When I was a little kid I could stand on my parents' bed and see over the footboard, into the bathroom mirror. I would sing songs I heard on Solid Gold and bounce around on the bed doing dance moves just like Darcel Wynne. I mastered her signature move, when she'd swing her head down in a loop, swoosh her long black hair around, and then flip it back when she stood up again. I loved Darcel. I wanted to be Darcel. I loved her gold lame' costumes and her headbands, the headbands! So glamorous.
Up on that bed I would bounce and bounce, and kick my legs and wave my arms like I was gorgeous. To make hair just like hers, I'd wear pajama bottoms with the elastic waistband around my bead, so the legs fell down my back. And I would swoosh them around just like Darcel.
It was SO much fun.
During third grade I signed up for tap dancing lessons with a girl down the street. She came from the iconic perfect family that somehow takes up residence in every neighborhood, going to church and hosting neighborhood parties and such. Her dad drove a Mercedes, so everyone thought they were rich. And her mom had big visions of us dancing together for years and years, achieving great fame and fortune so one day we could tell stories of how it all started back in third grade. This is where I entered the equation. Her mom was our biggest cheerleader, attending practices to watch us dance and suggest routines and beam with pride.
Ironic it was, then, to witness her mom's raging homophobia, as she constantly made disparaging remarks about gay people and how they were all disgusting and going to hell. It was a personal crusade of hers, long before the advent of "family values," and she considered it her duty to defend the institution of the American Family. Every time I arrived at practice, she hugged me in front of everyone in the room and told me I was so great, and then regaled us all with some story about a homosexual who had given her a funny look, or made grotesque advances at innocent passers-by. And there I stood in black stretch pants and a top hat, ready to tap dance with her daughter to The Pointer Sisters singing "Neutron Dance," as her hateful comments again switched to heaps of praise for how adorable we were. I never cared, I was so young I didn't really know what "gay" was, I couldn't take it personally. Although I never trusted her. She said a lot of nasty things. And she always smiled. Freaky.
For our first performance, my mother bought me a pink and black tie--in lame'. Darcel would have been so impressed. I wouldn't let anyone touch it, lest they snag one of the oh-so-delicate threads.
We were the hit of the recital, of course. My mother hugged us both and said we looked so graceful, just like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I didn't tell her I was going more for a Solid Gold look, but Fred Astaire sufficed. My father...well, he was there, undoubtedly planning how soon he could sign me up for baseball again, but he was smiling nonetheless. And of course my friend's mom dragged us everywhere after the performance, showing us off like we both were her children and saying how proud she was and how we were so talented. I wallowed in the praise. Although I didn't like the way her nails felt on my back.
Summer break rolled around, and we gave our tap dancing shoes a rest. One day my friend and I were at the playground, swinging on the tire swing, when we got into an argument. She was doing something to piss me off, I forget what; I think she was spinning me around on the tire swing too fast, trying to make me throw up?...I don't remember. I just recall threatening to tell her mom, whatever it was. And she burst into tears, begging me not to. Because whenever she got in trouble her mom would beat the hell out of her, knocking her down and then kicking her. But only when her father was at work.
I never went to her house again. Eventually when my mother asked me why, I told her it was because I didn't like her mom. To which she replied, "I don't like her either."
I expected her to question why I said it. But she didn't.
My father looked shocked. "I think she's really nice!" he said.
But my mother shook her head.
And she squinted, like her eyes were holding in an idea, but she didn't know enough to see it clearly. That was the face she made when she had a "hunch," about something she thought she should know.
From then on, whenever we drove past their house, I always looked to spot the Mercedes parked in the driveway. My parents thought I had adopted an interest in cars, a typical boyhood hobby that was especially comforting to my father on the heels of those tap dancing lessons. But I was just looking for her father's Mercedes. He's home...good.
By the start of the school year, my friend's family moved away; I didn't take tap dancing lessons again.
But I still put on the lame' tie and jumped around on my parents' bed in front of that mirror.