I was overjoyed when my parents gave permission for me to attend my first middle school dance held at a church. Who was happier, them or me?—I couldn’t decide.
Adding to the excitement around the house one of my new friends came over to get ready with me. All our girlish laughter and “oooing” and “ahhhhing” about our makeup, new dresses, hairdos, and jewelry were a precursor to the anticipation of an amazing evening ahead. It also made me feel as though for the first time in my life I belonged. I belonged here in Delavan, Wisconsin with these people.
As my new friend jimmied into her nylons, a large hole with a wide run appeared.
“I can’t wear this!” she tearfully admitted tossing it aside. “What am I going to do now?”
“No worries, I have more. Take one.” I applied my eyelash curler and along with getting the eyelashes, I caught a bit of skin in the mix. “Ouch!” Horrid pain hit my face.
“Which drawer is it in?” she stood next to my dresser examining it as though trying to see through the drawers.
“Second one down. Go on, take what you need.” I went back to rubbing my eye as I heard the sound of the drawer sliding open followed quickly by clinking glass.
“Robin! What are these bottles of Jim Bean doing in here?” Her eyes widened but I thought nothing of it, so I blithely answered.
“Oh, that’s my dad’s alcohol. I’m hiding it from him.” Finally my eyelashes were curled. I smiled at myself and turned to look at my friend who had a frozen expression on her face. “What’s wrong?”
“You have alcohol in your underwear drawer that you are hiding from your dad that is what is wrong. What if your mom finds out?”
“Breath easy. She’s the one who put it there. In fact I have alcohol all over my room. There’s more in my sweater drawer and in shoe boxes up on a shelf.” I felt my face turning red as I walked across the room and shut the drawer, asking why I always spilled my guts so freely. There was no reason to explain in great detail. I should have stopped with the question, but expounded instead.
She squinted her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest looking as though she might blow up at me. I knew that look. Well if she was going to be like that then I decided to give her more to get mad about.
“There’s more in our boat house down by the lake.”
“That’s plain weird. My parents keep theirs in a liquor cabinet.”
One word from her to any group of friends and I was toast. I shivered, and not in a good way, thinking about all the church dance gossip that would be spread tonight. Parents were bound to find out.
“You are really something.” She clucked.
I flopped down on my bed thinking how to explain this. This girl had a normal household with a normal dad. She'd never understand. This was the first time I had friends and now I was about to lose them all.
“You are one very lucky girl.” She sat beside me and smoothed out her dress.
“I-I-I am? Me? Lucky?”
“Yes, once word gets out, you are going to be the most popular girl in school!”
“Come on girls!” My mom called from the stairs. “You don’t want to be late for the dance do you?”
I pulled on her arm as she walked toward the door and blurted, “My dad is an alcoholic and to keep him from drinking it all at once, Mom hides the bottles all over the place. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“You want to be popular don’t you? Alcohol will be your ticket to homecoming and everywhere else once you get into high school, and I will be right beside you.” She starred at me hard.
"Please don't. It's not something I want people to know about."
“Oh, all right. I’ll keep my mouth shout but it will be hard. I am known as the class gossip."
At the dance I saw her whisper to nearly everyone --certainly all the boys, and then smile in my direction. No wonder there wasn’t a song I wasn’t asked to dance. I didn’t say anything to them, as usual, but not because I was shy this time but because I was mortified. I knew the only reason boys were asking me to dance was they were hopeful I’d let them in my underwear—that is for booze. One even winked at me as the song ended. Now everyone would dislike me more for not giving them bottles of alcohol. I closed my eyes wishing I could fly away.
At ten, Mom drove us home in her Oldsmobile. I sat staring out the window wondering how many days I could ditch school with being fake sick again. How many diseases were left in the world that I hadn't tried out yet? Here I thought moving was going to be a do-over but instead it turned out to be the same thing again. Maybe worse.
Mom pulled up to the girls house and told me to walk her to the door. That was the last thing I ever wanted to do but I was the obedient daughter.
As we got to the porch I said, “See ya.”
She turned toward me and said, “You know, I once thought you were the luckiest girl in the school for living on the lake, having your own boat, and buying all the clothes you wanted. But I don’t wish I were you anymore. I know what your life is like.”
My awful, awful life. Tears rimmed my eyes. How I wanted to tell her that were great parts to my life as well, but what the use, she had made up her mind about me. It was too late.
She took my hand and squeezed it. “I admire you. You are the bravest person I know. Every day you come to school with a big smile on your face and make us laugh. It’s good to know you. By the way, you are safe with me. I didn’t tell anyone about the alcohol, just as I promised. I don’t break promises, especially not to my best friend.”
“I’m your best friend?” My heart leaped up in my chest.
“Yes you are.”
She didn’t care about those things around me. She cared about me. And with that I finally knew what real friendship was……