Chapter 7: "Eddie Doesn't Dance"
I wanted to go to the dance, an almost-adult event. Mother and I had gone to the tea at Mrs. Mortimer’s to meet the committee who would or would not accept me as an invitee. Mother said I acted very grown up. I had wanted her to be the strength I could hide behind, but she wasn’t; she hardly spoke.
I was excited to dress up, to wear my new fancy shoes with bows on the toes and be with my friends. I liked dancing school and I was good at dancing; everyone said so, even though I was taller than most of the boys.
As I waited by the elevator, Mother came out to say goodbye and to tell me I looked pretty in my green velvet dress, that my shoes looked just right.
“All the boys will want to dance with you. Those dances you practiced at dancing school. . .you’ll have fun. But, Joanie, I have something to tell you that I just learned.”
As she leaned over to arrange the bows on the bottom of my skirt, I looked down at her newly combed wavy hair and inhaled her perfume.
“Eddie doesn’t dance,” she said quietly.
I stood there thinking I hadn’t heard her right.
“What do you mean?” I stammered. “Of course he dances, if we’re going to a dance.” I pushed her away, feeling the tears start. “I’ve never been to a dance. He has to dance. What will we do?” I choked back a sob. “I’m not going.”
She stood up.
“Of course you’re going, and you’ll have fun. Oh, Joanie, I’m sorry. It’s a shame that Eddie doesn’t dance,” she pronounced the words slowly and looked away. “But wipe your eyes now, be brave, you’re a big girl.” I could hear the fake lightness in her tone.
“It’s not just about dancing. You’ll think of things to talk about. His school, his sports in England; ask him what he likes to do.”
Why didn't she worry about me, my disappointment?
My lavender corsage, now sitting carelessly on my lap, had wilted. No one asked me to dance; they all had partners. In today’s atmosphere, I could probably ask a boy to dance; I wouldn’t have to wait. But at that time it would have been considered aggressive; a girl must wait for the boy.
I prayed Eddie and I could leave soon.
And Mother was wrong. We didn’t have any fun; it was misery. I held back the tears until I arrived home. She apologized again and said she hadn’t known Eddie couldn’t dance. I didn’t believe her. The quiet betrayal, the subtle hint—as the girl, my feelings didn’t count, not really. Eddie doesn’t dance. The boy comes first. They’re not your playmates anymore, not like they were when you were six, or even eleven.
“You want them to like you, Joanie, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I answered. I wanted boys to like me.
The twelve-year-old Joanie was starting to understand what her place was supposed to be.
But I didn’t want to know my place. The Magnolia Code and all the other codes were good for some people, lots of people maybe, but they weren’t good for me. I wanted to know what was out in the world besides those rules. Aunt Billie had directed me—her drawl became ever more pronounced when making a point—“Joanie, you have got to look around you, see what you like, where you want to go. There are tough choices, and sometimes tough consequences, but you have to make them. Simple as that.”
Excerpted from The Magnolia Code