Megan seems pretty typical—a teen who has only ever seen her mother as tired, overworked, and a bit neurotic. But when she attends an 80s-themed dance she finds herself whisked back in time—to 1987 where she runs into her own mother living her best, though reckless, life.
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I CAN’T BELIEVE my mom almost made me miss this.
When my best friend, Sage, and I walk into the gym, excitement rushes over me. “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie plays loudly, and there is a sense of joy in the air. It’s still early enough in the school year for us to be optimistic. Everyone is doing today’s dance moves to 1980s tunes, and they’re wearing leg warmers, dresses with only one sleeve, huge hair, lots of eye makeup...even some of the guys. All around, the fashion effort is impressive.
They have gone all out with the decorations, too. There are brightly colored streamers everywhere and signs that say things like “Radical!” and “Tubular!” and other less creative signs that say, “I love the ’80s!” I doubt anyone actually had a sign saying that in the 1980s, but it’s the thought that counts.
We always have a themed dance at the beginning of the school year. Most of the time it’s some generic theme like magic or cowboys, but I always make it a personal goal to wear an amazing out"t. When I heard that we were having a 1980s-themed dance, I immediately grabbed Sage and drove to the thrift store to start putting together our perfect ensembles.
I absolutely adore the outfit I came up with. My blue dress is covered in sequins and has one sleeve with a huge flower on it. The color contrasts nicely with my pale skin, and my black tights and blue heels are perfect with it. My hair is pulled into a ponytail, and curled in a wild way I found on a YouTube tutorial. A blue bandanna is tied around my head, and huge hoop earrings are looped through the holes in my ears. My makeup (foundation, blush, blue eyeshadow, mascara, eyeliner, and lipstick) is on point. I wanted everything to be authentic. I even took my charm bracelet o! in Sage’s car when I noticed I was still wearing it on the way to the dance.
While I was getting ready, I listened to my entire ’80s playlist, which had everything from Madonna, to Depeche Mode, to Poison, to Wham! on it. I was so stoked. But when my mom came home from work and saw me dressed like this, she freaked out and told me I couldn’t go. She’s never had a problem with the theme before, but something about the ’80s out"t sent her into panic mode.
My mom has always been weird. She doesn’t let anyone in the house listen to music. She never watches movies or television or anything. She doesn’t read fiction. And she freaked out tonight more than she’s ever freaked out before. I don’t understand her. How could I miss this? I have won the costume contest at the themed dance two years in a row!
“Look at everyone!” I whisper to Sage. “They’re all so epic!”
“Yeah, but our outfits are sick,” Sage says. “Megan, you could actually be one of those old school MTV VJs. And my hair has never been this huge!” Her brown curls do
have more volume than I’ve ever seen.
“It really does,” I say. “And your outfit is amazing.”
“Thanks to you,” she says.
“Nah,” I say with a shrug. I did make some alterations to her yellow skirt to make it a little more flattering, but her black leggings, black boots, and cool black top with various colored shapes (blue triangles, yellow circles, orange zigzag lines) are what really make the outfit.
“You helped me find all of this stuff,” she reminds me.
This may be true, but I don’t think it really has much to do with Sage’s overall appearance. She has the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen, and big, deep brown eyes. She wears just enough makeup to accentuate her golden brown complexion. Her mother is one of the palest people I’ve ever seen, and her African American father has very dark skin. Sage is a beautiful combination of both of them. She’s always obscenely gorgeous, no matter how much makeup she has on or what she wears. She could wear a garbage bag and somehow make it stylish. Anytime I doodle design ideas, I always imagine the clothes or accessories on her.
Sage jumps up and down with excitement when “Don’t You Want Me Baby” by The Human League comes on. I join in and dance with her, holding hands and bouncing around as we sing along as loudly as we possibly can.
Some people meander out to dance with us. Others look at us like we’re crazy, and it might weird me out if I was by myself, but I’m braver when I’m with Sage. She makes me feel like the two of us could conquer the world.
“Megan! Sage! Hey!” I hear voices behind me. Our friends, Daniela and Ashley, dance over to us.
A man’s purple suit encases Daniela’s frame, and huge, purple sunglasses cover her face. The purple of her suit contrasts with her reddish-brown, sepia skin tone in an interesting way. Even with the suit she’s not very ’80s, mostly because her dark hair is so short, but her girlfriend, Ashley, has totally made up for this.
Ashley’s shoulder-length brown hair has so much volume, it almost seems physically impossible. The chemical hairspray smell burns my nose when she’s still twenty feet away. A bright red dress with huge, frilly shoulders, swirls around her when she dances. The cut is not right for her body type and it keeps bunching up at her waist, but Daniela doesn’t seem to mind. They are moving pretty close together. Ashley lifts one of her arms from Daniela’s shoulders and waves.
“You two look great!” I say.
“Thanks!” Ashley yells over the music.
“Did you wear those sunglasses just so you could sing that ‘Sunglasses at Night’ song?” Sage asks Daniela with an eye roll.
“You know me too well,” Daniela says, smiling.
“Hungry Eyes” comes on, which immediately reminds me of Dirty Dancing. When I was in American history class last year, Mr. Kato assigned us group projects where we were supposed to explore the significant events of a decade. Of course, my group got the 1980s, and I was supposed to talk about the culture. This is what started my obsession with ’80s music and movies.
Now that I think of it, my mom has always been weird about my obsession. I always listen to the music when she isn’t home or on headphones. But I remember when she saw me watching The Breakfast Club, she was really negative about it. Then, when she saw me watching Say Anything, she felt the need to give me a whole monologue about how the ’80s weren’t that great and I should stop romanticizing them in my head. I think her negativity about the whole thing just made me more obsessed, though.
Sage and I dance goo"ly along, lip syncing to each other, acting out an overly dramatic romantic moment. Daniela and Ashley appear to be having a real romantic moment that involves a lot of making out. I’m sure one of the chaperons will come yell at them any moment now. I don’t get them. They have been dating for more than a year. A year! We are 17! I’ve had crushes on people, and I’ve gone on dates, but I can’t imagine being in a serious relationship with anyone for that long. I can’t imagine being with the same person every day or liking someone so much that you want to be with that person all the time. It seems exhausting. How anyone ever gets married is beyond me.
The thought of marriage makes me think of Uncle Scott, and a twinge of guilt comes over me. He had just come over before I left, needing moral support. I walk over to the bleachers to sit down.
“What’s wrong?” Sage asks, following me. “You just got all weird.”
“I feel bad about sneaking out like that,” I say. “I should have been there for Uncle Scott.”
“Shouldn’t he be used to it by now? This is his fourth divorce.” Sage rolls her eyes.
“Well, yeah, he’s not great at marriage. But you know, he is family. And he’s always been such a cool uncle to me. And he really helped us out a lot after Mom’s heart attack.” I sigh. “Anyway, I don’t want Mom and Dad to get any ideas. They haven’t slept in the same bed in I don’t even know how long.”
“They’ll be fine, Megan. They’re just going through a thing that married people go through. And your uncle will be fine, too. Maybe they’ll find a way to help him and help themselves, too,” she says. “Anyway, you shouldn’t be worrying. We are finally seniors. This is our moment! Just forget about all of that and dance with me!”
Sage holds out her hand to me in a grand gesture, and I can’t help but laugh. I guess she’s right. I take her hand, and she pulls me onto the dance floor. She spins me around in a circle, but she keeps spinning me until I’m so dizzy that I fall down. We burst into laughter and continuedancing together for the rest of the song. “Down Under” by Men at Work plays, followed by “Friday, I’m in Love” by The Cure while we have a blast.
I notice Sage is distracted when “Don’t Dream it’s Over” by Crowded House comes on. I follow her line of sight to one of the basketball players, Andre, as he pours himself a Coke over at the refreshments table.
“Do you want to go get a drink?” I ask Sage, raising an eyebrow.
She punches me playfully. “Shut up!”
“You are so obvious!” I exclaim. “Come on, let’s go.”
I take her hand and drag her over to the refreshments, where I see Mr. Kato leaning against the wall. He is dressed in a dorky black suit that’s not very ’80s. His dark hair is slicked back with gel in a way I’ve never seen it styled before. It’s a slight improvement on his usual hairstyle, which is basically no style at all. His golden, tan complexion is broken up by a zit, and his brown eyes are obscured by huge, clunky glasses. He looks so sad that I immediately feel sorry for him.
No one is talking to him. I feel like I should at least say hi.
“Hey, Mr. Kato!” I say enthusiastically. He turns to face me, grinning.
“Hey, Megan,” he says, scanning my outfit. “Are you supposed to be Madonna?”
“Sort of,” I say.
“I figured you would go all out with the ’80s thing,” he says with a small chuckle. “Are you having fun?”
“This is a blast! I love the ’80s! And it’s really all because of that project you assigned us.” I beam at him.
“You know, half of the songs they’ve played tonight were on your mixtape,” he says with a warm smile. “I still think it’s crazy that you actually made a mixtape. You! In 2015! I didn’t realize any of you even knew how to make mixtapes.”
“My dad helped me when my mom was out of town on a business trip,” I admit. “My mom hate music.”
I don’t know why I tell him that last bit. It’s a weird thing to say, something I have never understood about my mother. Mr. Kato actually went to high school with my mom, though she told me they were never friends. I’ve tried to talk to him a few times about her, but he always changes the subject. It’s like I really need someone to agree with me about how strange she is.
“You know, that was easily my favorite project of the year.” He clearly doesn’t want to talk about my mom. “Especially with every extra thing you did. If you tell anyone I said that, though, I’ll deny it. I don’t have favorites.”
“Of course.” Wow, it was his favorite? I swell with pride.
“How are you liking your econ class?”
“It’s nowhere near as cool as history,” I say. As dorky as he is, he is the best teacher I have ever had, and I do miss his class. Being obsessed with history runs in my family. Both my grandmother and grandfather were history professors.
I shift so that I can see Sage. She and Andre are standing around awkwardly, not talking to each other. All of her confidence has completely dissipated. How can I help my best friend talk to her crush? Why does her bravery suddenly evaporate around him? Maybe I need to move in for moral support.
“Well, good seeing you,” I say to Mr. Kato.
“Good seeing you, too.” And I feel sorry for him again.
The other chaperones are super old teachers from the math department. The only reason any of the teachers chaperone these things is because they don’t have anything better to do. I know Mr. Kato isn’t married like most of the other teachers. I wonder what else he even does outside of school.
I walk back to Andre and Sage.
“Hey, Andre!” I say.
“Oh, hey!” he says. At 6’3”, Andre towers over me. I have to tilt my neck to look up at him. Sage is much taller than I am, though, so she doesn’t have that problem.
“Cool Madonna costume,” he says.
“It’s not exactly —” I decide it’s not really worth trying to explain, especially since that’s not why I came over here.
“Thanks! Hey, you know Sage, right?” I say, pushing her towards him.
“Yeah, sure,” he says. His face lights up. “You’re in my trig class.” His family moved here a year ago from South Africa, so he has an accent. “Are you having fun?”
“Totally,” she says. “You?”
He nods, and they stare at each other awkwardly. Until, that is, “Material Girl” starts playing.
“IT’S YOUR SONG!” Sage yells to me with more enthusiasm than usual, then grabs my hands and pulls me out to the dance floor. Andre follows us, and now he is dancing with us, jumping up and down. I casually nudge Sage towards him, trying to make it part of the dancing.
One upbeat song after another plays, and we all get lost in a sort of dancing haze. I can’t help but think of the year each of them came out from the notes I made about my mixtape. “Take On Me” by a-ha: 1985. I am dancing with Sage and Andre. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper: 1983. Daniela and Ashley dance over to us,
and we all sing along together.
“Man, you know, like, all of the words to all of these songs, Megan!” Ashley exclaims.
“You know Megan,” Sage says. “She has to go all out with everything!”
“I remember that ’80s project you did in Kato’s class,” Daniela says. “Your part of the presentation was like 20 minutes longer than everyone else in your group!”
They all laugh.
“Hey, what can I say?” I shrug. “I love the ’80s!”
“I thought it was just because you’re an overachiever,” Ashley says.
“Well, that, too,” I say with a chuckle.
I decide to take another break. When I go back to the drink table, Mr. Kato has disappeared. I pour myself a Coke and take a sip.
“Hey, Megan,” I hear a voice say, and when I turn around, that guy from last year’s production of The
Crucible is standing in front of me.
“Oh, hey!” I say, trying to remember his name. “John Proctor!”
“It’s Derek,” he says, grinning. “But you can keep calling me John Proctor if you like.”
He puts one hand in his pocket, appearing casual. I was only involved with The Crucible for a short time, helping with costumes, but as soon as my mom found out what I was doing, she made me quit.
I have to admit that Derek looks great tonight. His skin
is deep bronze, he has big, hazel eyes, and his short, black
hair is covered by a red baseball cap. He is dressed like an
’80s rapper with a bright red shirt underneath a leather
jacket and a huge gold chain around his neck.
“I love your outfit!” I say.
“Yours, too.” He grins at me. “I knew you would rock the ’80s look.”
“Yeah, weren’t the ’80s just so much cooler?” I say, taking a big gulp from my drink.
“I don’t know,” he says with a shrug. “I think now is pretty good, too.” He shifts his weight around and runs a hand through his hair nervously. “So, Megan, do you want to dance?”
Does this guy actually like me? You know, he is kind of cute now that I think about it.
“Sure!” I say excitedly.
“Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners (which came out in 1982) comes on.
“Oh my God, I love this song!” I say as I grab his hand and bring him out to the rest of the group. We’re all dancing together, jumping around. Of course, I’m singing along. Everyone else only knows the chorus, but I know every word.
I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun. I am taking a break to grab my purse when “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston (1987) comes on, and the opening beat sends me into a frenzy of excitement. “Yes!” I shout to no one in
“Get over here!” Sage calls. My purse is still slung around my shoulder, but I don’t even care. I dance back to the group, closing my eyes and letting my limbs flail about. In this moment, I am the most carefree I have ever been.
With my eyes still closed, I can imagine I am actually there, in the 1980s, dancing with a group of kids in high school. How would it have felt back then? Being a teenager in that time would have been so much fun. I can imagine kids dancing in this very gym to this very song. I imagine it would be just like this.
I sing along with the song and keep dancing. Until the room starts spinning. At "rst, I think it’s just the dancing that’s making me disoriented, but when I open my eyes and stand still, the room is still spinning. Everyone’s faces are blurry and hazy, and I feel sick.
I try closing my eyes again to make it stop, but when I open them, everything is still spinning, only it’s slower than it was before. It’s like we’re in a movie and someone has slowed it way down. Even the music sounds sluggish and distorted when I hear Sage say, “Megan? Are you okay?”
Sage slowly reaches out to me and shouts my name, but her voice sounds lower than normal, and it seems to take forever for the word to get out of her mouth. Panic rises inside me, and I suddenly feel as though there’s something I need to remember to do. I cling to consciousness with all of my being.
But I collapse to the floor, and everything goes black.
ONE WEEKEND LAST SPRING, Sage came over to spend the night with me. We liked to put on our pajamas and watch music videos on YouTube. This was right after the project with Mr. Kato, and I was showing her some ’80s videos. When “Beat It” by Michael Jackson went off, she grabbed my laptop.
“I have to show you this band Patrick showed me,” she said. “They’re called Beach House.” I was slightly irritated that she turned my ’80s music off as a somber guitar riff started to play over organs.
“This is totally stoner music. I don’t get it,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I don’t understand why you like him.”
“He’s really funny.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s okay to be a little bit chill sometimes, Megan. We don’t always have to be doing schoolwork and designing outfits and getting all As and planning our careers. I swear you’re just like your mom.”
“No, I’m not!”
“You always talk about how you hate that she’s busy 24 hours a day, but you don’t know how to just chill, either.” Sage laughed, but there was an edge to her voice.
“I do, too.”
“Alright.” She pulled a joint out of her book bag. “Do you want to smoke this?”
“Won’t my parents be able to smell that?”
“Not if we smoke it out the window,” she said. “Plus, aren’t they sleeping?”