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Full Circle: The Big Dance
I almost lost my heart on Valentines’ Day

It was my first Valentines’ dance with real girls. Each sixth-grade boy had to pick a partner. The music started. Phil Phillips’ “Sea of Love.” The girls, in their gray poodle skirts, were scrambling left and right. And then, in the dim light of the Ethan Allen Elementary gymnasium, the room that smelled of sweat and tears, I saw her standing there. Dawn DeFrancisco.

The thing about sixth grade is, even though you told everyone you hated girls, you really didn’t. You just wished they came with an owner’s manual.

Now, understand that Dawn, as lovely as she was with her long black hair and her deep brown eyes, was not my first choice. That was Diane Nix. I had known her since kindergarten. She lived on Tackawanna Street, just a few blocks from the school.

She wasn’t very tall, Diane Nix. And she had the face of an angel. Creamy and white, almost like fine porcelain. Not that I’d ever seen fine porcelain. In the fifth grade, she invited me to a party at her house. She had a paneled basement and a pink plastic 45 record player that serenaded the night.

There were eight of us. We jitterbugged, we strolled, and there was a slow dance or two. I was feeling good about my prospects that night. I had only stepped on her toes three times.

Then somebody said, “Let’s play Spin the Bottle.” The girls giggled. The boys grinned. We sat in a circle around a just-finished Coke bottle. Diane took the first spin. It spun like a turbo dreidel. With each rotation, tension was building like a meat lasagna. The bottle slowed down at Billy McKinley and came to a screeching stop in front of me. “Oh my God,” Kathy Haley said, “Diane gets to kiss Maury.”

This was it. This was the moment I’d been waiting for since kindergarten. I straightened my shirt, puckered my lips and leaned in. The girls started chanting. “Diane and Maury, sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

And then it happened. Diane’s face turned bright red. “I can’t kiss Maury,” she said, “he’s one of my best friends.”

Friends? I sat there in silence. Everyone stared at me. That was it, I decided. I would never be friends with any girl. Ever.

Let me tell you about Dawn DeFrancisco. She was taller than the other girls. But that was fine because I was the second tallest boy in my class. And she ranked right up there in beauty. Right behind Diane Nix. And maybe Mary Lou Sheehy.

But would she dance with me? Ever since the Spin the Bottle disaster, I was afraid to ask a girl to do anything. What should I do? I needed a friend. I need a wingman. I walked over to Mike Hutkin. He had a good pompadour. “Do you think Dawn likes me?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

“Well, do you think she’d dance with me?” He thought about it for a minute. It seemed like an hour.
“Just walk over and ask her,” he said. “She won’t bite.”

Oh, boy. I straightened the pleats on my gray flannel pants. All six of them. And I made the long, lonely walk to the other side of the gym, all the while staring down at my cordovan penny loafers. There were no mirrors in the gym. This could be a problem. Were my shoes shiny enough? Was my pompadour straight? What if she told me she just wanted to be friends? And that friends shouldn’t dance with each other.

After my 10-minute walk of death, there I was, standing right in front of her. I cleared my throat and tried to make my voice sound deeper.

“Umm, uh, Dawn, will you, you know, dance with me?”

A big smile came to her face. “Sure,” she said, “I thought you’d never ask.”

Yes? She said yes. Dawn DeFrancisco said yes. Take that, Diane Nix.

 

Read more from Maury Z. Levy.

February 2020
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