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Prompted By Parties

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I walk out in a daze, music ringing in my ears, the girls in their party dresses still twirling across my eyes.

Sixth grade. Pressured by my turncoat best friend, I go from girl-haters’ club to boy-girl parties overnight. But for me, the party doesn’t end when our host’s parents turn up the lights in the basement rec room. I walk out in a daze, music ringing in my ears, the girls in their party dresses still twirling across my eyes, so even as my mother kisses me goodnight, it’s not her words I hear but Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Lesley Gore, the Beach Boys. I toss and turn, replaying every conversation, every dance, reviewing the progression of each snowball, kicking myself for muddling the steps I’d practiced, for making my stepfather’s conversation-starters seem so wooden. When the girls aren’t dancing with boys they dance with each other, but boys have no such luxury, so we must either screw up our courage and do the asking or stand in groups tapping our feet, mouthing the words along with Elvis, Frankie Valli, the Everly Brothers, afraid to sing in our cracking adolescent voices, trying to divine from the lyrics what it will take for a girl to not just dance with us if we find the will to ask, but actually like us. Hours pass before the rock beat softens in my head, before the buzz recedes and the images fade and I drift into fitful sleep. Why is this so difficult? Why am I tormented? And why does no one tell me that the others are lying in bed doing the exact same thing?

Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.

Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    A beautiful evocation of what those basement dance parties really felt like for all of us adolescents, John. We all tried so hard, wanted to dance with someone cute, be noticed, not be a wall flower. We didn’t quite understand what hormones were doing to us, or how to really quiet those feelings and feel self-assured (did anyone at that age). You have captured that age perfectly.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    This took me back to my own experiences with “rec room” parties at that age. So awkward. Playing spin the bottles and praying it wouldn’t land on me. Dancing to those same songs. And the girls were also lying in their beds after those parties thinking the same thoughts as you. Such innocent times.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Your description of these dances was pitch perfect, John. But even more perfect was your encapsulation of this pre-teen male angst in your last sentence. On behalf of our gender, thank you.

  4. Suzy says:

    Great story John, it reminds me of the first scene of Thirteen Going On Thirty, one of my favorite movies. I never went to a party like that, but I wish I had. In my town, we hadn’t progressed to boy-girl parties in 6th grade. And in 7th grade it was dances at school instead of rec room parties. So thanks for giving me this insight into what I missed.

  5. Wow! This was soo evocative! Painful yet profound, busy young mind whirling! I wonder what this experience would feel like today from inside and out. Do kids get to experience this kind of innocence?

    • John Zussman says:

      Good question, Charles. I don’t think today’s kids are as innocent as I was, with sex permeating the culture (and headlines) as it does. But I think the insecurity and desire to be liked are still as strong. Thanks for your kind words.

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