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?
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect Media, Inc.