About six months after my mother died, my father figured it was time that he reengaged with society and start attending the various social functions that he had once pleasured. As the eldest child, I was selected to be his companion to the bat mitzvah of the daughter of my father’s old friends in New York City. I was more than happy to oblige– as a suburban New Jersey kid attending a tiny Catholic grammar school, New York City functions with exotic names like “bat mitzvah” were among the most glamorous things I could imagine.
At thirteen, I had finally defeated most of the awkwardness of pre-adolescence (think: bangs, glasses, floral overalls): the braces had been removed, the glasses had been replaced with contacts, and the baby fat had disappeared. I was confident– and I wore red lipstick and rolled my plaid uniform skirt to prove it. Now, I was off to a formal event in New York City and the best part of all was… there was a boy. My father had informed shortly after requesting me as his date that an old friend from his former law firm was bringing his thirteen-year-old son.
To a girl who went to school with the same fifteen boys since she was six years old, the idea of a new boy, especially one her age, is possibly the greatest thing that could ever happen. “What’s his name? What’s his name?” I asked, already busy concocting fantasies of slow dancing with a Jonathan Taylor Thomas look-a-like in my head. My father answered, “Mark Spatt.”
In the weeks prior to the event, I would often wonder about Mark Spatt. What would he look like? What would he wear? Would he like me? Would we dance together? Would we look into each other’s eyes and fall in love in one magical New York City night? Well, if Mark turned out to be totally cute and mysterious, I was going to be prepared. I borrowed my best friend’s short black dress, matched it with black strappy sandals, and bought a new tube of the perfect red lipstick.
Then I was finally there. My heart raced as my father and I walked arm in arm through crowds of people, my father introducing me to couple after couple. On the dance floor, we ran into Mr. Spatt who revealed his son, Mark. He seemed geeky; we talked awkwardly for a few minutes, and then I quickly left him for the safety of my father.
I met another girl my age on the dance floor, and we became fast friends in the way that only two thirteen-year-old girls could– we bonded over the fact that Mark tried to accost both of us on the dance floor. With the cruelty that only middle school girls can display, we quickly ran away. About a half hour later, he came over to us to talk. We answered his questions with only “yes” and “no,” then skated away to the karaoke room to sing our favorite Madonna song – “Material Girl.”
It wasn’t until five years later that I was reminded of this distant night, when my father announced that Mark Spatt was going to Princeton as well, and suggested we should all have dinner together. Without thinking, I declined. It was an immediate gut reaction, something I couldn’t explain. When I arrived at Princeton, Mark called my room inquiring after me.
I didn’t actually run into Mark at Princeton until I was sitting outside on a bench one spring day during my freshman year, eating T-Sweets with a friend, minding my own business. My friend introduced us, and Mark recalled that, “Apparently I hit on you at a bat mitzvah like five years ago.” Flabbergasted, I pretended to only vaguely remember the event.
These days, Mark and I have smoothed over our awkwardness and forged new ground. When I ran into him shortly after his return from England, he chatted with a new sense of grace and composure (perhaps it’s the beard).
That’s like Mark Spatt, of course, to come out of nowhere, surprise you with his awkwardness and his confidence, and to chat like you’re his best friend. Not the girl who abandoned him on a dance floor and went off to sing Madonna. For my part, I can only use “Material Girl” to sum up what I’ve learned from the whole thing: “Boys may come and boys may go but that’s all right you see. Experience has made me rich.”