The moment that was going to course correct my life was happening after 6th period English class, on October 2nd 1975.
I was currently in fifth period Spanish class where Mrs. Cheeseman was having us sing along to a Spanish version of Captain and Tenille’s Love Will Keep Us Together.
Yo Soy! Yo Soy! Yo Soy! Yooo Soooy!
I was sure if Stacy Brown said yes to me, our love would keep us together for the rest of our lives.
I was new at Taylor High School. My mom had been a widow for six years. After my two oldest brothers had left home, she moved her three remaining kids to a small house on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio. My sister had already graduated and gotten a job and my brother was going to vocational school. I was left facing the prospect of being the dreaded new kid all by myself. At least it was the beginning of freshman year, so everyone was new to the actual high school, but most of the other kids had spent their entire lives growing up together.
I had never fit in and it always felt like something about me was broken. I could never grasp the social skills that other kids seemed to instinctively understand. But at least now I had a whole new set of classmates who didn’t know my long misfit history. Plus, in high school, there were no more recess periods where I had to pace furtively by myself on the parameters of the playground.
But there was still gym class.
The meaner boys figured out on the very first week that I was no athlete, and now three months later, I was their constant target.
This faggot thinks he’s cool!
I couldn’t help but flinch when I heard that word. They used it in a lot of ways about a lot of things, but when it was directed at me it felt like they might know some truth about me that I didn’t yet know myself.
Plus, high school also had the added opportunity for humiliation and ridicule in the form of the locker room. Boys hadn’t undressed in front of each other back at St. Jude Elementary. We wore our t-shirts and gym shorts under our regular clothes like a good Catholics. But high school athletes seemed to thrive in their states of undress as they strutted around the lockers like they were daring me to look at them. But I knew if they saw me even glance their way, I would be an even bigger target of their taunts. We both somehow understood that something was different about me.
Every gym period, I slunk down the steps with my head lowered and my eyes focused on my feet into the dark, dank locker room and hunched my string-bean thin body in the corner facing away from the rest of the boys as I got undressed. I had no idea how I measured up to them since I never looked their way once our clothes were off, but I was sure I wouldn’t be measure up. How could I? I wasn’t even half the men those boys already were.
But I told myself once I had a girlfriend everyone would see that I was normal. And I decided Stacy Brown was going to be that girlfriend.
Stacy sat next to me in English class. She was smart and funny. My brains and humor gave me an edge with girls that the athletes didn’t have. I couldn’t dribble, but I could make a caustic remark or diagram a sentence with uncanny ease.
The first chance to ask Stacy Brown out was the upcoming Fall Football Homecoming Dance. For weeks, I practiced how to ask Stacy.
“Hi, if you aren’t doing anything after the Homecoming, do you want to go to the dance together?” “Hi, are you planning on going to the dance Friday? Me too. Want to go together?” “Hi, do you like dancing. So do I! We should go to the dance.”
The words jumbled in my head as I moved verbs and nouns and adverbs and pronouns around to get the sentence just right. The dance was two weeks and one day away and people were starting to pair up. I knew Stacy Brown was popular, so I had to make my move and I had to do it after English class or someone else would get to her first.
She was standing at her locker when I spotted her. I almost turned and walked in the opposite direction. I hadn’t told anyone I was asking her because I didn’t want anyone to remind me she was out of my league. I just had to do it. And if she said no, then no one had to ever know. I just had to do it and be done with it.
As I walked up to her, I felt out of control. My throat was dry but my armpits were wet. My knees were weak and my ankles felt unsteady. I got up to next to her right as she shut her locker.
‘Uh..did you want to go to the Homecoming Dance together?”
“Oh, how sweet! Um…sure…yes. That would be nice.”
“Great. I’ll see you there. Or well, I guess I’ll see you before that in class. Ok. Thanks.”
I tried not to sprint away in my state of joy. I had never felt this happy in my life. I had caught my prey. I was going to the Homecoming Dance with one of the more popular girls in freshman class. It’s true she wasn’t as popular as her big sister Brenda Brown who was Junior Class Vice President, nominee for homecoming queen and co-caption of The Taylor High drill team, the Taylorettes, but give Stacy time. She would eventually become even more popular than her big sister, and I would be with her every step of that climb up the ladder holding her hand and helping her chose her outfits.
No one in my drama club could believe Stacy Brown was going to the dance with me. The most popular girls never went to dances with guys in the drama club. I tried to explain to them that Stacy was different. She and I liked to make jokes about how goofily cute Mr. Heinrich looked with his rumpled tie and wrinkled shirt when he taught English class. I reminded them that all the great love stories were about the underdog finding love with the beautiful and popular person—Funny Girl, What’s Up Doc, The Way We Were—well, at least all the Barbra Streisand love stories were about the underdog finding love with the beautiful and popular person. Stacy and I were the real thing. Everything about us felt exactly right
As the day of the homecoming dance approached, Stacy and I acted as if it wasn’t happening and joked and laughed as usual. On Wednesday, with only two days to go, my mom took me to get my hair cut after school. I asked them to feather on the side like David Cassidy from The Partridge Family and John Travolta in Welcome Back Kotter. We bought an exotic silk shirt with a wide collar that was dark green with red designs that kind of looked like amoebas all over it. I had bell bottom imitation red suede pants that I laid out next to my bed and polished up my boots with the highest heels.
That night I practiced the bump—a dance where you bumped hips–by using a mirror as my partner. Then I slow danced with the standing lamp next to my bed. The big question was whether or not I should kiss Stacy Brown at the end of the night. Would she expect it or be insulted? I wished I had kissed someone on the lips before this. I was supposed to in the school play since I had been cast as the romantic lead, but we were saving the actual kiss until dress rehearsal which was still weeks away. How did you know if a girl wanted to be kissed anyway? In all the Bette Davis moves I had seen, she seemed to slap a man in the face which usually made him grab her and kiss her hard like she wanted him to, but I was savvy enough to know girls didn’t do that in the 70’s. I hoped I would instinctively know would to do when the time came.
The day before the dance, as nervous as I was, I knew I had to iron out the details of the dance with Stacy. Almost-dating was turning out to be a lot harder than just being friends.
We went through English class without taking about it, and I could feel the awkwardness between us. Time was slipping away. I had to bring it up with her so I followed her to her locker after class.
“Hi Stacy, I meant to talk to you in class.”
“Hi!” she said shyly. “I meant to talk to you too!”
“We need to talk about Friday.”
‘So, do you want to just meet after the game?”
“Um…actually I wanted to talk to you yesterday but I didn’t get a chance. Brad Higgins asked me to the dance on Monday, and I’ve really liked him for a long time, and since you are I are just friends, I was wondering if you minded if I went with him instead?”
“Oh, sure…of course not. That’s fine.”
“You really are so sweet. Thank you so much. I knew you would understand.”
“Of course. Of course. Great. Well, I hope I see you there.”
I had to escape. I had to get out of there. I knew my cheeks were flushed and I could feel the tears in my eyes. I had to get as far away as possible.
Friday night I walked into the Homecoming Dance alone.
I didn’t want to go, but my friends in Drama Club had insisted.
“We’ll all be there and none of us have dates!”
“Remember this pain when you audition for Tom Sawyer in the spring.”
I wasn’t sure how going to a school dance would prepare me to portray a boy who coerced others to whitewash a fence for him, but it was nice that at least somebody wanted me to come to the dance with them.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I made a beeline to my friends in the back. I pushed through the crowd and nearly ran headfirst into Stacy.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi…sorry I can’t talk!” I replied before practically trotting away from her.
Real cool, Keith.
That night, I almost convinced myself I had forgotten all about Stacy as I laughed with my drama friends telling stupid jokes and taking turns doing double bumps with each other where you bump one friend with your right hip and one with your left.
But when Peter Frampton’s Baby I Love Your Way came on, all us single kids stepped off to the side to make way for the couples. The crowd suddenly parted like I was watching some choreographed move and I saw Stacy Brown with her eyes closed and her head-on Brad Higgin’s shoulder His silk shirt was black and much cooler than mine and was open three buttons down. His jeans were tight and his hair was still wet from the shower he took after helping win the Homecoming game. For the first time that night, I really looked at Stacy. She had a black dress on and looked prettier than I had ever seen her. And she looked happier than I ever had seen her too.
The pain and humiliation from the day before cracked open as I stood staring at her.
I saw the contentment she felt and I realized I would never feel that for myself.
Contentment was for Stacy Brown and Brad Higgins–not for broken misfits like me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR–Many years later at a high school reunion, Stacy apologized to the author. Since by then he realized he was gay and they would have had no future except an unfulfilling marriage anyway, he let it slide.