Shann and I started going out with each other in seventh grade.
When I think about it, a lot of stuff happened to us that year.
There are nine filled, double-sided-paged volumes of Austin Szerba’s Unexpurgated History of Ealing, Iowa for that year alone.
That year, Eric went into the Marines and left me at home, brotherless, with our dog named Ingrid, a rusty golden retriever with a real dynamo of an excretory tract.
People in Ealing use expressions like real dynamo whenever something moves faster than a growing stalk of corn.
It was also the same year Robby’s dad went to Guatemala to film a documentary about a volcanic eruption. Lots of stuff erupted that year, because Mr. Brees met a woman, got her pregnant, and expatriated to Guatemala.
And, just like a lot of boys in seventh grade, I started erupting quite frequently then, too.
A real dynamo.
And, that year Shannon Collins’s mom moved to Ealing, enrolled her daughter at Curtis Crane Lutheran Academy (where we were all good, non-smoking, non-erupting Christians), and married Johnny McKeon, the owner of From Attic to Seller Consignment Store and Tipsy Cricket Liquors.
And I fell in love with Shann Collins.
It was a very confusing time. I didn’t realize then, in seventh grade as I was, that the time, and the eruptions, and everything else that happened to me would only keep getting more and more confusing through grades 8, 9, and 10.
I will tell you how it was I managed to get Shann Collins to fall in love with me, too: My best friend, Robby Brees, taught me how to dance.
I was infatuated with Shann from the moment I saw her. But, being the new kid at school, and new in Ealing, Shann kept pretty much to herself, especially when it came to such things as eruptive, real dynamo, horny thirteen-year-old boys.
Robby noticed how deeply smitten I was by Shann, so he selflessly taught me how to dance, just in time for the Curtis Crane Lutheran Academy End-of-Year Mixed-Gender Mixer. Normally, genders were not something that were permitted to mix at Curtis Crane Lutheran Academy.
So I went over to Robby’s apartment every night for two and a half weeks, and we played vinyl records in his room and he taught me how to dance. This was just after Robby and his mother had to move out of their house and into the Del Vista Arms.
Robby was always the best dancer of any guy I ever knew, and girls like Shann love boys who can dance.
History does show that boys who dance are far more likely to pass along their genes than boys who don’t.
Boys who dance are genetic volcanoes.
It made me feel confused, though, dancing alone with Robby in his bedroom, because it was kind of, well, fun and exceptional, in the same way that smoking cigarettes made me feel horny.
Seventh grade was also when Robby and I stole a pack of cigarettes from Robby’s mom. By the time we got into tenth grade, Robby’s mom started buying them for us. She might take drugs and not have one of those sensor things in the palm of her hand like real moms do, but Mrs. Brees doesn’t mind when teenage boys smoke cigarettes in her house and dance with each other, alone in the bedroom, and that’s saying something.
That year, at the end of seventh grade, Robby confessed that he’d rather dance with me than with any girl. He didn’t just mean dance. It was very confusing to me. It made me wonder more about myself, whom I doubted, than about Robby, whom I suppose I love.
At first, I thought Robby would grow out of it—you know, start erupting like everyone else.
But there was nothing wrong with Robby’s volcano, and he never did grow out of it.
So it was at the Curtis Crane Lutheran Academy End-of-Year Mixed-Gender Mixer that Robby casually and bravely walked up to the new girl, Shann Collins, and announced to her:
“My friend Austin Szerba is shy. That’s him over there. He is good-looking, don’t you think? He’s also a nice guy, he writes poetry, he’s a really fantastic dancer. He would like very much if you would agree to dance with him.”
And everything, confusing as it was, worked out beautifully for me and Shann and Robby after that.