Whenever I hear this song, I'm instantly 12 years old again, wearing my red UNITS outfit. I'm at a friend's birthday party. The room is dark and Phil Collins croons loudly from the stereo. Couples keep pairing off, slowly swaying to the music. Their bodies are wrapped together like curling ribbons atop a present.
I'm standing there feeling very clumsy, awkward, and alone. Each time a boy saunters over to the girls' side of the room, I hold my breath, waiting, my heart thudding in my chest. Each time, he chooses someone else, their hands first tentatively touching, then firmly grasping as they drift out to the dance floor. It feels just like P.E., when I'm one of the last to be chosen for a team; only this time, the sting is worse. It's more personal.
Tears fill my eyes and I'm grateful for the darkness because no one can see my sadness. I end up running to the restroom because I can't stand it any longer. I cry and cry and cry for what seems like eternity. Someone comes in to console me, but it's meaningless because she's had a dance partner all evening.
I'd never wish a night like this on my daughters and desperately want them to be well liked. It is my secret fear that they will suffer through an agonizing adolescence like mine. While times like these shaped me into a stronger person, they conversely made me into a loner. I still often feel that deep down, I ultimately have only myself to rely on. The fear of being left behind and alone follows and haunts me. But I can choose to stand on the sidelines crying, or I can be my own dance partner and shake and shimmy all by myself.