The Famous Final Scene

Friday, July 22, 2011

Seventeen years old.

I adjusted the pale violet cummerbund on my rented tux for the third time in less than a minute and gazed out at the dance floor. The couples slowly swayed as Styx's "The Best of Times" came to an end.

The strains of "We've Got Tonite" (the Kenny Rogers/Sheena Easton desecration, alas, not Bob Seger's untouchable original) began to echo across the hall. Our prom theme. Everyone in my class was on the dance floor for the culmination of the biggest event of our young lives.

Everyone except me.

Again.

****

This time was going to be different, I thought to myself.

It was just before Christmas break. Tickets to the senior prom had literally just gone on sale this frosty morning. Mr. F., manning the counter at the student dry goods store, smiled as he sorted out the bills I'd handed him.

"Always good to take care of these things early, isn't it?"

"Sure is, Mr. F."

"So who's the lucky girl?"

"Uh, I guess I'm weighing my options."

"Too many choices, eh? Must be tough."

"I hope so."

He looked at me for a moment.

"She'll be a very fortunate young lady, you know."

"Thanks, Mr. F. See you fourth period."

"See you. Good luck."

Mr. F. had no way to know this, of course, but if my romantic life were a country song, it would've been titled "Bellyflopping in the Pool of Love."

I had no trouble making friends with girls. They seemed to instinctively... trust me, in ways they didn't with other boys. I worked at a hospital kitchen for my first job and was one of only four boys in the department, including my friend TF. During my very first day, the dispatcher, an older lady of 18 :c), approached me at break time.

"Ready to kick back for a bit?"

"Sure, I guess. Thanks."

She grabbed my hand. "Then let's go! Time's a-wasting!"

I followed along dutifully as we snaked through the ancient hospital's back corridors. We approached a dingy door. She looked around, knocked once, and quickly opened the door. "Here we are - quick!"

I stepped through the door - and into the women's locker room. Several of the diet aides looked up, startled, then laughed.

"Is it OK for me to be here?"

"Sure! I invited you, after all."

"Is this... normal? I mean, does TF ever come back here?"

They all laughed.

"God, no! We'd kill him."

"Then how come it's OK for me to be here?"

She considered this for a moment.

"I don't know. It's different. You're... just not like that."

I was confused.

"Like what?"

She smiled.

"Oh, never mind. Just sit down and relax, OK?"

***

I shook my head. Why did they trust me, confide in me, tell me they wished their boyfriends (or ex-boyfriends) were like me... but then look surprised - and puzzled - when I asked them out?

"You're really sweet, L... but I just want us to be friends. Dating would just be... weird."

No one would tell me *why* it would be weird. If they even knew.

But this time would be different. I had my tickets months ahead of time. Plenty of time to work through my list of potential candidates. Yes, I had a list. And a script I'd worked out in my head. No sense leaving anything to chance, after all.

Maybe that was my problem, I thought. I would get distracted when I'd ask someone out. I'd approach them as per my routine, on the designated day - always need to pick a day when you won't see them the next day, so it's less awkward after they turn you down. I would be looking at them as I approached... then I'd be thinking about how they looked... and wondering what it felt like to... be like that... And before I knew it, as soon as I'd stammered out my request - another rejection. Almost always with a look of pity... but a rejection.

Well, even with my less-than-stellar track record, even I could find someone this far ahead of time. I mean, they can't *all* say no. Right?

***

Actually, they could. :c)

It was less than two months to the prom, and I'd been turned down by every single girl I'd asked. I was now ruing my earlier, ill-advised bravado. Not only had I paid for the tickets, I'd gone ahead and rented a tux, ordered flowers, and made arrangements to take time off from work. I was in deep.

And as the big day rapidly approached, and my friends at the all-boy high school I attended revealed, one by one, who they'd asked, I felt that familiar ache growing stronger and stronger. Even worse, I knew they were all aware I was the only one without a date. The only thing worse than your friends kidding you about something is your friends *not* kidding you about something.

One night, less than a month before the prom, my younger sister, who was attending with one of my friends, asked in passing who I was going with. When I told her I didn't have a date yet, she was shocked.

"You're kidding! Don't you think you should start asking?"

I allowed as how I had, hoping to avoid revealing the magnitude of my social ineptness.

"It's getting awfully late. Almost everyone at (the all-girl high school she attended) has already been asked."

She thought for a moment.

"The only person I know who isn't going is A."

I knew A slightly. We had worked together for a few months at the hospital.

"Why isn't she going? I don't really know her, but she's pretty cute, and she seems nice."

"Beats me. You two would be quite the couple."



"Oh, absolutely."

Unfortunately, my 17-year-old ear for irony wasn't fully developed yet, a fact I would soon learn the hard way.

The next day, though, I approached A as we were leaving the hospital for the night.

After I choked out my question, she too looked shocked. But... then she smiled.

"Seriously? Sure! I'd love to go!"

I had instinctively begun to apologize for bothering her before her words sank in.

"Wait... really?"

"Yes, really. I can't believe you asked me! I really wanted to go to it!"

A few years later, with a bit more hard-earned wisdom under my belt, I would've been a bit more attuned to the nuances of this conversation. But the sheer relief at not facing the prospect of watching my sister leave for my prom while I stayed home overrode such instincts.

"Great! Great! That's... great!" L, you silver-tongued devil you.

"Well, this is my ride." She smiled again, shook her head, and said "Wow. I can't believe I'll be going to your prom!"

I floated the entire way home.

***

That night, my sister blanched when I told her the news.

"You asked *who*?!?"

"A. You said we'd be quite the couple!"

"God, I didn't think you'd take me seriously, L! I was being sarcastic! She's not a bad person, but... she's out of your league."

My heart started to sink.

"Out of my league? How?"

"She runs with a different crowd than you. You're really nice, and... well, not that she isn't nice, but... you're not really her type."

"Well, she seemed really happy to be going."

"I'll bet she is. Party of the year."

Her expression softened.

"I'm sure it'll be fine. And I mean, it's just one night, right? How bad could it be?"

***

As I sat alone at the prom, I thought to myself: "Pretty bad, actually."

The evening had started off promisingly.

A looked lovely when I picked her up at her house. I managed not to impale her while pinning on her corsage, nor did I blather on too much while we drove to the prom. Fortunately, my friend B & his girlfriend T were catching a ride. (B had failed his driver's test - again - when he cursed out the state trooper administering the test - again.) In between make-out sessions in the back seat, they did their best to compensate for my usual terror-induced incoherence and managed to keep the conversation flowing fairly smoothly.

Several minutes after posing for our portrait and mingling a bit, A. came over as we headed to our table to sit down for dinner.

"I'm going to look for the ladies room. I'll be back in a sec."

"Okay."

The appetizers were served and cleared. No A.

The meal was served and cleared. No A.

Coffee and dessert were served and cleared. No A.

The DJ announced the dance floor was open. No A.

My sister C had set off after her a half hour ago, her teeth gritted. "I'm gonna go look for her. And when I find her, I'm gonna rip her f***ing head off."

I shrugged. The night was already a shambles. And I still had to face A at work every day. It was time to switch to damage control mode.

"L?"

I looked up. It was Mrs. S., who had been my homeroom teacher as a sophomore.

I would imagine every school has a Mrs. S. She'd started my freshman year, just out of college herself. She was one of those dazzlingly beautiful women who seemed blissfully unaware of that fact. Recently married, she was attending the prom with her husband.

"L? You've been sitting here by yourself for a long time. Why aren't you out there dancing?"

I told her the story.

She winced.

"I'm so sorry. That's just awful. You deserve better."

I was beginning to have my doubts about that. The evidence was piling up to the contrary. I wasn't sure why, though, or what I could do to change it. Or if it could be changed. But I kept those thoughts to myself.

"Thank you, Mrs. S."

"Would you like me to go look for her?"

I shook my head.

"That's OK. My sister is already doing that. If you have bail money, though, that might come in handy if she does finds her."

She laughed and patted my shoulder.

"I'll keep that in mind. Let me know if you need anything."

"I will. Thanks, Mrs. S."

***

My sister had finally returned, apologizing that her search had ended in futility.

I'd worn out a path to the punch bowl. I'd counted the number of ceiling tiles in the ballroom. I'd then confirmed my arithmetic, just to be sure. I'd wandered out to the lobby to verify the parking lot was still there.

I checked my watch. 20 minutes to go. Just get through the last dance, collect B & T, and the night would blessedly be over.

Kenny and Sheena's warbling filled the hall.

I looked down. The rug had an interesting diamond pattern. If I took it slow, that could kill four minutes.

"L?"

I looked up. It was Mrs. S. again.

"Oh, hi Mrs. S."

"I want to ask… may I have this dance?"

I blinked.

"With me? Thank you, but this is the last dance. Don't you want to dance with your husband?"

She smiled.

"We had our big dance a few months ago, actually. And I would be honored if you would dance with me right now."

She held out her hand.

"Please?"

Wordlessly, I stood up. She took my hand and led me out to the dance floor.

After a bit of fumbling, Mrs. S helped me locate the proper form for a slow dance. I began to shuffle my feet uncertainly.

A few moments passed.

"L?"

"Yes?"

She chuckled.

"I think it's OK to use my first name just this once, L."

"Oh. Okay,…. J."

"That's better. Umm… you do know that the boy is supposed to lead, right?"

"Oh. Okay..."

I paused.

"I'm not sure what that means, exactly."

She laughed softly.

"Well, I suppose we'll just have to muddle through as best we can, then."

And so we did.



And another from the same album, just because it's a great song. (And a great album, for that matter.)



2 comments:

April on August 4, 2011 at 10:29 AM said...

Great post Kelly, like I was there.

Hugs,

April

Kelly on August 5, 2011 at 6:46 PM said...

Thank you, April! Much appreciated.

Believe it or not, I actually left out *a lot* that happened that night. For instance, my friend's cherry red '65 Mustang, which he literally restored from the inside out, caught fire in the parking lot. (I can see you wincing as I write this.) Not to worry though - there was minimal damage, and he owned it for years to come.

Another friend decided he needed to, uh, answer the call of nature later that night. So he did so. In public. On a car. A police cruiser, to be precise. With two police officers in it at the time, watching in amazement. (And no, I'm not making this up.) I can still hear my father on the phone the next morning (he was a cop): "He's WHERE? He did WHAT?!?" Ah, memories...

Peace,
Kelly

P.S. Love your blog, btw. It was one of the first I started reading when I finally accepted who I was earlier this year. So, thank you. And keep posting those great music videos! I went on a Rockpile/Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe listening kick after you posted "Girls Talk" recently. And that's never a bad thing. :c)

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