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Slowdance Me Goodbye

March 3, 2008

Annie, the mean girl, had called to ruin the surprise weeks ago, but I was still startled by the banner, the neckties on the boys, my best friend’s backyard transformed into a rambling tableau of farewell. Amy was leaving too, for Beamsville, Ontario, but not until August so the party was a night I didn’t have to share. My preteen classmates shone with hormones and June heat, and everyone shouted at once.

What may have crumbled into insincere tears and hand-clutching was quickly clipped as boys rammed their fists into snack bowls and tried to skip Cheezies like rocks across the lawn. Girls scampered to start the record player and tack the song request sheet to the fence along with a pencil on a string. It was early, barely 7:30. Everyone plopped into lawn chairs and toyed with their skirt hems or nervously jiggled their knees, waiting for party momentum to take hold. It wouldn’t do to dance too soon.

When my parents announced our move to Manitoba, I cried and refused to go, assured them I would do anything to make it not happen. My tantrum was a companion meltdown to a real disaster unfolding around the world. It was the year of the Chernobyl accident, and I felt relief as older kids on the bus described the deadly cloud making its way to North America, sure to kill us all in wretched, unimaginable ways. I was relieved; we would never live to see the prairies. Yet, our swift and grisly deaths never came. Summer was here, our house was boxed up, and in Melissa’s backyard the first pair of goodbye-partygoers had begun shyly grooving to Duran Duran.

Darkness fell, mosquitoes arrived, and the party moved indoors. We packed the evening with melodramatic song dedications and enthusiastic Frenching sessions in the off-limits den. That night, I still believed in the coolness of girls with side-ponytails and doughy boys hobbled by their love for video games and track pants. Soon, I would meet eighth graders who had sex, wore mesh tops and fist-fought over boys and stolen lipstick, exchanging real punches behind the dumpster at the 7-11, but those lessons remained safely stowed in my Winnipeg future. Tonight was all about the farewell slowdance.

The dancing, furtive necking and pop music grew tired, and at 10 o’clock our parents arrived. Short on genuine evidence of despair at our parting lives, we pinched our cheeks to raise a blush and yawned to generate crocodile tears. But suddenly my departure became real, and true tears welled up as Amy and I were wrenched from each other’s arms, blubbering promises to never forget, to always remember, to never do the same things with anyone else as long as we lived, which at age twelve seemed like a manageable trio of promises.

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