This is me, dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” in 1985 with other kids from my 5th grade class. I’m the lead “girl gang” dancer!
My fifth grade teacher, Ms. Cherry, was by far the coolest teacher in the school and was also a huge mentor to me during that time. She showed me by example what an independent, smart, strong woman looked and acted like. I remember her Guess jeans, her starched, popped collars, the way she moussed her hair, her shining confidence… she was so utterly cool!
In those days she would put on a dance production with her class every year, and the entire school would attend the assembly and look on with envy. We practiced after school for weeks and weeks in preparation for the big day. I was so excited to be a part of it. And to be chosen for a lead! It was huge. I was so nervous!
It was an especially big deal for me to participate in this dance because as a child I had a miserable home life, and though I was a straight-A student and enjoyed learning, I hated school because the kids in my class had always been cruel to me. They ostracized me from groups, and regularly threatened to beat me up. It was a pretty rough (read: poor) Philadelphia neighborhood and school, and I was an artsy bookworm that didn’t fit in. I was a fairy child that craved wildflower fields and butterflies and trees. The concrete and grimy bricks and racism and danger pounded me relentlessly. I had long ago thoroughly retreated into my fantasy worlds, and Ms. Cherry pulled me out and showed me how to interact.
Ms. Cherry retired from teaching the other year. I sent a video thanking her for what she did for me as a young girl and told her how influential she was during a critical period for me. I also introduced my daughters to her in the video, and told her I hoped I could be as inspirational to them as she was to me. She played it at her retirement dinner, and told me there wasn’t a dry eye in the room afterward.
To thank me for the efforts I put into her retirement dinner, Ms. Cherry dug up this old Betamax and had it transferred to DVD for me. I cringed a little pulling the disc out of the envelope and inserting it into the player, thinking of how tough those times were for me and what my home life was like – I was afraid I’d remember a little too much, perhaps. But watching this turned out to be fun and refreshing. I’m so proud of myself for this performance!
Laughing and cheering with Sean and the girls as we watched together felt like we were all giving my young, tender self a big hug and a high five straight through the decades. I feel like I’ve let something rotten and slimy go that was clinging to my heel. What a fabulous surprise! Ms. Cherry, thank you. You did it for me again.
So, here I am. I love who I have become, and I love who I was then. I had some kick ass moves!