was, surprisingly, a blast. We had a fun dinner beforehand. Someone’s older brother drove us around, so we wouldn’t have to deal with parents. And, when we arrived at the meticulously decorated gym, I found myself actually wanting to go out on the dance floor and… well… dance.
Not that I knew how to dance, but it was high school. I just sort of bopped around like the other guys and waltzed like Frankenstein the few times one of my female classmates asked me to dance during a slow song. (The majority of one nervous dance was spent awkwardly trying to hide my erection from my dance partner during “Lady In Red.”)
I was having fun, which made me feel bold. I was ready to try something new. I was ready for… swing-dancing.
Let me stop for a moment and recognize that, dear lord, am I dating myself right now.
For those who are younger than 73 years old, let me just state that, during the 1990s, swing-dancing somehow make a big resurgence in youth culture. There were band like the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Kids were “Zoot Suit Rioting” all over the place. (It was a dark time.)
So, somehow, I found myself on the dance floor, pretending that I knew how to swing dance. Which was, fine — embarrassing, but fine — until a young cute freshman girl asked me to flip her upside down.
And I did. It was easy. She weighed nothing. I flipped her and the crowd ROARED. They loved it! They wanted more! And so did the girl.
So I flipped her again… and again… and again. Everyone was loving it. I was near euphoric with wild abandon. Why had I missed out on all these dances last year? This was marvelous.
I was thinking about how happy I was when I flipped her the fifth time when, in reality, I should’ve been thinking “Hey, how good is my grip on this girl?”
The fifth time, as the girl was completely upside down, she slipped.
She let go of my arm, I let go of her arm, and, thanks to the cruel realities of gravity, she pile-drived herself, FACE FIRST, into the gymnasium floor.
The room went quiet except for the sounds of shitty ‘90s swing music.
Blood was everywhere. Chaperones surrounded the young girl, and it was quickly established that, yes, her nose was definitely broken. As they whisked her away to call her parents and get her to an emergency room, a realization spread across the gym — the dance was over.
And it was my fault.
No one flat-out blamed me to my face for the “accident.” But I knew. I knew what had happened. I’d let myself out of my self-imposed awkwardness box for five minutes and accidentally maimed a girl’s face.
Being outside with the rest of the normal teenagers obviously was not the place for me.
The brave young swing dancer was fine. I delivered flowers to her house the next day with an apology note, which she accepted gracefully.
But that night had taught me an important lesson — I was not an effortlessly cool kid.
I was a kid who required a lot of effort, and restraint, and contemplation. I was the kid who would always be more comfortable in my bedroom on my own than out socializing with a crowd.
It didn’t meant that I became some kind of social hermit in high school. I dated, I participated, I even went to more dances.
However, I did leave that night vividly knowing the consequences of what happens when you leave your comfort zone. You can either be the coolest kid on the dance floor or the kid sheepishly helping the janitor mop up blood.
Either way, there’s always risk involved when it comes to coming out of your shell and, sometimes, not every time, but sometimes, you’re better off staying inside.