When Maurice White dares me to recall, I’m in Memphis in 1980, in the nondescript hotel ballroom where my college’s Pan Hellenic formal is in full swing. There’s a DJ and a disco ball. I’m one of two freshman in our group of junior and seniors. My friend-date is like a brother; he likes that I can match him bong for bong. He brings a big white chrysanthemum for my wrist when he picks me up from my dorm room. I’m wearing a wine-colored boat-neck shift my mother made and the pearls her father gave her on her sixteenth birthday. The deep purple suits my complexion and sets off the pearls that fall just above my collar bones. I have a fetish for pearls; they make me feel like Audrey Hepburn.
At the dinner before the dance, the friend-date of one of the senior girls kept staring at me. He was across the table and down, too far to converse, so I stared back at the Italian Renaissance painting come to life. A rebellious young prince, full pink lips parted in promise. Thin face with a proud nose, dark curls brushing lean shoulders, bangs falling across sleepy hooded eyes.
His eyes. His eyes burn straight through me, stopping once to ponder what my virgin body looks like naked before burrowing into the core of my soul. I have never seen a man so beautiful. No man has ever looked at me like this, not in all my eighteen years. His stare excites nerve endings I didn’t know were there. I am frozen in the fire.
In the ballroom, the DJ drops the needle on the hit, “September.” Horns cascade and billow. My friend-date and his friend-date are tossed from the window of the equation. There is only us, only now, only this song. “Do you remember / the 21st night of September? Love was changing the minds of pretenders / While chasing the clouds away.”
He glides over and holds out his hand to pull me into his arms. And under the mirrored light shattering the hotel ballroom, we danced, eyes locked, skin tingling with every touch of hand on hand, hand on waist, hand on shoulder, lips curling in anticipation of the kiss yet to come.
“Do you remember . . .?” I’ll never forget the magic of those feelings. I’ll also never forget I forgot every shred of dating etiquette and girl-code ethics that night, mesmerized by the eyes an Italian prince who would soon break my heart. But that night, the beginning, was laced with magic strong enough to ignore all the implications of the fleeting love in “September.”