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 I was walking down the street the other day, minding my own business, wondering where the word “elbow” came from, when I saw a bunch of giggling kids barreling down the street wearing tuxes. It dawned on me that it was prom season.

(It seems funny to me that children go to high school in New York City. I can’t quite imagine what it must be like. When I was in high school, we would take our dates to a deserted location to park and make out. How do they park here? Do they look for a particularly empty subway train? And what do they do for their senior trip? “Hey, guys, let’s skip school and all go … two blocks away!” It must be odd to be a kid and not have that unrelenting desire bust out of this town to go somewhere bigger and show those kids in study hall who make fun of you in study hall that you, in fact, do not whack off while thinking of Mrs. Thurn. I mean, what do these kids strive for? Do kids in New York City ever scream out, “Dammit, you’ll see! I’m gonna make it big in Poughkeepsie … you’ll see!!!!”?)

Until I went to prom in 1992, I had never worn a tuxedo. (I have still never been in a limousine.) As the weather started to warm a little bit, around March, the buzz grew and grew. You couldn’t go to prom until you were a junior — unless you went with an upperclassman, and that obviously wasn’t happening — so we were essentially cats in heat about to be released from a locked room. And the analogy is apt; to me, prom meant one thing, and one thing only. Prom was when you lost your virginity.

Honestly, I didn’t know non-virgins who hadn’t lost their virginity at prom. (That I barely knew any non-virgins was a leap in the logic process I hadn’t yet learned to make.) As far as I knew, it was in the student handbook. It didn’t matter if you went with someone as a friend, or as a date, or as an unfortunately necessary sixth in a party of five. You had sex on prom, because that was when you had sex for the first time, and that was that. It was like punching a clock, really.

Imagine my alarm, then, when the calendar turned to April and I still had no date. I’d never had a real girlfriend, just a couple girls I went to church functions with three years earlier, so I couldn’t play the prom card with anyone as an excuse to talk them into finally going all the way. (Teenage sex, strangely, is one of the few things that seems less innocent as we grow older. At the time, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world, something it felt like we’d been waiting decades for. I look at it now, and I think, “Good Lord, how depraved was I? Didn’t I know I was 16? Why wasn’t I outside playing catch in the yard and frolicking through the daffodils? Where were my parents, for cripes sake?” And what’s with all that loud music anyway? Damn kids … get off my porch!)

I began to scramble. I asked coupled friends if they had any third wheels they needed pawned off. No buyers. My female pals were all booked. Quickly, it was three weeks from the prom, and everyone was going but me. I would be sitting at home, getting yelled at by my parents for peeing on the lid, cleaning the garage, waiting for the inevitable phone calls from lucky friends the next morning, telling of all their exploits. And, most important, I wasn’t going to score. I was never going to score.

I went to English class the next Monday, and my friend Kim took me aside. “I hear Amy doesn’t have a date either. You should ask her. She’s cute, right?” She was. Bushy black hair, understated glasses, nice pert breasts … she fit the minimum entrance requirements, most definitely. But how to ask her? “Hey, Kim, will you tell her I want to go to prom with her?” Ever-loyal Kim did, she said she would, and I even dropped by her house before baseball practice to do the deed in person. She told me, flat-out, right there, just so you’re clear, Will, that we were going as friends, that she was kind of dating some guy at Eastern Illinois University, that she was excited to go but that I shouldn’t expect anything.

I totally understood what she was saying. She was saying she wanted to have sex after prom. Obviously. If there was one thing I knew, it was girls.

The big night arrived. My mom took pictures of me before I left — Amy wasn’t interested in meeting at our house for pictures beforehand, said she didn’t have time — and I drove the 1967 Chevy Camaro my father and I had restored for special occasions like this one to Amy’s home. I quietly remarked that the back seat was just about the right size. Oh yeah.

I found it strange her parents weren’t there when I showed, but no matter. We drove to the Mattoon Country Club — Mattoon has a country club. It does. Really. The golf course has windmills and gaping clown mouths, but it does have a country club — and sat down for the fanciest dinner I’d ever eaten. I ordered something called a Chicken Cord On Blue, and we chatted with the other two couples. OK, the five of them chatted. I let them chat while fingering the condom package I’d swiped from my friend Andy’s dresser.

The dance itself was … oh, jeez, I don’t remember. Does anyone ever remember the dance? A bunch of zits covered in mullets, hopping around, waiting for sex. The only difference that night was that they were wearing nicer clothes.

After the dance, we were to head to our dear, beloved, caring, sweet, attractive, and kind friend Melanie’s house for a post-prom party. This served two purposes: First, it would allow everyone to have a safe place to gather; second, it would give me time to administer a little shot of Dr. Will, oh yeah, that’s right. I pulled out of the auditorium’s parking lot, shifted the car into reverse, CLANK, shit, that should be first gear, and then smoothly cruised toward Melanie’s. Amy interrupted my exercise in debonair.

“Hey, Will, I kinda think I might want to change clothes before we go to Melanie’s.”

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about, baby, no need to wait, yeahhh.

“Could you drop me at my house, and I’ll just meet you over there?”

“Oh, uh … sure, Amy. No problem.”

No problem. Justice delayed, not denied. I pulled into Melanie’s, blaring U2’s “The Fly,” prepared to wait for my destiny. And I waited. And waited. And waited. About two hours later, Melanie’s phone rang. “It’s for you, Will.”

“Yeah, Will? It’s Amy. Listen, I’m not really feeling that well, it might have been the chicken, so I think I’m just going to go to sleep. I, uh, I had a great time. Thanks. Have a great night. Bye.” Click.

Ah … prom.

Two hours later, I realized something. Because Amy didn’t bring her purse to the dance, and because her dress obviously didn’t have any pockets, she had handed me 30 dollars to hold on to. Then, like now, I was a kind, sensitive chap with no alternative agendas whatsoever, no, no, and I was concerned that she might need that money, you know, for Sunday. So I drove over to her place, fully planning to slip the money with a sweet note in her mailbox before heading back home to masturbate like an infected monkey.

I exited the car and walked to the mailbox. I noticed something strange. Amy’s car … it was gone. That’s peculiar … I thought she was sick? Wait a moment … the college guy! She must have gone to see — … it was too much to bear. Hell, I couldn’t even masturbate when I got home.

Days later, when I confronted her, Amy admitted, yes, she’d lied, I’m sorry. “But we did go as friends, you know? I mean … you knew that, right?”

It has been 10 years. I’m told that Amy has since married another guy I went to high school with, real nice stand-up guy, and she’s actually living a happy Christian life. Good for her.

And, for the record, neither my sons nor daughters are ever going to prom. Ever.



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