I FELT LUCKY my sophomore year at Lexington High School because Frank, a cute boy I’d dated three or four times, invited me to his junior prom. Looking back, all I can picture is a sea of yellow: the ugly lemon-colored chiffon gown my mother insisted I wear, the bouquet of daisies and baby’s breath Frank awkwardly handed me, and the carnation I inexpertly pinned to the lapel of his white tuxedo with the pale yellow cummerbund.
That moment on my parents’ doorstep, with their camera bulbs flashing, was the beginning of the end. Frank spent most of the night sitting at a table with his friends. Without me. So I plunked myself down with my friends, prom king Jim and prom queen Sally, and spent most of the night stirring my Coke.
No surprise, that was Frank’s and my last date, yet as I said, I felt lucky he invited me to his prom, because the next year, when Bob asked Mary and Doug asked Kathy and all the matches were made for my junior prom, I waited for an invitation that never came.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t pretty, or well-liked, or never dated, and I looked good in all the short skirts and low-hipped jeans styles of the era.
But I am Jewish, and back then that was still considered something freakish. The Christian boys I hung out with, who years later revealed their attraction to me, weren’t willing to risk being teased to ask me out. At least that’s the excuse I’ve always clung to.
So on the night of the prom, I joined my friends Marianne and Lisa — one too tall, one too short, and thus uninvited, too — in an evening of make-believe: making believe we didn’t care that our friends were dancing to ”He’s So Fine” while we stuffed chips in our faces.
Another year passed. The senior prom loomed closer. Confident that the boy I’d been going out with for a month would invite me, I waited for an invitation that never came. Two weeks before the prom I forced the issue. He looked down at his feet and said, ”When Kate and I broke up, we promised each other we’d still go to the prom together.”
While our friends danced to ”So Happy Together,” Marianne, my ”tall” friend, and I doubled up to baby-sit, sharing the popcorn, the profits, and our pain. Lisa, my ”short” friend, made it to this prom.
Eleven years ago, not long after a divorce that dredged up similar feelings of being left out, I brought a new man in my life to my 20th high school reunion. As we danced, he sang into my ear in a booming voice to ”You’ll Always Be Beautiful in My Eyes.”
Feeling an adolescent-like horror that people were probably watching and snickering, I hushed him. ”You’re embarrassing me,” I said.
”I’m feeling really good that I’m here with you, holding you tight,” he responded, ignoring my self-consciousness. He continued to sing, undaunted.
Across the ballroom, my friend Lisa, the ”short” one, joyously danced the twist with her best friend who had long moved away. Each came sans husband to party together unencumbered. Noticeably absent was my ”tall” friend, Marianne, busy elsewhere with her wonderful husband and four children. She no sooner wanted to attend the reunion than sign up for a time-tunnel trip to the 1970s. Jim and Sally, the former prom king and queen, broke up just after graduating from high school. They no longer speak.
As for me, I married that man who sang to me at my high school reunion that night, because between his shameless choruses, I realized he would love me far longer than one night at a reunion or at a junior or senior prom, and he would stay with me no matter what, whereas my first one bailed at the first sight of stress.
We are raising two daughters, one from his first marriage, another from mine. We raise his Catholic and mine Jewish; somehow, it works. His daughter is just past prom age; mine about to enter the scene. Although kids today attend with a friend, or in a group, not necessarily with a date, prom time still stands as an anguishing measurement of high school success in love. Pity. Truly a pity.