Saturday, February 05, 2011

Stories from the Back Seat


My crinolines and my dress twirled up around my waist, and my white panties were in plain view when he took the picture. All he probably cared about was capturing the action, the movement, getting his shot, getting home. Or maybe he waited…and waited…for just the right moment at just the right time when a third grader who had an affinity for twirling flashed her panties. I had noticed the man with the camera, but I thought he was someone’s father. He might have been, but the following Wednesday a picture of me with my exposed panties appeared in the local newspaper.

That was the week I refused to go back to square dancing. I had refused before - the first time was when I was told that it was “where boys and girls play in a sort of country dance together.” And, that was the first time my parents told me that I was going. And when the white Pontiac pulled up in front of the house as it did each week, I obediently got in the backseat, stuffing my stupid crinolines in behind me.

Dylan and Maxine Hubert were an overly groomed, childless couple in their late 40’s. The inside of their car smelled like Aqua Net and Winston cigarettes with notes of Jean Nate bath splash and Hai Karate aftershave. “Here’s the celebrity,” Dylan Hubert said as he looked at me in his rear-view mirror. Then, he broke out in song “Here she comes! Miss America!” Maxine turned around from the front seat and said, “Aren’t you excited? Your picture in the paper? I sure would be.” I half-smiled and quietly said, “Yes, but my… my…” I was too mortified to talk about the panties. Talking about them would mean that they had actually happened. “Yes, I’m excited” I lied.

The truth was that I would have given everything to hide out in my room that evening with the Cinderella wallpaper and the record album cast-offs given to me by my older siblings. The albums they no longer wanted because they’d moved on from The Mamas and The Papas or had ended up with two Beatles White albums. The albums that I played on a tiny Fisher Price record player that took me to far off places where songs were sung about blackbirds and Sycamore trees.

I don’t really know how my parents met them, but I’m sure there was some sort of party conversation that took place where the Huberts went on and on about being the King and Queen of The Stardusters, a local square dancing club. And, I’m sure my parents chimed in about their “extremely shy” daughter and how beneficial something like that would be in helping her to come out of her shell. And, before I knew it, two strangers in ridiculous outfits were driving me to a dance at a school auditorium. An arrangement had been made, and I was now an involuntary member of The Stardusters.

I used to stand against the wall, eyes cast down, waiting for a boy to reluctantly approach me and half-way point to me as his dance partner selection, feeling both relief and panic when he did. And when the music started - then and only then - we would quickly join hands and begin. I never looked at the boys. I never saw them. I knew they were there, but I never saw their faces. I felt their hot, sweaty hands in mine, but I never dared look into their eyes for that would surely be the end of me. If I looked into their eyes, they might see me, all the way through me, right down to the bottom of my soul. And even at eight years old, I knew the boys weren’t ready for that.

But then I saw one of the boys, Andy, as he approached me with a huge smile on his face. To see a boy bounding toward me as if he had finally found me, maybe liking me in a nice way, made me feel like I could love Andy. “Guess what? I have a present for you,” he said. For the first time I saw his brownish-blonde hair, his brown eyes sparkling, his crazy 7-year old Jack-o-lantern smile. “Do you wanna know what it is?” he asked. I trusted Andy, now. Andy was my friend, now. Andy was probably going to be my boyfriend. “Yes. I want to know what it is” I said.

The next thing I saw was a newspaper clipping of the white panties picture coming toward me. Andy was laughing loudly and pointing at me as I quickly picked up the clipping from the floor. Then, he joined the other boys across the room as they all laughed and started chanting “I see Paris, I see France-” I ripped up the clipping and threw it in the trash can. And, then…I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed and laughed with the boys who I had never seen before and with Andy who had not found me, after all.

As I rode home in the backseat of the Hubert’s Pontiac, the tears rolled down my face and I quickly wiped them away. The Huberts couldn’t know that I was crying. If they knew, they might not think I was Miss America or a celebrity, after all. The Huberts were good people and the Huberts needed something to believe in....even if it was me.

Copyright (c) 2011-2012 TSOSMMD

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