You can't be an American high school graduate under the age of ninety and not have some strong feelings about "The Junior-Senior Prom." Maybe you didn't go. Maybe you decided to protest the unlawful occupation of Tibet by staying home on that particular night. Maybe you couldn't get a date. Maybe you got your member stuck in your zipper like Ben Stiller in the movie, there's something about Mary, and spent the night in a hospital. Maybe you went and had the single worst night of your life like Drew Barrymore in the movie, Never Been Kissed. Regardless of whether prom evokes feelings of warm nostalgia, psychotic trauma, or nothing at all, it still ranks as one of the bigger nights of our lives.
Why is that?
I think part of it comes from the same place that possesses people to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding. It's what I like to refer to as the Cinderella and Prince Charming attend the ball complex. We are taught at a very young age to believe in this fairy tale and some of us unfortunately chase that fairy tale across the landscape of our lives. Another part of me thinks that prom is a kind of graduation from our high school social lives. Yes, we return to classes on Monday, we finish out the school year and we graduate, but there is something very final and very significant about that night of limousines, corsages, and hotel rooms.
When I think about prom night, I am reminded of the last scene from Stand By Me. Chris and Gordie are returning home from their adventure to see a dead body. It is early morning, and they are saying their routine I'll see you tomorrow good bye, but as we hear the voice of Gordie as a grown man speak, we come to realize that their relationship will forever be altered by the changes that were about to come.
When I said good night to my girlfriend of two years on the night of her prom, I had no idea that I would never see her again in my life.
I was just a Tennessee farm boy from a little town who drove forty miles to school everyday so that I could attend a conservative all-boy's school in Nashville. I am actually a big fan of all-boy schools. You go to classes free of the female distraction, yet after school, you have a plethora of all-girl schools from which to plunder. However, there was one drawback. Come prom season, a poor, young, southern gentleman got the unique opportunity to attend two proms for the price of two proms.
My aforementioned girlfriend, Edie, was a very popular girl at a local public school. I was particularly proud of that fact. It's easy to find a girlfriend from one of the sister schools, but to have a girlfriend from a coed school. That was a major feat. She was beautiful, charming, and a cheerleader to boot. How could you possibly top that?
My prom fell first on the social calendar. Edie offered up the idea that we both go dressed in black tails. Being the rebel that I am, I agreed to the idea. I couldn't wait to see the faces of all my anal retentive teachers when they saw my girl come down the aisle dressed like a man.
We had an amazing night.
I picked her up at her home in my dad's Lincoln Mark VI and we went to dinner with two of my very good friends and their dates. We ate, we drank, we laughed out of control. When we finally arrived at the dance, we were ushered under the gymnasium to a waiting area. At my prom, seniors and their dates were announced. We would walk out on the bandstand and then descend on a walkway to the dance floor. When we walked out on that stage, I could hear the collective breath taken by everyone in attendance. I couldn't see the faces of my teachers because of the spotlights shining in my eyes, but I know they must have been seething.
I took Edie in my arms and we went out on the dance floor. I looked deep into her smiling eyes and I felt like I must be in love. We danced, we kissed, we danced, we kissed, and we made the rounds. I felt immortal. I felt for one night that I, an uncultured, hick farm boy from a two-horse town, had actually ascended to the very top of the social ladder.
We left the prom early to go to my hotel room at the Loew's Vanderbilt Plaza. My friends and I had booked several rooms overlooking Nashville's exact replica of The Parthenon. After several nightcaps, we each retired to our individual rooms. Without going into any graphic details, I'll just say that the rest of our night together proved to be as incredible and as meaningful as everything that had come before.
Two weeks pass.
It is 7:00 in the morning on the day of Edie's prom. I open my eyes to see my mother shaking a bag of marijuana in my face and yelling, "What is this?"
"It's marijuana," I stated groggily. I saw no advantage in lying about the obvious.
"What are you doing with it?" My mother screamed back.
Without any hesitation whatsoever, I replied, "I am holding it for a friend."
"One of my friends is having a difficult time with his family. He just got out of rehab and can't afford to be caught with drugs again. So, I agreed to hold it for him."
As my mother walked away in disgust, I heard her say under her breath, "We'll see what your father has to say about this."
The next sound I heard was my very expensive bag of weed being flushed down the toilet.
"God damn it! I just bought that bag!" I said to myself.
After coming home that night and before I entered the house, I had stuffed the bag down the front of my pants. To this day, I have no idea why I hadn't just left it in my car. The truly tragic element of this whole episode is that I had never bought marijuana before that night. I had smoked a little here and there, but this was my very first venture into pot ownership. I can only suppose that I must have been acting out some cliché in my head. People who own weed stuff it in their pants, right? Anyway, I came upstairs, laid on the couch, turned on the television, and proceeded to fall fast asleep. I guess that at some point in the night I had unbuckled my jeans to get more comfortable. Add five hours of rolling around and you get a very busted Scott.
By the time I was up and around, I could hear my mother and father having a very heated conversation. I overheard my name being used in vain more than once. I had to get to my new job as a lifeguard so I quietly slipped into the shower to avoid any unnecessary conflict. By the time I got out, my father had gone. I saw my mother standing in the living room with a very tense expression on her face.
"You're father is very disappointed in you," my mother said sternly.
I didn't respond. I simply let my head fall to my chest. I figured the less said the better.
"We've decided to let you go to that little girl's prom," my mother continued, "there's no reason she should have to suffer on account of your behavior."
"Thank you," I said.
"We'll talk later," my mom said as she started off to her bedroom.
"Oh, mom?" I called out.
"Do you think I could borrow some money for tonight?"
"You'll have to ask you father about that one," my mother responded as she turned and left the room.
"I think I would be better off borrowing money from a guy named Angelo," I thought to myself.
I arrived at the swimming pool a little past nine.
"You look like shit," Bobby called out to me from the top of a ladder.
"Thanks. That is just what I needed to hear," I shot back.
"What's up with you?" Bobby asked as he descended.
"I got busted this morning."
"No!" Bobby said.
Bobby was the friend who first turned me on to marijuana. He is one of those magical people you always meet somewhere along life's path. He made good grades in school, led our little town's football team to their first district championship in years, always went to church, and dated the most beautiful cheerleader on the squad. Ask any man in town and they would tell you that he was the guy they wanted their daughters to marry. Little did they know that when the sun went down, their little angel turned into a hellcat.
"So what's gonna' happen?" Bobby inquired.
"I don't know yet. I think my father's too pissed to talk to me."
"That's not good," Bobby concluded.
"Do we get paid today?" I asked.
"I think so," Bobby said.
Suddenly, I felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. Now, I wouldn't have to ask my father for money. I just needed to get to the bank before three to cash my check and everything would be fine.
At this point, I feel like I need to pause my story in order to fill all the younger Pork Pony readers in on a little history lesson. At this time in the distant, dark past, there were no ATM machines. I repeat. There were no ATM machines, no ATM cards, no check cards, nada. To add to this grand inconvenience, banks were only open on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and as I discovered on this fateful day, they were only open until noon on Saturdays.
To further complicate my circumstance, my boss informed Bobby and me that we had to finish painting the outside of the clubhouse by the end of the weekend and he wasn't considering any requests to leave early.
So, let's review. I am scheduled to pick up my girlfriend for her senior prom at 7:00 p.m. I am going to be stuck at work until at least 5:00. My tuxedo is hanging on a rack in a store in Nashville that closes at 5:30 and I live 40 minutes away. Even if I could leave right after work, which I cannot because I stink, I would still miss the deadline. I have no cash and no hope of getting any cash. And, I have a zit the size of Mt. St. Helen on my right cheek.
I needed a plan.
I called my friend, Lex. After catching him up on the day's events, I asked him for a favor.
"I need you to pick up my tux and drop it at Lauri's house."
Lauri was Lex's long time girlfriend and happened to live very near Edie's house.
"That's fine, but we're not going to be there," Lex added apologetically.
"Okay. Leave the tux outside somewhere. I'll get it."
"Okay," Lex said incredulously.
"Oh, and one more thing," I quickly added, "can you get Lauri to pick me up a corsage?"
"A corsage? What kind?" Lex asked as if someone had asked him to buy tampons.
"I don't know. I think Edie said her dress had pink in it."
"Alright. I'll see what I can do."
At 5:00, I grabbed my paycheck and drove home like a crazy man.
When I walked into my house, I felt like a ghost. Everyone was there, but no one acknowledged my presence. This might have upset me on another day, but I didn't have time for such luxuries. I quickly showered, got dressed, and after performing minor surgery on my zit, which made it look more like Mt. St. Helen's after the eruption, I sprinted to my car. It was 5:45.
I arrived at Lauri's house at 6:30. I found my tux hanging from a branch in the front yard and my corsage sitting on the front steps with a note that simply said, "Good luck. L and L." I changed my clothes right there in the front yard. I didn't have time for modesty.
I had twenty minutes to get to Edie's house and I still needed money. I stopped into a liquor store to see if they would cash a check.
"Not without a purchase," the man behind the counter grunted.
I went to the refrigerator and picked out two bottles of champagne. By the time I got back to the counter, there was a long line of idiots in front of me and that didn't include the one behind the counter. I couldn't stop looking at my watch. Time seemed to evaporate. I was starting to panic when I finally reached the register.
"That'll be fifty-three dollars."
"I also need a hundred dollars in cash, please."
"Sorry, I can only cash checks for twenty dollars over the purchase."
"Can you make an exception, just this one time?" I begged.
The man just shook his head.
"Listen," I continued, "I am a senior at Vanderbilt and this really sweet girl asked me to her prom. I have no cash and you are my only hope to save this girl from certain disappointment. I know you're not supposed to do this, but can you offer a little help to a man in need."
"Alright," the man said, "I'm gonna' get into a lot of trouble for this, but I'll give you twenty-five."
I stared at him for a long, exasperated moment.
"I'll take it," I said.
As I look back on that scene, I am completely dumbfounded. There I was, an eighteen-year-old kid, dressed in a tuxedo, buying two bottles of champagne, and the topic of my age never came up. I guess I should just be thankful.
I arrived at Edie's house at 7:10.
Edie descended the stairway while her mom and step-dad snapped off picture after picture. I suppose she looked beautiful in a Cinderella way.
I have never liked prom dresses, ball gowns, or those twenty- thousand-dollar outfits that movie stars wear to award shows. Give me a woman in blue jeans and a white T-shirt and I'm ecstatic.
I helped Edie and her balloon of a dress get into my car while her parents took one last picture.
"You were late." Edie's previously photographic smile had turned sour.
Sometimes my expressions betray me. My intention was to turn apologetically and offer a puppy-dog face, but before I could stop myself, my head whipped around and I offered up my die, bitch, die face.
"What's the matter?" Edie's face looked fearful.
"I'm sorry," I said solemnly, "I've . . . I've had a bad day."
"Okay," Edie proceeded cautiously, "are you alright now?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Great. First, we need to go by the country club to have our picture taken. Next, and you're not going to believe this, I got reservations at Mario's!"
The two most expensive restaurants in Nashville at this time were Jullian's and Mario's. I guess I should've been thankful that Mario's finished second in this category.
I know what you're thinking. Why does the girl get to pick the restaurant when the guy has to pay? That's just the way it was. I had no choice, but to swallow hard and figure some way out of this mess.
"I got champagne for later," I managed to say without choking.
"Great. We'll save it for the party."
"I need to get some ice before it gets warm," I said as I pulled into a Shell Gas Station.
I had my dad's Shell Credit Card.
"Can I get two bags of ice and as much cash as I can possibly get on this card."
"Twenty dollars is the max," the guy said through the speaker.
"I'll take it."
We arrived at the Brentwood Country Club at 7:30.
Tickets to the prom? Twenty dollars.
Pictures at the prom? Twenty dollars.
Dinner at Mario's on five dollars? Impossible.
I sat across from Edie at this beautiful, upscale Italian restaurant for two hours. I watched as cocktails, appetizers, entrees, and dessert were delivered promptly to our table by a very efficient and friendly waiter named Miguel. I know Edie was talking to me during dinner, but I couldn't really experience anything except this queer sense of terror growing slowly and steadily from my gut until it overtook my entire body. I know I should have told her about the bust and the fact that I had no money, but I really didn't want to ruin her night. I just sat there looking at her as if I was looking through a fog. It was only a matter of time.
"Can we get the check, please?" Edie said with a giggle. "I can't wait to get to the dance."
I only shook my head in agreement.
I slowly opened the leather bound check holder and followed all the charges down to the large, circled number at the bottom: "$153.50, Thanks, Miguel."
"Excuse me for a minute," I said as I grabbed the check and got up from the table.
"Where are you going?" Edie asked with a concerned look.
"I just need to speak to Miguel for a second."
As I walked across the restaurant towards the waiter station where Miguel was standing, I felt like the air was getting too thick for me to walk through. My legs began to shake and my stomach was clinched and full of butterflies.
"Excuse me?" I asked tentatively.
"Yes sir, how may I be of help to you?" Miguel asked graciously in a thick Italian accent.
"Well, I have a small problem. See, I am a senior at Vanderbilt and that sweet girl over there asked me to her high school prom and of course I want to make it a very special night for her, but I seem to be a little short on cash."
"The lady is in high school?"
"Yes, and . . ."
"She probably should not have been drinking, huh?" Miguel said as he looked over my shoulder to our table."
"No, probably not, but see, I have this problem . . . ,"
"That's okay. I have no problem with that."
"Thank you, but there is still the problem of the check."
"No problem. We accept credit cards."
"I don't have a credit card."
"That's okay we accept all of the credit cards."
"I don't have any credit cards. I only have a check."
"We accept traveler's cheques."
"I don't have a traveler's cheque, I have a personal check."
"We don't accept personal checks."
"I know, but I was hoping you could make an exception this . . . "
"How much cash do you have?"
"That's not enough."
"Yes, I know, that's why I need to write you a . . . ."
"Marcello, can you come over here please?" Miguel shouted out as he snapped his fingers.
"Who's Marcello?" I asked as I tried to follow Miguel's eyes.
"The manager," Miguel quickly added.
As Marcello approached, Miguel took on a self-righteous tone, "Marcello, this man won't pay his check."
"I can and want to pay my check, sir, I just don't have any cash." I quickly amended.
"That's okay, we take credit cards," Marcello said with a smile.
"He doesn't have any credit cards or traveler's cheque, he has nothing," Miguel quickly added.
I was really beginning to dislike Miguel and I was starting to lose my temper. By this time, other waiters had started to gather around and people at nearby tables had started to look on curiously.
"Look!" I snapped loudly. "I have a date sitting right over there who knows nothing about this and I would like to keep it that way! I have a driver's license, I have my dad's business cards, I have a bank account with more than enough money to cover this. I will write you a check for one hundred dollars more than the bill. This check will not bounce. I swear to you on my honor as a gentleman. You can hunt me down and kill me if it does. Please, I beg you, let me write you a god damned check!"
"One hundred dollars?" Miguel chimed in.
"Yes, one hundred dollars!" I said firmly.
"Okay with me if it's okay with Marcello." Miguel said sheepishly.
"I think it will be alright. Take down all his information," Marcello said as he looked deeply into my eyes and gently walked away.
"What was that all about?" Edie asked as I returned to the table.
"Just a small problem with the bill. Everything's alright now. Let's get out of here."
It was almost eleven when we arrived at the dance. The room was full of couples dressed just like we were. A cover band was playing, but not a single, solitary soul was dancing. Edie grabbed my arm and started pulling me toward the dance floor. I resisted.
"Come on, let's dance!" Edie said excitedly.
"I don't want to be one of the first ones out there."
"Don't be silly. Let's dance."
"What is your problem!" Edie angrily shot back.
"I don't want to be another one of your private school boyfriends that you parade around for all your friends!" I shot back angrily without thinking.
That was not what I meant to say. It just came out of me. It was a cheap shot aimed directly at an old wound. My relationship with Edie had been on and off for the last two years. Whenever it was off, Edie would return to her old boyfriend, Paul, who attended a rival, private high school. Whenever I attended any functions with her, I could feel his ghost floating around the room. This situation was no different. This was not the first time we had fought about this very thing.
Edie burst into tears.
"You are such an asshole!" Edie screamed.
I just stood there, taking in the fact that two hundred pairs of eyes were focused solely on me.
"You have completely ruined my prom night! I hate you!" Edie said as she hurriedly shuffled passed me and out of the room.
When I found her, she was sitting alone on a garden bench, quietly crying. I observed her for a long time before I approached. I thought about all the hours I had spent talking to her on the phone. All the little notes she secretly wrote in my text books so that I would find them on some idle Tuesday while sitting in English class. All the times she had broken my heart when I had seen her with Paul.
"I am sorry," I said gently as I sat down next to her.
"I am truly sorry, Edie." I said as I carefully wiped a tear from her cheek with my finger.
She laid her head on my shoulder and I gently stroked her hair. We sat there for a long time without speaking a word.
I realized I felt sorry for far more than some insensitive remark. I felt sorry for every time I tried to force her to be something she was not. Every time I punished her for not feeling things she could not feel. I wanted her to love me the way I loved her. I wanted her to love me the way she loved Paul. I was never happy with the way she loved me. And, at that moment, I realized I never would be.
Eventually, we returned to the ballroom and we danced. We danced until the very last dance. Afterwards, we drove up to one of our favorite parking spots overlooking the city and drank ice-cold champagne. It was late by the time we got back to her house. I kissed her good night and held her hand until the last possible moment before she closed the door. I watched her walk up the sidewalk, unlock the door, and slowly disappear into her house.