It's almost spring, and you know what that means. This time of year a young man's fancy turns to . . . the Junior Prom.
Last Friday was Prom Night in Brigham City, and as my wife and I chatted with friends in our living room, I realized it was the silver anniversary of my first prom date; the silver anniversary of my first date of any kind, in fact. I recounted that fateful day for them and found I could recall every detail with total clarity.Anxiety and trauma do that; they burn events into your brain like branding irons.
I'll call my date that night "Linda." I won't use her real name. I've caused her enough grief. I do know her life was never quite the same after our date. The last I heard she'd opened a weaving school in Scandinavia.
I can have that effect on people.
Linda and I doubled with my best friend, a socially backward, emotionally immature, awkward boy - which explains why we were such fast friends.
It was his first date, too.
Both of us made it through the customary bumbling with corsages and cummerbunds. Things were moving rather smoothly, in fact. We made the dance about 8:30.
It was a scene to take your breath away.
Some artists work in clay, some in oils. But my high school class did its best work in "angel hair." An angel hair waterfall cascaded down a far wall and ran into an angel hair stream. The stream fed into a great reservoir of angel hair near the visiting team's locker room.
It was an Angel Fish Paradise. Even now, members of Box Elder's Class of '67 awake at night, brushing imaginary angel hair from their shoulders.
As for the dance, no problem - except for two or three terrifying moments of total silence between my date and me. I've known gut-wrenching fear twice: Once while being chased through Sucre, Bolivia, by anti-Rockefeller demonstrators, and once during those times of silence at the prom. That dead silence, I think, was my first glimpse of outer darkness, of existential angst, of death, of the indifference of the gods. Like the shark in "Jaws," silence swam near the edge of all our conversations, waiting to draw us into its mouth.
And on the way to dinner, Jaws started swallowing the car. I did what any normal high school kid would do. I panicked. "Well," I remember saying, with no idea what words would follow, "one . . . certainly . . . sees . . . a lot of Conoco signs these days."
Linda readily agreed, but in the back seat my best friend apparently felt the remark was ill-timed and uncouth, because he began to giggle. He giggled until he "got the giggles," then he went for a personal best in the Giggle Olympics.
And so the four of us drove on into the night, with the only sound for miles the sound of my best friend's hideous laughter.
The rest of the night tends to blur. I remember Linda skipping the steak and lobster on the dinner menu to order the fried chicken (a courteous attempt to preserve what little remained of my college fund). I remember watching her eat chicken in her long, white gloves. I can still see the grease stains spreading along her wrists. I remember seeing a baked potato roll across the floor with a fat, red-headed kid in hot pursuit.
I remember some lame jokes about the cartoon character "Tennessee Tuxedo."
At midnight - true to my notions of a gentleman - I took Linda home. When I opened her car door, she bustled toward the house - afraid, I guess, I might try to steal a kiss. Not wanting to be left in the dust, I closed fast behind her, which apparently gave the impression I was chasing her. She reached the house and leapt behind the screen door like a girl escaping hornets.
I can still see her there, leaning back, away from the screen, as if - in a fit of animal passion - I might actually bash my head through the screen door and kiss her good-night.
She thanked me, I thanked her. I returned to the car, brushing the angel hair from my shoulders as I went.
I didn't talk to Linda much after that, except for a conversation a few years later at USU. She'd already decided to leave the country. We spoke for a minute about our alma mater, then - as I turned to leave - I asked if she'd like to go to a movie.
She looked at me with the same expression I'd seen staring back from the screen door years before. She'd love to go, she said, but she'd already made other plans.
I don't think she realized I hadn't mentioned a specific day.