First Dance

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“His name is Kole.  His name is Kole,”  I repeated to myself silently, as the two got into the car and settled themselves comfortably, too comfortably, I feared, into the back seat.

Kole, Kole, Kole,”  I insisted under my breath.

I glanced at him in the rearview mirror. He looked nice enough with his shock of black hair and freckle splattered cheeks. I caught a whiff of cologne, certainly not after- shave, his face more boy than man, and smiled smugly. I could take him down. If necessary, one well-aimed bump of my hip could bring him to his knees.   I examined his slight build and corrected myself. Physical violence would not be necessary. My purse could flatten him, both straps tied behind its back.

I knew him. As soon as my daughter uttered his name months ago with her petal pink lips, the research began. All it took really was a few phone calls to a couple of well- connected mothers, and I was armed with his life history. I knew him, but he did not know me.

“I am Greek!” I wanted to scream and shock that confident smirk off his face. “We make soup out of genitals and serve it to our families at Easter!” I shuddered, recalling how my own father would make an elaborate show of pulling his guns out of a gleaming glass case he kept in the living room when a boy would have the audacity to come to the house to pick me up for a date. One by one he would lovingly polish each gun with a rag, his white undershirt stained with sweat. As a result, I had many first dates in high school, but never a second.

Where was my dad when I needed him? As a single mom, I appeared docile. I baked cookies. I served brownies and joked. But inside, I seethed and plotted. If only the poor boy could read the thoughts behind my carefully made up face, he would flee from the car, race back to the safety of the school and not look back.

It started off innocently enough, as things always do.

“There’s someone I want you to meet,” my precious 15 year-old daughter announced one day. She inhaled deeply and breathed, “Kole.”

“Coal?” I pronounced, the name bitter on my tongue. Like the piece of carbon Santa brings a bad boy for Christmas.

“Cole with a K,” she answered sweetly, dreamily.                   “K-O-L-E.”

“Kole.  Oh…” I corrected myself.  Like the Greek word kolo, the body part you sit on.

And so, it started. She thought he was perfect, Kole with a K, an aspiring musician, and I just thought he was one letter away from being an ass.

“I really like him, Mom,” she continued. “We’re going out.”

“Where are you going?” I demanded, knowing full well my daughter’s whereabouts at all times. I knew where she was 24 hours a day: school, church, basketball practice, in her room doing her homework, never remotely near anyone named Kole or his kolo.

She rolled her eyes dramatically. “We talk. We text. We sit together at lunch. Everyone knows we like each other,” she explained, as if to a two-year-old.

I breathed a sigh of relief. A crush, I thought. Puppy love. Nothing would ever come of this…

“He wants to take me to…”

“No.”

“You didn’t let me finish…”

I pulled out my trump card. “Not until you’re 16.”

We ended up compromising. They were going out without going anywhere, and I pretended that was acceptable to me.

I made a few attempts at being a modern mom. I picked him up occasionally so they could study at Starbucks, two huge backpacks resting between them in the backseat, an impervious fortress.

Months passed and the inevitable happened.

She turned 16.

Outwardly, I celebrated. I threw a huge party for her and 30 of her closest friends and showered her with gifts.

Inwardly, I wailed. I tore at my hair and cursed my predicament.

She cornered me the day after her party.

“There’s a dance,” she began. “I want to go with Kole.”

“No,” I answered without thinking.

“But you promised! I’m 16. I’ll be getting my driver’s license soon.”

“No,” I stammered, but her excitement was contagious. After all, I had been young once, in love, bursting with anticipation, glowing with the warmth of a new romance.   I scrutinized the mature, responsible young woman before me and fought the urge to be like my father.

And that was how I found myself in this predicament, driving this car, one eye on the road and one focused in the rear view mirror, spying on the young couple huddled together in the backseat, sitting shamelessly close, thighs touching, when there was clearly enough room for three full-sized strangers to spread out.

“How was the dance?” I asked.

“Oh, it was so much fun!” she gushed. “We danced all night. The band was great. Everyone liked my dress.”

I watched her in the rear-view mirror tug self-consciously at the bodice of her first strapless gown.  Kole loosened his bowtie.

The hairs on the back of my neck sprang to attention. Something was not right. I changed lanes unnecessarily so I would have an excuse to look over my shoulder into the dark back seat.

It was then I saw it. His hand rested ever so lightly on my daughter’s pearly white, perfectly shaped knee.

“That’s my knee!” I wanted to shriek. “I gave birth to that knee! Get your grubby little hand off my perfect little knee or I’ll show you what a knee’s good for, you little…”

I calculated in my mind, 15 minutes, 12 minutes if I sped home. Twelve minutes of his feeling up my daughter’s knee. Rage blinded me as I fought the urge to pull over, drag him from the car by the neck of his shirt and kick him in the kolo.

I talked to distract them: death, war, the famine in Haiti, the earthquake in Chile. If only I could keep his dirty little mind, if not his hand, off my daughter’s knee. I glanced at the clock glowing on the dashboard. We had more than a ten minute drive to Kole’s house when the crisis hit; my daughter rested her beautiful head of curls on Kole’s shoulder, and closed her eyes.

“Look out!” I screamed, swerving the car violently. Her head flew left, then right from the sudden motion.

“Mom! What the…?”

“A dog!” I lied. “I almost hit that dog! Whew, what a close call. Could you imagine Kole scooping up that poor little poodle? He’d be ringing doorbells all night in his tuxedo, trying to find its owners.”

I turned on the radio to a Christian station and raised the volume to gospel proportions. I peeked at them in the rear view mirror as a chorus of nuns sang the Lord’s Prayer in soprano. Minutes went by. I had just turned onto Kole’s street when I saw him turn towards her, leaning closer, his pursed lips dangerously close to their mark.

Without thinking, I jammed on the brakes in the middle of the dark road. “This one’s for you, Dad,” I cackled to myself as the car screeched to a stop.

“Ow!” Kole cried, as his neck snapped forward, then back from the sudden halt. He clutched the back of his head as the pungent aroma of burned rubber filled the car.

“Mom, what’s wrong with you?” my daughter cried. “Kole, are you ok?”

“Cat! Didn’t you see that black cat in the middle of the road?” I fibbed with conviction. “The only thing worse than having a black cat cross in front of you is hitting one. We all would have had bad luck!” I quickly pulled up in front of Kole’s house, parked the car and immediately turned on the interior lights.

“Thank you for the ride,” he said in his best Eddie Haskell voice, rubbing the back of his neck where the whiplash had grabbed him.

“Anytime Kolo,” I cooed.

“It’s Kole,” he said resignedly.

“Of course, Kole,” I over pronounced. “And I do hope your neck feels better soon.”

I suppressed a smile as I watched him limp unsteadily up the front walk and enter his house. I turned to my daughter and patted her gently on the knee. “You never forget your first dance,” I whispered to the breathtaking princess in the back seat.

I pulled out carefully into the street. We took the long way home; there was no rush, and we did not hit a single animal along the way.

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Splits Happen

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Friday night arrives and I sit with the others in the sacred section of bleachers beside the band and directly in front of the 50- yard line.  We are a formidable bunch with our matching royal blue t-shirts and dark sunglasses, cameras posed for that perfect action shot, camcorders whirring in anticipation.  The girls march past us, buns bobbing, and I search hopefully for my daughter, then exhale when I spot her once again sitting alone in the stands, looking down at her jazz shoes that have yet to dance on the field.  Another failed try-out and once again she would not be performing at half-time.

I mutter under my breath, “What a bunch of bull…”

“Splits!” cries the booster president beside me as she clicks furiously at her camera.  “This is my favorite part!  Aren’t they amazing?”

I nod in agreement.  I had not missed one performance.  The Pacesetters are award winning, their toes practically grazing their ears as they high kick in sync to “Living on a Prayer”, then leap and land in a line of perfect splits.

Splits happen, it seems, just not to my daughter.   And that is how I find myself after years of reminding her to sit like a lady, cross her ankles, keep her legs together, encouraging her to do just the opposite.

I try reasoning with her the next day.  “It’s all in your head.  If you set your mind to it, you can do anything,” I lie, knowing full well if there were a hundred dollar bill in the parking lot, my hamstrings would shrivel into knots before letting me pick it up.

There is only one game left, I remind her and I have yet to capture one photo of my daughter on the field.  I suggest hot baths and stretches.  She rolls her eyes dramatically and taps out something on her phone.  Pilates or yoga will increase her flexibility, I counter, just to have her record me at an unflattering angle so she can send her friends video vines of my double chin.   I promise her fresh baked chocolate chip cookies if she will only practice, a bribe that never failed to produce when she was younger.  But now she is older with a smartphone and a mom she thinks is anything but.

“I can’t do it!  I’ll tear a ligament!” she cries and storms off into the kitchen.  “And I’ll make my own freaking cookies!”   She picks up the can of PAM for emphasis and sprays a cloud of cooking oil all over the pan and most of the floor.

“That’s it!  Give me your phone,” I order, grabbing it from her hand and placing it out of reach high on a shelf.

“I’m waiting for a call.  Give it back!” she roars, a demon in a pair of black practice hot shorts far smaller than any lingerie I wore on my honeymoon.

I take a deep breath and speak slowly, as if addressing a rabid dog.  “Practice your splits and you get the phone back.”

She stares me down, fury flashing across her face.  Planting her hands defiantly on her tiny hips, she slowly slides one foot in front of the other and with agonizing precision, proceeds to lower her body until she stops abruptly 12 inches from the floor.  Then a split personality possesses her and she begins to cry.

I feel instantly guilty at her unexpected show of weakness.  After all, the only thing I stretch these days is the truth.  “Look, that’s better,” I cheer.  “You’re almost there.  Just try to hold it one more minute.”

The shrill ring of her phone pierces her concentration and she jumps up.   We dash across the Pam coated kitchen tile, skidding into each other, leap for the phone and with a horrible tearing sound and a scream, land in a tangled mess on the floor.

“Mom, look!” she cries, waving her cell phone in the air like a pom -pom.  “I’m doing the splits!  I’m doing the splits!”  She rubs her legs in disbelief.  “But I definitely heard something tear.  I hope I’m ok.”

“That would be my pants,” I guess as I clutched my lower back and struggle to get up from the slippery floor.

Friday night arrives and I lie in my bed propped up with a pile of pillows, a heating pad set on high against my back.  My daughter stops by my room on her way out, hair sleeked back in a bun, wearing her blue and white game uniform and a broad smile.

“I’m really sorry you won’t be able to see me dance,” she says as she hands me a plate of freshly baked cookies.  “The doctor said if you would do your stretches, your back would get better.”  She pauses.  “You know the pain is all in your head.  You could get out of bed if you set your mind to it.”

I roll my eyes at her, wave her away and reach for the Advil on my nightstand.  My back is killing me.  And suddenly, I have a splitting headache.