Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Proms

Actually, this was going to be a tale of THREE proms, but I decided that you'd think I was making all of this up if I told you about my junior prom with the boy who thought he was a vampire, the mortuary limo and my dress that was a perfect example of what NOT to wear.

On to the real story...

Twenty years ago (that dang reunion invitation has dredged up all sorts of things!) I was a high school senior who wanted to attend a senior prom with every fiber of my hormonal being. There was a certain boy who I had been in love with (meaning: We were friends, but I would call his house, hear him answer, then hang up. Also I would drive past his house under cover of darkness in hopes of catching a glimpse of him in the kitchen window making a peanut butter and honey sandwich.) and I hoped beyond hope that he was going to ask me. No dice. I found out that he had inquired of my brother whether he should ask me or another girl. My brother, not wanting to appear biased (or SO HE SAYS!!), chose her. (Traitor!)

One can only drown their sorrows in Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia for so long. Prom was less than a month away! I knew I needed to take action.

There was another boy, from another school, who had shown some interest in me. He did not share my standards and was not my type; he rode a bullet bike and confidently carried out the bad-boy-who-looks-good persona. I was desperate for a prom date. Despite what my gut (and all of my friends) told me, I called him. We went out a number of times before I subtly mentioned his senior prom. He asked, I accepted. He promised me a night that I would never forget - and he was right.

I went all out for this date. I found the perfect dress, had my hair done... I even wore lipstick. This was serious business. He arrived in a stretch limousine, perfectly dashing in his tuxedo and full of compliments for me. We looked great together. It was all like a dream. The dinner, the dancing, the flowers, the pictures - everything was perfect. Regardless of the cliche, I felt like a princess.

On the way home, my date told me that he had another surprise in store. A room - in a very nice hotel. At first it would be a large gathering, but eventually it would be just the two of us. My smile faded. The dream abruptly ended. I told him that I would absolutely not do any such thing. He became obviously agitated, but maintained his cool. "You know, tonight wasn't cheap," he told me, reaching for my hand. I pulled it away and responded, "It is now." He ignored me for the remainder of our drive to the hotel.

My date still went to the hotel room to meet up with friends (who had similar plans for their dates) and sent me home in the limo without a word. I later found out that he had a back-up plan in place in case I didn't work out as expected. Nice. What was I thinking?!

I cried myself to sleep that night, yet I had learned some valuable and important lessons - no guy, no dance, no longing to be loved was worth lowering my standards for. Gut instincts are almost always right. Outward appearances are not as important as what's on the inside. And, most importantly, if it slithers like a snake and hisses like a snake and looks like a snake, it's a SNAKE.

The next morning I awoke to a sad realization - it was the day of my school's senior prom. I tried to get some friends to go to the beach with me (the ocean has always had a way of washing away my melancholy) but they were all busy getting ready for the big dance later that evening. In a completely uncharacteristic move, I went to the beach by myself and soaked up the sun's warmth while rollerskating along the strand.

After I returned home I received a phone call. It was my friend Mike who had graduated the previous year, just calling to catch up. In the course of our conversation I told him all about my experience the night before - how everything had seemed so perfect and ended so terribly. I tried to joke about the whole matter being no big deal but Mike knew me well enough to understand that I was hurting. "West's (my high school) prom is tonight, right?" he said, not really asking. "You're going."

I tried to argue with him that it was starting in a couple of hours and I didn't have a date or a prom ticket. "All you need is a dress and a date," he told me. "You have both. I'll be there in an hour."

True to his word, he showed up - sharply dressed all in black. "I couldn't get a tux," he informed me, "Too last-minute. But I did get these." He handed me two clear floral boxes, one with a corsage and one with a boutonniere. "The big one's for you. The little one's for me." I stood there, unsure of what to say. I couldn't believe he would go to all of this trouble for me. "Well, come on! Pin that little flower on my shirt, Cinderella!" he instructed me. "We've got to get going or we'll be late for the ball!"

The whole way to the hotel where our prom was being held, we talked, sang to the tunes being played on his radio and laughed.

When we walked into the hotel lobby I asked him how he was able to secure a prom ticket. "Um... I didn't. But it's going to work out," he told me. We walked to the table where various teachers were admitting students to the dance and Mike began to strike up conversations with the ones he knew from his previous years at the school. One teacher finally said, "You two better get in to the dance before you miss dinner!" So we did. Easy as that. He winked at me. "What did I tell you?" he whispered as we rode up the escalator to the hotel's ballroom.

I could not, in good conscience, eat dinner knowing we had not paid for it. But we danced and talked and enjoyed spending a wonderful evening with many great friends. As Mike drove me home, he apologized that I would likely get into trouble for crashing the prom without having purchased a ticket. I told him that it was worth it to have the terrible experience of the previous night replaced with a much happier one. (Disclaimer: I am in no way promoting the crashing of a prom. If you are my kid and you even attempt such a thing you will be clipping my toenails and massaging my feet for the rest of eternity.)

Mike was right. I did get into trouble when some teachers reviewed the guest list and discovered that we had snuck into the dance without a ticket. I was called in to the office, I apologized and worked out a plan to eventually pay for my ticket. I was forgiven. It was worth the embarrassment.

This second dance taught me a lesson as well: Happiness can come in the most unexpected ways, from the most unexpected people.

And it's a lot more enjoyable to go to the prom with a friend... than with a snake.

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