[This is part 1 in a 2-part series. This is the story as I first imagined it, hence the "first telling". Part two will be the more succint, but more bubbly and joyous version. The one before you now is the rawer, more emotional form, but which delves off into pointless explanations of character and such, deviating so from the storyline.]
I've been here before. A decade ago, when I was unprepared, and transitioning from hardly a high school adolescent to some overambitious pre-college type, simply by accident. Two weeks, set aside between my junior and senior high school years, interrupting the endlessness of the summers of my youth, and I came to this campus to stay in a small dorm room in Helaman Halls like the thirty or so other students that also came for this scholarship program that trained us in the outdated computer programming language ProLog.
The culminating moment in this experience, as surreal as it still seems to me now, was a dance. A dance that took place on the south side of campus in a small, flat, nondescript building. A dance--for thirty or so people, mind you.
There was a DJ on the small stage. He was older, more fashionable, and noticeably separated from our crowd. There were some lights that splayed embarrassingly across the empty dance floor, empty because most of us were inherently unable to participate in a social gathering such as this; we were at a computer camp, each of us having won the opportunity and traveled from all corners of the nation. It was a group of my peers, a collective, but even so I felt alienated--too timid to attempt friendships beyond the platonic.
Though some, which didn't really persist far beyond the two weeks, were memorable:
My roommate Adam was from Roseville--so close to home!--and you'd think we'd have hit it off better, but he never became an actual friend. Instead he kind of frightened me. He was gaunt and thin, with baseball-player stubble at an age when my face was as void of hair as my father's head. And though we were only sixteen or seventeen he managed somehow to seem both gentle and terrifying at the same time. My mind pictures him oddly, still: standing beneath the darkened doorframe into our room with just enough light (emanating from the floor, for some reason) to illuminate the underside of his cheeks and neck, like a campfire ghost-storytelling where the teller holds a lit flashlight up underneath his face and his eyes are wide and eyebrows high in mock-horror to the point where it's not mockery anymore and it truly becomes horrifying.
Alex *******, from Minneapolis: the mouse-eared and daring, and likely the leader of the nearly nonexistent I'm-outgoing-and-forward-and-liked group. He and I shared something unique, because in one year's time we were both to return to BYU as freshmen, in the same hall in Deseret Towers, on the same sixth floor. Of course I would participate in the pranks he'd orchestrate, usually in competition with the seventh floor. We'd talk girls, school, music--he was bright and had the scores to prove it, riding a full scholarship while I ditched classes, slept in, and never kept up. Even with this to come, we would remain only acquaintances the whole time, just casual buddies and never much more. Last I heard of him Emily had told me she saw him walking on the Vegas strip while on his mission. He's since been removed entirely from my life. Perhaps he's a doctor.
There was Eric *****--a truer friend, though due to his actions only. He was the one who pursued Michelle--easily the best-looking girl in the group, with long, curled blonde hair, an enchanting laugh, stylish--and he was successful. He was always up to something sly, planning little meeting places, moments where the three of us would be walking and I would conveniently disappear, leaving them to the rediscovery of high school summer makeout sessions. He wrote me while on his mission, and even took the time to look me up after the fact, when I was already married; Amy may have even been pregnant at the time. He found us in Cameron Park and called me once while he was visiting his sister. It was awkward, but we found conversation and reminisced for a short while. I've not heard from him since then, nearly five years ago. But I still have his number in my cell phone, most likely invalid by now. Actually I just checked. It's gone.
Then there was Dave ***. He was the one that Ben and I always referred to as The Stalker. I'm quite convinced he was at least partially attracted to me. The next year, he too would track me down, and call me up to try and schedule lunch or some other way of meeting. His voice and mannerisms, and quite frankly, his whole personality, turned me off from wanting any friendship with him, so I'd skip out and not return calls and I'd find excuses. It was like trying to avoid the persistence of a girl with whom you'd rather not have relations. And that's all I recall of him, except that he was short and from Missouri, and in a stockier way reminded me of Jason Priestly.
So this group of us was at this dance. And while there, stalling on that empty dance floor, I somehow began the very odd 1980s-helicopter-at-an-angle dance where I circled around and kept my head cocked, the same way my friend Cameron (he who recently moved to Kentucky) had once taught me. This, even with all my public-dancing apprehensions. And I danced alone.
But the DJ saw me dancing to his music. So in return he sent his attractive, dark-haired girlfriend over to me, like a prize, a possession, who then declares to me that they had seen me dancing and determined that I was the best there, and that she then was to dance with me. This was startling, but believable--definitely believable--because in a few months time I would win my Senior Homecoming dance-off, where my break-dancing moves--lifted from the Let's Break! video I had bought at the thrift store--though amateur, unpracticed and ugly at best overpowered the minds and expectations of everyone there. And I won, evidenced by unprecedented applause. For this feat I would be rewarded a "cd of my choice", and that's why No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom cd still today sits alphabetized on my shelf. It came in the mail two weeks later.
So the two of us danced. Slow and fast, a brief duration. She would smile and laugh and look to her boyfriend onstage as he manned the cliche midtempo dance tracks familiar to us all. He would occasionally smile back. It lasted only a few songs and then she was gone, returned to her place next to her hero on their shared pedestal. He may have been the hero, but I was the deity.
But I realize now what was going on. At the time that I left that night I was excited, confident, a little surprised but not entirely too humble. I had been noticed. I had been picked--chosen--at sixteen, to dance with the prettiest girl, the oldest girl.
But her smile, her laugh: it wasn't evidence of her admiration for me; it was mockery. My dancing was ridiculous, laughable, obvious. In my standing-out they had looked on and been entertained at my expense. The joke was to have her join me. But it doesn't matter, doesn't shatter any of my past or goals or elements of self-concept, because I've come to this realization years after the fact. Though it is interesting to note, that I have always been what I've suspected. These outlandish moments that seem foreign to the self-image I've built are not really foreign at all. I've always been this way.