“If you don’t go to your senior prom you’ll regret it for the rest of your life!” So said my mother, with the conviction only a mother can muster. Unfortunately, being a headstrong and willfully defiant and unconventional high school senior (isn’t that entire phrase redundant?), I would have no part of it. Besides, to go to prom you need a date, and I hadn’t dated anyone for quite a while, not since Suzanne had unceremoniously dumped me. So I told my parents that it wasn’t going to happen, and that they should thank me for saving them the cost of a tux rental. They were not amused.
Nor did the pressure ease up, as the date approached. And to be fair, it was tough at school, too. Even band kids were going, so I couldn’t escape the endless talk of dresses and tuxes, and after-prom parties, and who was getting a hotel room on the beach, etc. One day just two weeks before the event I was complaining about this obsession with a ridiculous party to Lori, a girl I had known for years, but who was way too pretty to go out with me. She admitted she wasn’t going, either, and was getting grief from her folks about it, too. After an extraordinarily brief pause, I asked her to go to the prom with me, “Just to get our folks off our backs.” She thought that was a good idea, but seeing as she was dating someone (an underclassman, no less!), it would probably be trouble. “But why don’t we double-date! It will be more fun to go with someone else who thinks this is silly.”
I sadly pointed out my currently unattached state, but Lori was undeterred, assuring me that she could easily find someone to go with me. I was skeptical, but was willing to let her try to hook me up. And hook me up she did. Boy, howdy.
Sheila Dixon was a member of the drill team, beautiful, sweet natured, quiet, and a sophomore. I knew her by name, but had never even really spoken with her before Lori introduced her to me as my prom date. I formalized the invitation – “Do you really want to go to the prom? With me?” — and she accepted— ”Sure, I mean, it’s the senior prom! Oh, and I’ve heard you are nice.” So, passionate vows having been exchanged, we set to work on the arrangements.
I asked Sheila if she wanted to go on a “trial date” first, to get to know each other before the prom. Unfortunately, that wasn’t practical, as it turned out that Sheila was a from a highly restrictive and religious household. She was sixteen, but was not permitted to date until she was twenty-one. Getting out for one night would be hard enough; two would be impossible. How could she go to the prom? Easy: her mother was so excited that Sheila was going to the prom that she decided to lie to Dad, to keep him in the dark.
Prom night itself was an episode ofÂ Mission: Impossible. Prom started at 7:30, so at 6:30 I was to pull up around the corner from her house and park on the street. At the same time Sheila’s mother would ask Dad to run to the store and get her some milk, insisting in only the way a housebound mother can. When I saw a large blue car roll past, driven by a burly man with a sour expression on his face, I was to zip around the corner and into the Dixon’s driveway. Sheila would then be bustled out of the bedroom where she had been hiding all afternoon — feigning “feminine discomfort,” I later learned — and after a quick photo op for Mom, we would jump into the car and whisk away to pick up Lori and Steve.
I must confess, I can remember relatively little of the prom itself. We got a little lost on the way there, and arrived late, so that people were already sitting down to eat. I was a bit nervous, too, as I was very much out of my element. Formal wear, white linen tablecloths, the Beautiful People — these are not things for which my Kentucky upbringing had prepared me. But I gave it a shot, and tried to have fun, in spite of the slow dawning realization that Sheila was having trouble remembering my name, and the fact that she was putting the moves on every football player who came within reach. Besides, the torture wouldn’t last forever, given our time constraints.
Yes, time constraints. See, Sheila had to be home by 10:30. “Feminine discomfort” or not, her Dad was going to go into her room to kiss her goodnight before he went to bed, which occurred promptly at 10:30 every night. Mom was going to delay a bit with another emergency grocery run – “Honey, I just realized I don’t have any eggs for your breakfast tomorrow!” – but we had better be watching to see the blue tank come around that corner.
We made it down the street just a little late, but Sheila recognized her father’s car turning the far corner toward the store. We whipped into the driveway, and her frantic mother rushed out and hustled her in. No goodnight kiss, no “Thanks for a lovely evening,” nothing. Just a blur of white fabric, a slamming door, and me backing out of the driveway.
When I spoke to Sheila the next day, she would hardly acknowledge having ever gone out with me. Shortly after these events, of course, I graduated and went away to school, so I couldn’t keep tabs on developments in her life. I did hear that she started to rebel against her parents, though, and ended up dating a prominent member of the offensive line. The evening wasn’t a total loss for one of us, anyway.
And my mother turned out to be right. If I hadn’t gone to my prom, I wouldn’t have this story to tell, and isn’t that all we take away from high school, anyway, stories?