Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Beejutante

“Doesn’t he know you at all?” Brent asked me on the phone and laughed. I returned to my dorm room senior year of college, and called my friend to tell him about my dad’s hare-brained request from that morning.

I had gone home for the weekend. I didn’t go to church with my parents, and they returned from 8:00 mass to have breakfast with me. My parents are very religious, and attended a mass said in Polish every Sunday morning at the very same church in which they were married. Dad still sings in the choir, as do my uncles, and over the years he’s made friends with the people he’s sung with since before electricity.

Dad sat across from me at breakfast and said, “I was talking to Mrs. M. this morning after church. She’s organizing the Polonaise Ball this year. She wants you to be in it.” The Polonaise Ball is kind of like a debutante ball for eligible Polish girls. Supposedly being asked to be in it is some big honor. But it was an honor that made me bristle as scooped up scrambled egg and spread it onto my toast.

“A debutante? Me? Are you kidding, Dad? There’s no way…” I sat across from the table and tried to get Dad to recognize me. I am his youngest daughter. I hold my high school record in the unfeminine shot put event. I had stopped shaving my legs in some rebellion against “The Man” and was probably clad in a pair of men’s jeans, a humongous flannel, and faux Doc Martens. I was the daughter who ran a drill press in his shop when I was on breaks from school.

“What the hell was I supposed to say to her?” he asked, as if the concept of saying “My daughter’s not really into that kind of thing” was such a foreign concept. “And now,” he added “I will have to face her every week. How am I supposed to say no to her and see her at church every week?”

“Wow, she must be pretty hard up for girls, if she’s asking for me,” I snorted. “Dad, just tell her I am not interested. Please. There’s no way I am doing this.”

“No, I will not tell her. If you don’t want to do this, you’ll have to do it yourself. But don’t just ignore her request. I don’t want her asking me about it every week,” he growled at me.

I found Mrs. M’s number in my parents’ address book, wrote it down and shoved the piece of paper in my pocket. I drove back to school, an hour and a half away in Rhode Island, and tried to come up with a reasonable excuse as to why I couldn’t possibly be included as a Polish debutante. Most of the excuses that I rehearsed in the car started with “Are you fucking crazy? Have you seen me lately? At the moment my hair is magenta! Surely we can agree I am not Polonaise material.” I knew I had to do better than magenta hair.

I walked into my room, and picked up the phone and dialed. “Mrs. M? Hi, it’s Beej. How are you?”

“Oh, honey, how are you? I haven’t seen you in so long!” she replied, excitedly. I was sure that the last time she’d seen me was at the choir picnic when I was 10. I had skinned knees from playing too hard. As a senior in college I had skinned knees from falling down after partying too hard.

“Listen, I am calling about the Polonaise Ball…” I began. I don’t remember how I worded it. Nothing I rehearsed in the car sounded right. I decided when I dialed the number that I would just wing it. I think the words “painfully shy” came out of my mouth, and the words “couldn’t possibly stand up in front of a room full of people while wearing a gown…” also popped out. At least feigned shyness couldn’t be covered over with hair dye, and couldn’t be shaved off my legs.

“I wish you’d reconsider,” she said, soothingly. “There are so many benefits you’ll miss out on of you don’t go. You won’t be introduced properly to the Polish society as an eligible young woman…” I bit my tongue hard to keep in my disdain. My brain was pounding with ‘You mean I’ll miss out on the chance for my life to revolve around making cabbage-laden food for some Polish guy who wears sandals with black socks? Oh damn!’

“Thank you for the opportunity, but I think I will have to pass. Thanks for thinking of me,” I quickly blurted before hanging up the phone. I stared at it for a few minutes, as if it grew a layer of mold in the time I was talking to Mrs. M.

I dialed Brent’s number and heard him laugh. "Hey, you're lucky I am not doing this. I would probably make you go with me, and you'd have to wear a tux," I laughed back. Then he stopped laughing.

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