The week before the dance, I avoided Dad as much as I could, I worried that he would change his mind and not let me go. Each day, I made sure to not get into arguments with my brothers and to generally be on my best behavior. I didn’t want to give him any reason to change his mind. A wiser approach was to give him bigger hugs and make sure he knew how appreciative I was. As the day of the dance grew closer, it started to sink in that Dad wouldn’t take back his word.
Finally, the night of the dance arrived, and it was a breezy one. I donned my high-waisted, skinny-fit whitewashed jeans and a bright pink polyester shirt with thick shoulder pads, ready to fit in with the ’80s crowd. My stomach tensed with anticipation as I got into the passenger seat of my dad’s 1968 emerald-green Ford Fairlane.
Don’t change your mind. Don’t change your mind, I prayed with eyes closed the entire ride there. I only opened them when we stopped, and I found myself in front of my school. I fumbled out of the door with a rushed “Bye, Daddy!” The door squeaked shut behind me.
I stutter-stepped my way to the school’s cement steps. My heart sped up as I noticed that Dad was still there, watching and waiting. He just glared at everyone in sight, as if he were the head of my security team. I bit my lip, hoping he wouldn’t change his mind at the last minute. Step by step, I inched closer to my destination. A wave of anxiety swept over me as I realized that I was exchanging the safe haven of home and family for an unfamiliar experience.
I walked in with a cautious smile, in disbelief that I was actually at the dance. Glancing at the face of Queen Elizabeth II on the crumpled Canadian dollar bill I’d been clutching, I paid my fellow classmate the fee for the dance. Having passed that hurdle, I performed a quick fist pump in the air and relaxed as my inner voice cheered, Woo-hoo! I made it! Let’s dance!
My tensed stomach quickly turned into fluttering butterflies. Suddenly, I heard my pulse in my ears through the blaring ’80s dance music in the school gymnasium. Young MC’s “Bust a Move,” Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” and Newcleus’s breakdance staple “Jam On It” were a few of the welcoming numbers. All dance-goers had to take their shoes off at the door, so as not to scratch the shiny wooden gym floor. There was a sea of Converse and Adidas running shoes and women’s flat dress shoes, all of which smelled like sweaty feet, to the left of the gymnasium doors. Despite the unpleasant odor, everyone ignored it because they had smelled it many times before.
Once I entered the dimly lit gymnasium, I saw a multitude of teenagers in white sweat socks walking around, being noisy, laughing and dancing to the top hits of the ’80: it was just as I had envisioned it in my head. I was ready to show off my dance moves. In my teased hair, which was easily the height of a pencil and sprayed with layers of Aqua Net hairspray, I searched for my girlfriends. They weren’t too difficult to find, since they too had curly, dark brown, backcombed hair with thick bangs.
“Hey, guys!” I yelled, trying to be heard over the loud music. “Hey!”
They waved and approached me. Unable to have an audible conversation, we grabbed each other’s hands and walked farther into the cloud of music. We hit the dance floor with popular breakdance moves like the wave and the windmill, laughing and giggling like the carefree teenagers we were. My earlier nerves and excitement were now released through my dancing. It was liberating.
As I danced, I sensed eyes on me. It felt like someone was watching me from the bleachers that rose along the outer perimeter of the gym. Glancing over, I saw an attractive, broad-shouldered teenaged boy sitting with his posse of guy friends, ogling me. His hair was buzzed on the front and sides but left long at the back—a mullet hairstyle.
He had a peach-fuzz moustache with a few pimples spotted across his oily face. He wore a high school football City Championship leather jacket paired with baggy-fit stonewashed jeans.
I pointed him out to my friends, and my girlfriend Lu recognized him. They had attended the same elementary school.
“John is looking at you!” she said with a smirk.
I turned to look fully. John’s and my eyes met. We were drawn to each other as if by a magnetic force.
He didn’t join us at first, but when a slow song came on, he walked over and gently tapped me on the shoulder.
“Rita, right?” he said, barely audible over the music.
“Yes,” I answered as I turned to face him.
He gestured toward the dance floor.
My heart did somersaults, and with a tight stomach, I moved stiffly in his direction.
Immediately there was a natural affinity between us. He smelled delicious, doused in Drakkar Noir by Guy Laroche cologne with a hint of the strawberry flavoured Hubba Bubba gum he was chewing.
We couldn’t talk much because the music was so ear-shatteringly loud. We just swayed side-to-side, barely touching, barely moving. After the song ended, we went our separate ways, back to our respective circles of friends.
As I walked toward my smirking girlfriends, they reacted giddily, hugging me as if I had accomplished something spectacular. I blushed, but my internal voice kept saying, Keep cool, girl—Keep cool. I struggled to ‘keep cool,’ though, because my naïve inner thoughts were focused on one thing: He’s the one.
Before I knew it, it was time for my father to pick me up. I hurried to the door and raced down the steps. It felt just like Cinderella fleeing the ball. The only difference was that, instead of the fear of my gown and carriage melting away when the clock struck twelve, my concern was Dad getting out of the car or doing anything to embarrass me in front of my friends.
I’d gone to the dance just to have a good time, but I left knowing I’d met the love of my life. John was the one.
Rita Miceli is Canadian, born and raised in the province of Ontario. She has been happily married for almost 30 years to her high school sweetheart, John, and is the proud mother of four beautiful children, Lauren, Carolina, Maria, and Giaci. Since her son Giaci was diagnosed with autism, Rita has spent her life advocating for people with autism and continues to bring awareness to their needs and the needs of family members. Rita is an elementary school teacher, a professor in the Autism and Behavioral Science Graduate Program at St Clair College, and is past-president of Autism Ontario, Windsor-Essex Chapter. Her favourite things are spending time with her family, dancing, playing the piano, and watching videos of her son on his TikTok account, which has surpassed 500,000 followers! Through the power of social media, her family has impacted many who want to learn more about their journey with autism.