Before to-do lists and career chasing, there was a time when one’s entire universe could be decorated or destroyed by the eye-line of a pretty girl. Before long-term relationships and second helpings of sex there was a phase when the body was a bottle with the lid tightly fastened. This began in grade seven at the high school dance. I went along even though I didn’t know anyone. It was like a graduation for puberty. Beneath the rousing fanfare of Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer,’ what could have been a celebration of adolescence felt more like a wake for childhood.

No human has ever felt less confident than me, fused to my plastic seat, only able to grasp basic tasks like sipping from a cup or skulking to the toilet. Before me lay an exotic smorgasbord or lanky boys and soft, swishy girls. Leggy gigglers would pull each other by the hands while guys huddled in circles, laughing quietly. The floor was swimming with glow-fish from the disco ball, my heart beating to the atomic kick of Roxette’s ‘The Look.’ I spent three hours trapped in this movie, waiting for my line. Where was the girl just moved from a small town spotting me from across the hall? Where was her cleanskin smile and yellow satin glove held out like a star?

I bode my days in the classroom developing thick, magnetic crushes on neat-faced girls. I’d drink myself into oblivion with thoughts of their feathery hair and balmy calves. A maths class was a sixty minute survey where I’d collect glances like cabbage moths. Eye contact became soul-flint, igniting a cocktail of passion and embarrassment that spread through my system like mild-fire. Did she just smile at me? Was she looking at me or past me? Does that mean she likes me? Should I talk to her on the way out? I did no such thing; too distracted by swearing pimples.

Opportunities came in P.E. dance class. In a gladiatorial battle of awkwardness, each gender would take turns asking the other to be their partner. I sat on the varnished floor, wrapped in my arms, as blue stockinged legs honed in like soft missiles.

“Justin?”

Oh to hear my name! A daisy bloom of pleasure blossomed inside my cage. For my turn, I’d waddle off with ears scorching and eyes on high beam. While the public display of selection left me vulnerable, at least my clammy comrades were all in the same position. For one round #1 crush chose me, which had my head doing the Mexican hat dance. I connected with her cool, narrow fingers and savoured her hand on my shoulder. Data was analysed while doing the pride of erin with a girl who had her sleeves pulled over her hands.

Years later, in grade ten, I stepped through the silk screen and onto the dance floor. I realised socials could be fun, and subverted the sexual tension by moshing, requesting techno songs and laughing at the couples slow dancing to AC/DC. I’d worked myself up to ask # 1 crush out. We rocked (literally) to Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose,’ my hands resting on her waist like butterflies. The world slowed down, the extras floated away and the camera dollies pulled in . Her cheeks softened as she sucked at her bottom lip. I asked if she’d like to go out. The words floated up like musical notes. Her eyes twinkled with oceans and cream. She said she had to think about it. Confetti light streamed from the mirrorball.

Two days later #1 crush declined, citing she couldn’t picture us together. GET A MIRROR! I scratched in my diary. I was crushed like a preying mantis beneath a cold boot of truth. The same boots that were made for walking. After dancing on the grave of my romantic failures, I bounced back like John Travolta to regain the slow, oily break dance of my inglorious youth.