I remember the night, and the feeling, more than almost any night of my life. Sometimes I forget all about it for a month or two, or maybe even a couple of years, and then suddenly I’ll be waiting for a traffic light, or standing over the sink, or putting on my shoes, and it will all flood back.
I was 12, I think. Maybe 13. The event was an experiment by our leaders at the Hamilton YMCA — all-male at the time — to hold a dance, with girls imported from the Burlington YMCA, which was a “Family Y” and thus co-ed. Amazingly, the girls came.
Most of us, boys and girls both, had never been to a dance before. We weren’t really sure what to do. And we were shy.
We were all gathered in the large first floor space in the Y known as the “Youth Department.” The ping-pong tables and the crokinole boards were cleared away to the side for the evening. The services of a local DJ were secured. The lights were lowered a bit. There were cheesies. And orange pop.
I don’t remember much about the music. I’m pretty certain Three Times a Lady was played. Probably Saturday Night by the Bay City Rollers. Probably Stairway to Heaven at the end, as that was the custom of the day. Maybe Even in the Quietest Moments by Supertramp. After that, my memory has faded too much.
If we were shy as a group, I was extra-especially shy. Girls and dancing and low lights all conspired my make me nervous. The only salvation was that it wasn’t school, so I didn’t have to see anyone in the morning, or maybe even ever again.
Towards the end of the night, after lots of standing in the corner, eating cheesies, talking to my friends, and generally trying to avoid making an ass of myself, out of the blue one of the Burlington girls came over and asked me to dance. Inexplicable.
In my minds eye, over 25 years, I’ve built this brave girl up into a vision of beauty, bravery, intelligence, moxy. She was probably just a girl from Burlington like I was a boy from Carlisle.
But it was a slow dance, and, strangely, that meant dancing in a clutch that was more like a really warm hug than a polite foxtrot.
I remember her fuzzy white sweater the most. I can evoke the feeling of it on my face — she was, predictably, taller than me, given our age — simply by closing my eyes. The whole thing was, well, very warm — the kind of thing that makes you happy to be alive. And wanting more of whatever that was.
It was over in 3, maybe 4 minutes. I think I said thank you. Or something like that. I don’t think I had another dance that night. It didn’t matter.