The New Year’s 1966 came faster than I would have thought, as if the whole year rushed by, so that 1965 was over faster than any other year. I was hoping it will take away the shock and pain of that memorable New Year’s night, but truth be told, it didn’t! I still had nightmares and cried at the drop of a pin and since we were back together, as a happy family, I had to pretend I had forgotten, forgiven my father. I had to put on a mask which was constricting my very soul. The truth was, the events of New Year’s 1965 forever changed my outlook on fairness in life, right, wrong and the convinced me of the need to take care of myself because no one else would. I wished I had the recipe of the Mocca Torte and have a taste of it every time unexpected hardships occured causing me uncontrollable anxiety.
For New Year’s, 1966 my parents wanted to make it up to me and for the first time, I was allowed to attend a party at my peers, held at the house of a boy from school. He invited a few people, boys and girls, but not everyone, so that made me feel special.
“Are his parents going to be at home?” my mother inquired. … and who were they, she will make sure and call them before the party, just in case, there was no misunderstanding about the address! They lived in a part of Bucharest where only high level communist officials lived, my mother said, looking up the address.
Oh, I thought, she’ll shame me in front of everyone. I pleaded, and pleaded, but she still called. How should I dress? I only had two dresses and my uniform.
“I am not going to get you a dress just for one evening!” my mother said, but my Aunt gave me an old dress of hers, from when she was thin, before she had her children. Another friend loaned me a pair of beaded red earrings. A little lipstick? Eyeliner?
“Absolutely not! She is a natural beauty!” my mother insisted. And the dress… was too short and showed my breasts much too much!
“If you dress like this, boys will think you’re easy, one of those girls who goes with just anyone! Those girls never marry and get pregnant and everyone despises them. I don’t know his parents, but if they serve booze, make sure you do not touch it. No alcohol! Alcohol makes you not know what you’re doing and everyone could take advantage of you. Remember, they are a boy’s parents, they don’t care what happens to you, they want their son to have fun!”
I was quiet and just shook my head vaguely, which didn’t mean yes or now, it meant I just wanted the speech to be over!
Yet, she insisted:
“Promise me! Say: Mother, I promise you I will drink no alcohol!”.
I did, convinced in my heart it wasn’t necessary to promise anything, I wasn’t a fool! Why would I even want to drink, when I knew alcohol was already destroying our lives!
We left for the party. I was dropped off in front of my friend’s house, a mansion with front large marble stairs leading to a solid mahogony door. The house was in a part of Bucharest where I had never been before, Cotroceni. It was full of beautiful, old villas which before the communists took over belonged to the capitalists who, as we learned in school, exploited “the people, the working class”. Now, the deserving communists who really fought to liberate the people of Romania, were assigned the villas of the capitalists. It was only fair to reward the people who deserved a good life, the real party members, who spoke at meetings and shouted slogans: “Long Live Ceausescu and the People!”
I rang the bell, thinking that my friends’ parents must be really deserving. I wondered why my family was crowded in one room. Didn’t they work hard enough? What did it take to live in a villa like this?
As I admired the carvings in the hand-carved door, a pettite woman, with curly short hair and a red dressed shaped on her sexy body, finally opened the door.
“Hi, I am Pitty’s mom,” she introduced herself, “…and you are?”
“Rodica,” I answered, and stepped inside, looking at the wooden floors which had intricate designs, as I had never seen before. The hostess took my coat and I walked in another large room, in the middle of which there was a huge round table and in the middle of it a bowl with orange juice and lots of cups around it. This was punch, I was told. On the next table, there were snacks and on another desserts. I looked up at the crystal chandelar… How does one even clean something so delicate without breaking it? I thought.
“Here you are! Come in, come in, I am so glad you could make it.” Pitty said and gently pushed me closer to a group of people.
“Do you know everyone?”
Without waiting for my answer, he introduced each of them anyway, assuming I didn’t know them. They were all from our school, but I didn’t really know them. They didn’t belong in my group, or I didn’t belong in theirs. There were four boys and two other girls. One I didn’t know, but she was very pretty and her dress was very short. The other girl, Gilda, I knew! There were rumors about her and her mother and men, older men they invited over to their apartment. There were rumors Gilda’s gold jewelry was these older men’s way of saying thank you for… what she was doing when they visited. What was she doing, I wondered, to be deserving of such jewelry? Most times, I didn’t believe these rumors, about Gilda and the men. I was sure her mother, like mine, wasn’t going to let her do anything compromising and then nobody would marry her. I examined Gilda’s dress with care, every small detail: It sure was revealing…her porcelain- like skin, her black eyes, her lips contoured by the red lipstick…. she was very beautiful!
The four boys paid little attention to me or the other girl and when the dancing started they all wanted to dance with her! Oh, I felt like I wanted the floor to part so I could disappear, somewhere, underneath the intricate wooden designs. I felt so lonely and out of place! I stepped back, closer to the wall and looed at Gilda dancing and playing with the boy’s hair, his ear… nibbling at it. How disgusting! Oh, that was outrageous, I thought. In that moment I started to believe, after all, she was probably one of those girls who gets pregnant and no one marries her! And that boy, dancing with her, I knew him… he had a reputation, a trouble maker. No wonder he liked her, she was probably “easy.”
From across the room, from a mirror, my own image stared at myself : My dress was too long, my lips too dry and the beaded earrings looked stupid! I looked stupid, I concluded and stepped in a darker corner, alone but secure.
As the dancing continued, the light in the room got deemer and deemer, until I only saw the shadows of the dancers. I felt the salt of my dears moistening my lips and swallowed them. I was thankful for the darkness, it protected me. No one could see the fire in my eyes nor the tears, the envy, the despair mixed with my despise of those “easy” girls who were invited to dance and nibbled on the boys’ ears. Yet, secretly, part of me wanted to be like them, or at least know their secrets.
“Would you like to dance?” he, “the troublemaker, Christian, tapped me on the shoulder. It was him, I was not dreaming! The boy who danced with Gilda now wanted to dance with me! He, desired by all girls because he was in a band and was known to get what he wanted, was inviting me to dance. My long ugly dress, the dry lips and stupid earrings suddenly felt just right.
“Yes! I’d love to dance.” I said quickly and put my arms around his neck and pressed my breasts against his chest. I felt his heart beating fast, but not as fast as mine.
We danced, and danced, until he danced me all the way under a misletow branch hanging from a chandelar. The custom was that those dancing under a misletoe on New Year’s had to kiss. This was the custom, I had no choice!
He stopped and looked at me with his dark eyes and his lips moved but I don’t know what he said. We kissed. Rather he kissed me and I just could not believe this was really happening, Christian, the boy desired by all girls was kissing me! Oh, but my lips weren’t moving and my body was stiff, but inside I was happy, yet I couldn’t move!
“I am thirsty,” I said. “Is that orange juice, in that huge round bowl on the table? I am not allowed alcohol, but that’s orange juice, right?”
“Yes,” he responded, “orange juice and sparkling water. Punch. Would you like some?”
I drank a glass, and I was still thirsty. I drank a second and a third… It sure tasted good… different, that the orange juice at home… probably it was the sparkling water which made it taste so good.
“It’s hot in here, let’s go outside?” I’d like a smoke too” Christian said. “How about you, you smoke, don’t you?”
He put his coat on my shoulders and we stepped in the coldness of the night. It was snowing, big, white flakes rested on my hair and he brushed them away with small kisses. I felt protected. I was happy.
Oh, he lit his cigarette and handed it to me. We were just like the grown ups, my parents, Annie, everybody else, we were smoking together, sharing the pleasure!
“Do you want another puff or your own?”
He handed me his cigarette again, where his lips have touched. No, I didn’t want my own, what I really wanted was to touch his lips, but instead I touched the cigarette. After a few puffs I felt dizzy, just like the first time when I smoked with Annie, but suddenly, he crushed the cigarette under his foot and kissed me. A deep, passionate kiss, like in the movies. It must have been the cigarette or the orange juice… was it orange juice?
And then there was blankness! All I remember was the white toilet bowl in Pitty’s bathroom and the smell of my vomit, the spasms of my stomach, the headache.
Our hostess, who disappeared for most of the party, was leaning over me:
“Are you okay? ” she asked. She could not imagine what happened, how did I drink from the adults punch? She kept shaking her head and the curly hair and I knew there was no point in trying to tell her what happened because she already knew.
All I could think was my mother and how was I going to explain ruining my aunt’s dress!
Oh yes, most importantly was I ever going to kiss Christian again if there was no mistletoe? Was he going to want to kiss me again?
Only time could tell!