At the Dance

by Deborah L. Swensen

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Not every girl is this lucky. I go to my first church dance and discover the guy who adores me.

The church’s cultural hall is decorated with streamers of pink, blue, and yellow crepe paper. Near the entry is an arch of balloons. From the ceiling hangs a large mirror ball, slowly rotating and reflecting the colored lights.

The floor is occupied by groups of teenagers. I am 14. It is my first official church dance. Earlier that day, I had spent hours climbing ladders and taping streamers. We had blown up balloons and twisted tissue paper. After taking a moment to admire our work, I hurried home to get ready.

I had carefully chosen my material and sewn my dress to fit the Hawaiian theme. Tiny flowers nestled on a creamy background. While decorating, I had made a multicolored flower. This I would wear in my hair.

I had showered and “borrowed” some of my mom’s Chanel No. 5 after-bath powder. I put on a little bit of lipstick and curled my hair. Every strand was perfect.

Now my heart pounds as I slip off my coat and enter the dimly lit hall, anxious to begin dancing.

But nothing is how I imagined it. For most of the night, I stand on the sideline with a group of girls pretending to be fascinated by the conversation.

The music starts, and I glance over to see a boy making a nonchalant zigzag towards us. My heart starts to race. Maybe this time I will be asked to dance. No. He chooses the girl next to me. The music announces the start of another dance. Everyone in our group is being asked to dance except me.

I look around, intently studying the decorations closest to me. A few boys who aren’t dancing awkwardly gulp the watery punch. Slowly I walk over to one of the chairs arranged at the side of the dance floor. I sit, staring down, not daring to look up for fear the tears that sting my eyes will escape.

Gently, a strong, comforting arm slides around my shoulders. There, beside me, sits my father. Usually he keeps his distance, knowing that parents are sometimes a burden at these functions. However, he knows that this time he’s needed.

For a few minutes we both gaze out at the couples dancing on the floor. Then, with a huskiness in his voice, he says, “I have never complained about being handicapped. I have never regretted it except for times like this. I hope the Lord will forgive me, but how I wish I could dance with my girls!”

As I turn to my father, sitting there in his wheelchair, I see tears in his gentle, loving eyes. My father had been a graceful dancer before his accident. His regret, though, isn’t for himself; it is for me.

The rest of the dance is a blur as I sit, with tears running down my cheeks, next to a father who cares about me.

Photography by Tamra Hamblin