When I was 17, we moved from the noise and turbulence of Caracas, Venezuela to the peace and tranquility of Farmington, Utah. Life was going to be much easier – or so I thought.
Less than 24 hours after the plane landed, Mom started riding me about finding a job. I didn’t object to working, but Farmington is a bedroom community, and I had no car. Mom was not deterred. “You can take the bus!,” she said, “The bus will be the key to your success! You’re in your native country now, so no excuses!” After several failed attempts to use the public bus system (buses arrived once every several hours, and I refused to read a schedule) I got a job as a games hustler at an amusement park two miles from the house. Mom was thrilled, and I spent the rest of the summer juggling balls and smiling with sunburned lips.
Then school began. Out of 600 seniors in my high school class, only two hadn’t taken Driver’s Ed: Maria, the foreign exchange student from Spain; and me. We were both in Coach Drayer’s class. He was the football coach, did not wear a seatbelt, had a voice like a malfunctioning rock tumbler, and hated his job.
Coach Drayer discovered that I spoke Spanish and assigned me to be Maria’s driving instructor. Maria thus discovered that I spoke Spanish and asked me to the Halloween dance. (There’s some real irony here. In Venezuela, my parents would only allow me to date Mormon, American girls. That ruled out everyone in the whole country, except for my sisters and a pretty Mormon girl named Karen, who was dating a Puerto Rican kid. Thus I did no dating in Venezuela. My first date in the US was with a Catholic girl from Spain.)
Back to the dance. Oh that ill-fated Halloween dance. Neither of us had any clue about the American social scene. Neither of us could drive, and my first winter in 7 years was fast approaching.
Oh that ill, ill-fated Halloween dance.
Tradition has it that couples are supposed to wear matching costumes to the Halloween dance. Maria announced that she was going as a witch. My wardrobe lacked a witch costume, so I tore up a pair of pants and covered myself with cuts, scrapes, bruises, and other injuries. My injuries were realistic and convincing – so much so, that when I decorated my younger brother with injuries the following Monday his elementary school costume parade, he looked in the mirror, threw up, and Mom made him stay home.
Since Maria had asked me out, the logistics were hers to arrange. At 6:00 pm sharp, her dad pulled up, I climbed into the car, he drove us straight to the school, dropped us off, and drove away. It was 6:15. The dance was scheduled to start at 8:30, and there were 6 inches of snow on the ground. And there we stood: Maria in her witch costume, complete with fake nails, a green face, and a big hat. And me, tattered and beaten. And without a coat.
The snow on the school property was lovely and unbroken. Maria said, “It looks just like a postcard! Now. Where should we go to eat?” The nearest restaurant was over 2 miles away, so we spent the next 90 minutes walking laps around the field house to keep from freezing to death. Maria had a light cloak, but this was her first real winter. After 90 minutes, the decorating crew arrived, and we snuck into the school to try and thaw out.
We sat dejectedly on separate bales of hay for about an hour (we were SO beaten down at this point) before anyone else arrived. The dance eventually started, but she couldn’t dance, because of her long, pointed black shoes. We couldn’t slow dance either, because she was 15 inches shorter than me, and was wearing a tall black hat. Tired of the dance, we decided to leave, but alas, we had no car.
She eventually persuaded a small group of her friends to give us a ride, and we escaped. The small group was the local running back dressed like a sheikh, and the three girls he was taking as his harem. They dropped us off at the local Little Caesars, and fish-tailed out of the parking lot. Snow was beginning to fall heavily, and Little Caesars Pizza is take-out. We ate our 2 pizzas (pizza pizza!) in the parking lot beneath the glare of a halogen lamp, and then stood at the entrance of Smiths Food King waiting for our ride.
While we were waiting, though, Maria removed her hat and fake nails. She no longer looked like a witch. She looked, instead, like a short girl with a sickly green complexion. Thanks to my expertly applied bruises and lacerations, I looked like I’d been in a train wreck. We stood there shivering – too cold to speak – and endured the stares of passers-by for half an hour until her dad arrived.
I went home, recounted this sad tale to my horse-laughing parents, and laid in the tub for about 2 hours until I finished thawing out. That was my first date.