Her father drops her off at the high school dance. She walks reluctantly toward the school, looking back once, than twice. He waves to her and smiles, encouraging her to go in.
The gym is dark at night and the music is throbbing through the crowd. She wonders if her shoes look right with her dress. Is her dress too short? Too long? All the faces are familiar, she has known them for years. They have perfect faces, perfect bodies. None of them are too tall, too short, too fat, or too plain. None of them are like her. She sees how they all laugh, talking to each other while she stands outside of the group, observing. The girls giggling in the center, the boys circling around. Why is it that this is all so easy for them and so hard for her?
Her heart is beating through her chest. She walks through the crowd, hoping someone will smile at her. Perhaps someone will see her. But she is invisible.
Then she realizes that she is wrong. They do see her. She is not invisible. She imagines what their thoughts are when they look at her. They must be glad that they are not her. They must be glad that they have friends. They must be glad for her existence. Because of her very existence, they are elevated in the eyes of their peers.
She closes her eyes and dances as she walks, trying to blend in. She bumps into another girl. “I’m sorry.” She shouts above the noise. “That’s okay.” Comes a reply. Did she imagine it? Did the girl smile at her? Testing, she attempts a conversation. “The D.J. is really good! I love this music!” To her surprise, the girl replies, “Do you want to dance with us?” Exhilarated, she joins in. She is dancing. She is smiling. She is even exchanging a word or two. An outsider watching might even think she looks like she belongs. But inside, her stomach is knotted and her mind is racing. What should she say next? How does she keep their attention? She strings one moment to the next. Savoring it for as long as it lasts.
But the moment passes and the girls move on. Not knowing what else to do, she winds her way through the crowd to the wall. She stands there and watches. She is not really in the room, she is hiding in her mind. She thinks, not one of them knows or cares who she really is. So why should she care? Why should she even try anymore? She is better off alone where no one can hurt her.
The dance ends and she climbs back into her father’s car. “How was the dance?”
She sits quietly for a while. “Dad? Why am I so different from them?” He smiles at his daughter, “You’re not different.” He explains, “People wear many masks. It is easier to go through life when you can hide behind a mask. It takes much more courage to face the world without one.”
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy