When I was fifteen, I went to a dance. A school event, semi-formal, and I wore an off-white lace dress (it was the eighties, after all). I also wore dangling earrings of some complicated design. These are the star players in this piece.
I arrived with my best friend. I don’t remember her dress (and I’m too lazy to go look at a picture right now), but I do remember her lace gloves. She and I were a funny pair. I was five ten, she was, erm, much shorter than that. I was very self conscious about my height in social situations. I spent a lot of time slumped over, trying to look small.
So, our grand entrance. The dance was held in the lower level of a university building. To reach it, we had to ride an escalator. I have a not-so-secret fear of escalators. I blame it in part on a story I once read in a Norman Spinrad anthology, and part on my own weird brain chemistry. Dear best friend had once tried to coax me onto escalators in a mall, only to have to ride down and come back up for me several times, when I repeatedly missed my cue.
There I was, though, all dressed up, and wanting to get to the dance, in the hopes that someone, anyone, would ask me to dance. I bravely stepped onto the escalator, my friend by my side. She looked up and noticed my earring was coming out, and she helpfully reached up to correct it. I bent down just a little to make it easier.
Lace gloves. Wire hoops. Just us on the escalator, and we were carried down to the waiting, watching crowd of people, me bent over, her firmly attached to my ear. The sort of thing that is terrible only if you are shy, and fifteen, and uncomfortable in a dress, and frightened of escalators and people, and really don’t want anyone to notice you.
The point of this story? Lives become material for writing, but how that material is used is rarely straightforward. I would never insert that story into some piece of fiction. It would bore me. I would stumble over it.
But I would use that feeling. I would use myself looking back at that girl on the escalator. I recycle my emotional life like there’s no tomorrow while writing.