I’m curious to know which of my middle school friends will remember this particular story. I’m even more curious what their thoughts were in the middle of it…
Picture a small town hall with two classes of grade seven students having a dance on the last night of their class camping trip. Picture 12 and 13 year-olds awkwardly dancing to the hits of the early 1990s — a little Extreme, Paula Abdul, Mariah Carey, and always a Bryan Adams ballad to end. As if the bad music, poor dancing, and newly raging hormones isn’t awkward enough, imagine in the middle of dance floor a girl dancing with a chair. A girl dancing with a chair all night. The entire dance. If someone approaches her, she invites them to grab a leg of the chair and join her.
As the night goes on, people start to get a little annoyed by the chair dancing. (Which, of course, is truly just holding/hugging a chair and moving to the music, and can be compared in no way to the more popular “table dancing” or “pole dancing”.) People wanted her to put the chair down and join the dance. Or at least just put the chair down. But there is a catch. If she’s going to have to put the chair down, she insists that she sang Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” for the whole group. There is no logic in this request, of course, but they comply and the girl puts down the chair, the music stops and she sings “Unforgettable” in earnest. And the dance continues.
I haven’t figured out yet if that night was actually “unforgettable” or “unbelievable” or “unforgiveable”… because, you see, I was that girl.
That night has in a lot of ways become one of those blurry/fuzzy stories of adolescence. I know it happened. I remember being there — the way the chair fit into my arms and the creative ways I used the chair to do a few spins, as if the chair were actually dancing with me. But what I do not remember is being conscious of why I was going such a ridiculous thing. I just did it. It was what I wanted to do.
But now I know why.
I danced with that chair because I thought no one would want to dance with me. So I thought that rather than standing out in the crowd by being the one nobody danced with, I’d just prevent the possibility of rejection on the dance floor in the first place! Insert chair and 13 year old logic.
Of course, like I said, I did not consciously go through that thought process, which leaves me guessing how I came to do such an absurd thing. But, the absurdity, as you know, does not stop with the chair, but ends with the culminating moment of singing for both of the grade seven classes, my teachers, and the trip chaperones. Why?! I don’t know. How could someone so obviously self-conscious want to do something like that? The only thing I can come up with was that I masked my complete lack of self-esteem with ridiculous confidence. Just like I put the chair between me and my potential dance partners, I put on a veil of confidence at certain moments.
There were, after all, some things I wasn’t self-conscious about: I knew I was smart and funny and could sing just well enough to make a mockery of most songs. But besides those things, I was quite certain of my ugliness and aloneness, and those insecure thoughts under-girded most of what I did in those early teenage years. In fact, they were the undercurrent of everything; those insecurities were the reason I did all of those ridiculous things that night!
As I write that I think of what a mess my life could’ve become if my insecurities had lead me to do even greater and more unfortunate things. I ought to be grateful it was just a little chair dancing and Nat singing, as embarrassing as it is! And I’m grateful that I can now understand what I was doing back then, even if it makes me sad that I was too scared to put myself out there in “normal” teenage ways.
Of course part of me is glad that I had my own unique way of being back then and that I now have a whole novel-full of “ridiculous Dixie” stories to share, which will hopefully help my kids to carve their own path in the world in unique and wonderful ways (and with hopefully a lot less of the crushing insecurity).
Here’s to life without too many walls. Or at least understanding why we put them up in the first place and — even in just the knowing of that — taking the pieces down and not being afraid to be ourselves in the world. Here’s to putting the chair down and seeing if anyone asks you to dance.