In the meantime Emma went to homecoming. I was asked to speak at AC of PA's gala. The local paper did a story about my tattoo (for Les). Lily rocked Halloween (three houses worth). My cousin got married. Probably lots of stories I'm forgetting.
But first...homecoming (Hoco if you're hip. Hip like I am). How to write this respectfully of Emma's privacy...fuckit...she belongs to me until she's 18. I'll try...but no guarantees.
Emma's a freshman now. She really seems to have taken to high school. Her grades could use some work, but in terms of fitting in and finding a happy place she seems to have insinuated herself into the ebb and flow of social circles like she always does. Never the focus. Never one person or one group. Just sort of shifting from circle to circle. She doesn't know this is supposed to be "hard". Maybe it will be as school goes on, but right now it seems pretty effortless.
She was asked to go to homecoming. They were going as friends. She's known the boy for years. They've been friends for years. She was happy to be going. He surprised her with a sign at the mall.
When did this become a thing? It's a thing. You can't just ask girls to go to dances anymore. You have to be creative. You have to have a flash mob or have confetti bombs that transform into doves that fly in formation to form the words, "will you go to homecoming with me" or something. Kids are judging each other on these things. Best step up your game, boys.
We went to my sister's house to celebrate a birthday...my dad's, I think, or maybe it was my father-in-law's. I can't remember. Emma and Dawn went to my niece's closet to look at the ghosts of homecoming dresses past. Emma did a little impromptu fashion show for us. She looked so pretty in the dresses. We decided we could alter one of them for homecoming that she really liked.
I won't bore you with the minutia of the fitting and altering. The dress looked great.
Plans were in place. The girls with dates would meet early to get pictures taken. The girls going as a group without dates would join up with them later to get a group photo. Homecoming was two days away.
And her friend backed out. Which...honestly, I was like...okay...that's pretty sucky, but at least she's going with a bunch of her friends, and they were just buddies anyway, so this shouldn't be a big deal, right? Wrong.
She had this image in her head, I think; this image of the quintessential dance experience. And that image became extremely important to her, I learned when she came to me, crying. I corralled her into a hug.
"Do you remember the day you and mama told me she was going to die," she started, breathing into my shoulder, her words muffled?
"Yes, baby." My eyes closed tightly at this. I braced myself.
"You left the room so that we could talk alone together."
I nodded, a pressure building in my chest.
"Mama said she was going to watch me at homecoming. She was going to look down at me at the dance and that she'd be with me and she'd be smiling"
Fuck. Me. It started as an ache around my eyes and then they were brimming with unshed tears and I sniffed and said, "Oh baby...and now you're afraid she won't see you having fun at the dance."
And she nodded then into my shirt, words impossible.
And I couldn't do anything to defuse the tension. No joke to make her laugh out of her mood as I so often can, because I couldn't fix anything.
So we talked for a while. About why he might have backed out. About what she could do. He had no way of knowing just how important this dance (THIS DANCE, goddammit!) was to her. As we talked she calmed. I am always amazed at her resilience. She wanted to know what was up, but it was late so she had resigned herself to talking to him the next day.
They talked at school. I won't air that piece. He was going. He had his own reasons for wanting to back out, but he told her he still wanted to go. It wasn't about Emma. There are pressures on young men in high school that I remember all too well. I can speculate all day on any number of reasons he might have gotten cold feet, and all of them would be "good" reasons. But I didn't care in end...my little girl had a dance to attend, her mother looking down at her and smiling I'm certain.
She looked beautiful. The girls with dates got together early and had their pictures taken. As planned. The other girls joined them and had their pictures taken. And then they all went to the dance together. They were laughing, Emma hamming it up per usual.
I texted her that night a little after the dance started. I knew she wouldn't see it then, but hoped she would later, and know I was thinking about her.
"I hope you are having a blast!"
A couple hours later she replied, "I had a great time"
"I'm so happy for you"
"Ah it was so great"
And I could hear her saying the words, sort of laughing the word "ah" out the way she does. I looked at that last message on my screen for a while. And I thought about Leslie. And then I let out a long contented sigh and the pressure in my chest went away.