At first, it was the oldest daughter of my dad’s compadre, or grandma’s bingo partner’s niece, or the neighbor’s granddaughter. Jesus, it seemed like at some point in their lives everybody in town had a fifteen-year-old daughter.
Maybe it was stupid, but I used to go to quinceañeras with my dad and not connect them with myself. Because seriously, when I was a nine-year-old dozing at a table after I’d eaten four bowls of the pink and green mints in the center of the table and my dad was still not ready to go home because he was about fourteen beers in and telling jokes I wouldn’t understand for another three years, and the smooth bass thump of polka after polka was never-ending, I didn’t actually think, “this is going to happen to me.” I just found a place to curl up and fall asleep.
When I got older, like twelve or thirteen, I spent the time feeling angry because I was still stuck at that round table with the bland pink table cloth, still eating the mints, but I didn’t get sleepy anymore. All the other kids wandered around like it was a real party for them too, talking in groups, some of them actually dancing, some of them walking outside to the parking lot to listen to real music on their parents’ car stereos instead of the ever-fucking polkas the old fat married people demanded. And my dad was still getting dead-ass drunk, only now he thought I ought to go out and dance with him once or twice. Not on his fucking life though. For one thing, I’d never dance to polkas, ever.
And no, I wasn’t going to dance with my stupid, beery dad, who was drunk and acting like an idiot. Because I wasn’t five and I wasn’t nine, I was already thirteen and smart, and I could see how when he was drunk he turned into a mean, teasing guy, looking and looking for something to fight about. I could see it turn his eyes little and red and ugly and squinty.
Your momma loved dancing, he sneered sometimes. Guess you’re not much like her, are you? She was pretty too.
He’d whip that at me, dead mother and all, watching to see me flinch, but I didn’t. Not anymore I didn’t. And his stupid drunk friends grinned, but watery, strained grins, because it wasn’t funny. It was mean and they didn’t like it.
Ah, screw it, he said sometimes. And I had to stay at the table until he came back, which would be at least an hour or more, while he danced and danced with all these different women. They always seemed to say yes.
Or if he insisted, if he ordered, then it was worse, because I had to get up and join the dance and the crowd pressed on me, warm and glittery with the gala outfits people wore to these things, and maybe I felt the brush of some satin gown as one of the damas of the quince court swished past, but mostly I was so fucking angry, so furious, because I didn’t want to do it and he made me. So I’d set my feet as clumsily as I could, danced as limply and half-heartedly as possible, so it was painful, painful to watch me. The sulkiest dancing I could possibly do, until he practically had to walk beside me as I feigned my way through the steps, face stiff and scowly.
Then he was really mad. Really, really mad, because anybody, everybody, could see that I didn’t want to dance with him.
And every time, he got so disgusted with me that he took me back to the table, now empty of mints, and I had to sit there alone for the rest of the night, while he went off to drink by the beer booth with his friends. And I fumed and wondered why it was that he was allowed to meander around the party, just like the teenagers while I sat in my chair like a baby in time out.
Then I turned fourteen. Suddenly, quince parties popped up like mushrooms, a new cluster every weekend. Girls I actually knew polka-ing in satin gowns, their hair coiffed and set with little jewels, their make-up, their earrings, their fancy heels. No longer sophomores, but debutantes. O, the horror of it!
It rushed on me, the whole inescapable nightmare, in one awful swoop: the pastel mints, the bass-laden polkas, and the ridiculous porcelain doll my dad would offer me in a ritual slaying of my childhood. And most awful of it all, dancing the father-daughter dance with him in front of all the guests, when I hate hate hate dancing with my dad like nothing else in my entire life. But there’s nothing I can do, because I’m turning fifteen too!
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