Ben James and The Rain
His nose was the first thing I noticed. It had a fullness I found attractive and descended evenly on both sides to meet flush with his cheeks. His eyes were large like a Japanese anime’s, and had a slightly wet look to them. His overall skin tone was pinkish, and there were light freckles across the high relief parts of his face. I stared at him across the Bogue Falaya picnic pavilion, sweating and blushing and wishing I were a drier, more opaque version of myself. His name was Ben James. I was immediately caught-up.
I think part of me empathized with his paleness. His skin, like mine, failed to hide the blood that coursed beneath. His blushes were fierce and lingered long after their cause had faded. I blushed almost constantly in middle school. So much that my parents thought I had Rosacea. Perhaps this is why Ben caught my interest so quickly. He was like me: red-faced, embarrassed, well meaning and nervous.
Neither of us had the nerve to actually speak at that first meeting; we just stared across the room at one another all night. Later he told his friends I was cute and I did the same. Eventually we found a way to communicate without the risk of direct contact via AOL instant messenger. We flirted online constantly, dropping hints and scheming about ways to meet up. Because Ben went to another school we didn’t have much opportunity to see one another in person and cultivate our mutual attraction – which is why my school’s citywide fair dance was such a big deal. It provided a parent-approved excuse for Ben and I to get to know one another – and possibly start “going out.”
The dance was a casual, outdoor affair to be held on a Saturday evening – despite the forecast predicting rain – on a relatively hidden strip of blacktop that stood a reasonable distance from the fair itself. My friends and I relished the possibility of interacting with the opposite sex so far from the overprotective chaperones. The fair dance was the highlight of our social season.
I awaited the dance with a feverish excitement that brought on involuntary blushing and the profuse sweating I had come to accept as an unpleasant but immutable fact of my adolescent life. My casual “Oh, this? I’ve had it on all day…” outfit was picked out days in advance and I made sure word of my crush got out to the boys so that Ben would know to ask me for a dance. At six o’clock it was time to go; and our hormone-addled bodies stood in tense anticipation of the night that would ensue.
After the obligatory line-dance songs had run their course, the DJ played U2’s “The Sweetest Thing.” I found my worst fears averted when Ben asked me to dance straightaway, and was spared the suffocating embarrassment of being picked last. Now safely partnered up, I relaxed a little and credited my new orange tank top with the magenta rhinestone flower for my good fortune in this matter.
As we danced I noticed how thick the air was. It felt like my skin was covered in paraffin – the warm, waxy feeling of Louisiana humidity. Then I began to sweat. I knew from experience that it couldn’t be stopped, and felt defeated as the salty drops slid down my face, neck, and back. As the blood rose to my cheeks I became even more flustered, struggling for control over my unruly body.
I wish I could say that I ignored my self-consciousness and fully enjoyed my time dancing with Ben. I wish I could say we tossed aside all convention and worry, kissed passionately, and reveled in the sensory delirium that accompanies uninhibited teenage lust; but we were nothing like that. We were too self-conscious to lay our feelings bare. We danced cautiously across the blacktop as sexual tension enveloped us. My hands rested lightly on his shoulders. His sat squarely on my hips. We made small talk about our friends’ and families’ lives, but carefully avoided our own. There was too much risk with personal details, too great a chance we’d slip up and admit the crush that was so obviously mutual between us. There were rare moments of laxity during which our true intentions would seep out like excess air from an overfilled balloon, and we would hold each other closer or briefly hug. But any honest expression was the exception, not the rule.
Ben and I danced during a time in our lives when an arm’s-length-apart felt like the most intimate embrace. Direct eye contact conflated the unbearable with the euphoric; and we felt the effects of an accidental touch like a sharp intake of breath on a very cold morning, the shock of which would linger so much longer then than it does today.
I recall the feelings I had more than any detailed account of what actually happened that night. I remember worrying as I danced with Ben that I was sweating too much and putting him off. Excitement, lust, expectation, and possibility were like warm static firing just beneath my skin. I felt relieved when it began to rain and the dance continued – because then everyone would be soaking wet, not just me from sweating so much. There was an unbearable bursting of hope in my chest that made it hard for me to breathe because I’d heard a rumor that Ben was planning to kiss me that night. I remember dancing on that blacktop playground in the steaming rain and feeling new kinds of joy I could neither understand, nor contain, nor express. I remember Ben James, and the rain, and the heat, and my home, and the awareness that I was absolutely nothing but completely alive in the most primal sense.
To anonymously submit a dating related question to Suzette’s advice column, Ask Suzette, please email her at SLake@theeagleonline.com. All personal information will be kept confidential.
Posted in Breath of Fresh Air