“I already picked my outfit, but let’s go back through this journey,” I say to my little sister, flipping through the photos of possible outfits.
“No. No. No,” she says, rejecting three of the possibilities. We land—communally—on the outfit I’m already wearing: a light white short-sleeve button-down with neat, cubed stripes and medium brown tapered chinos.
I close my iPhone, making the screen go black on the coterie of headless photos, each angled in a way to showcase the outfits, variations on short-sleeved button-downs and narrow pants—in pairs of black and blue, blue and brown, and pastels.
The outfit is flattering, broadening my shoulders, slimming my waist and just generally creating that V that drives the boys wild. But, in boat shoes and a watch, the outfit feels a little vanilla. A little preppy. It’s a little white bread for me. I like dark, sleek colors, or muted patterns. The Ralph Lauren—oops, just let me pick up the brand name I dropped—shirt and chinos are all fine and dandy, and I know that I’d rather look good than weird and misshapen, but I just feel like a little non-me.
I spent roughly forty minutes curating outfits, trying them on, taking pictures, and getting multiple opinions before arriving at the White Bread option.
Tonight’s our staff banquet. It’s kind of the social event of the season, when the norm is getting sunscreen stains on my gym shorts and a crick in my neck from talking to seven-year-olds. Basically, we needed this, y’all.
My little sister—let’s call her Poppy—is looking chic in a deep blue sleeveless dress with a scalloped hem. I straightened her hair for her, her sitting doing her makeup and me haphazardly taking great swatches of dark brown hair and running it through the scalding clamps. Ten minutes into it, and I’ve already put more effort into her hair than I’ve ever put into my own.
“Omg, look at him,” my coworker—sixteen years old—salivates over a boy, tanned, muscular and coiffed—the epitome of the Abercrombie Zombie.
“I don’t really like his shirt,” I say sharply, drawing her attention back to me. Just as the sentence escapes my mouth, someone else whispers, “Oh my god, I like his shirt.” I lean across the table and pat her hand. “No you don’t, honey. He’s just hot.”
The lights are down and everyone is a pulsing mass on the dance floor. I’m in the middle of the mass, dancing with my friends. We’re being jostled by the people dancing around us.
The dance floor becomes a colony of microcosmic communities. There are constantly shifting dance circles, which vary in size, people dancing in the center, transferring across the expanse with others. There are small clumps drifting in between. The sixteen-year-olds cling together like lampreys on a whale, bobbing in unison. My group forms a loose oval, people stepping in and out.
The dance floor becomes an ocean, rippling and mutating. It ebbs and flows. It undulates with a liquid quickness. The sixteen-year-olds are a darting school of fish. My friends and I are jellyfish, languid and sleek in our motions, playing off each other. The lifeguards are seals, clamoring barks that go up into the pulsating air that’s already filled with deep bass and synthetic notes. The sports specialists—a motely crew of soccer, tennis, baseball—are penguins, muscular and lithe and slick and bobbing against each other. And in the center of the ocean are the Straight White Boys, slamming against each other and dashing up and down in the crowds like dolphins diving through crested waves.
I am a White Boy, so I move with the awkwardness that comes from long, gangly limbs and jarring hip-drops. But the Straight White Boys seem to leap above the awkwardness, and treat the dance floor with a tribal hunger, a clannish mob mentality. They crash against each other, fists in the air, screaming the words. Unabashed. Fearless.
I wish I could dance like they do, unabashed. Unafraid. I wonder what it’s like to claim something without any hesitation. Without any forethought. The SWBs claim their method of dancing as assuredly as their predecessors claimed things like late night television and the Presidency. My predecessors, the Gays, claimed the margins, the outskirts. They sometimes even claimed the skirts.
I have a chronic problem with living in the moment. I’m always too aware of my hands, the stilted movement in my legs. I consciously loosen my muscles, whip my hair out of its neatly, American Crew-ed coif and try to have fun.
I don’t know how many more summers I have of languidly hot days spent walking across the green fields of our camp. I don’t know how many more summers I have before I commit to a job, a field, a career. I don’t know these things.
So I decide to throw up my chin, glint my teeth and have fun. My body slips unconsciously into rhythm, and it syncs up with everyone else, until the ocean glides in beat and the dolphins appear to stop breaking against each other and everything else and start to move in harmony with the current. The seals bring out the laughter in everyone else. The fish dart and tickle and lighten. And the jellyfish, we bob faster, happier, funnier.
I only have so many moments on this craggy, smooth, mountainous, oceanic planet. I only have so many milliseconds with friends. I only have so many shared gazes with cute boys across the room. We only have so many…fill in the blank.
So I stop analyzing things in the moment. I stop placing meanings on the people, stop subconsciously dividing them into genii to make it easier for filing later. I stop noticing the patterns and the movements and start dancing.
Because sometimes that’s all we can do. Throw up our hands, toss back our heads, giggle and act like dummies and the real dorks we are.