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Confessions Of A Prom Dropout

Spring ritual or recurring nightmare?

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If life is one big test divided into sub-sections, I think I flunked the one labeled "Prom." I did passably on "Wedding," and maybe even above-average on "Labor," since I got through the ripped-flesh agony of giving birth without any drugs, although it's a big part of why I have only one kid.

Every spring, most adults over 18, at least the female ones, are driving around hearing prom dress ads on the radio and they're flashing back to the same thing: their proms. Those memories may bring a little smile to their faces, or like mine, cause them to cringe behind the wheel, but either way their minds are on that milestone event.

Even though my prom stands as a high-water mark of humiliation, I'm eternally grateful that I even went in the first place because it grants me entry to the "prom conversation." Among women there are certain topics that are in perennial circulation, including "prom," "wedding," and "labor," and if you don't have something to contribute to them you feel like a gender-specific social failure.

When the "prom" topic pops up, at least I get to toss in a tidbit like "I had a wrist corsage at mine" without having to add the small detail that I also had one of the worst times of my life.

It's a miracle that I got to attend my prom at all, since the sad fact is that I never had a single date before it, so the chances of me going on the Big Daddy of dates looked slim to none. My dateless state was such a source of misery for me that I still have nightmares about it. If you have a daughter who's dateless, please, do whatever you can to help her out, buy her a date if you have to, because believe me, she hungers to go on one.

I enjoyed male attention in the form of my friend Bruce, but all we did was "talk." This is what I seemed to inspire in males at the time. At parties I'd get cornered for "soulful" conversations, instead of groping sessions. Fortunately my luck totally changed beyond 12th grade, which probably explains why I was the original "College Girl Gone Wild." So Dateless Ones, take heart. It can happen!

The funny part about the whole prom thing was that although my peer group usually sneered about such conventional events, when senior prom time rolled around, everybody was panting to go. It was like it was encoded in our DNA along with the urge to procreate. Each morning I prayed that somebody, Lord, would invite me to the big event.

Good ole' Bruce finally broke down and sprang the question, although he warned me that his parents were disappointed that he wasn't asking a Jewish girl, as if the prom would involve the perpetuation of the human race. Not with my track record, it wouldn't.

I must say I did end up wearing a great dress, an elegant and subtly Goth black sheath that even the class queen bee complimented me on, murmuring "I'm impressed" as Bruce and I passed by her and the other snobs lined up in self-appointed judgment at the entrance to the hotel ballroom where our prom was held.

The evening began tolerably enough, with all of us seated at round tables for a meal I didn't taste and can't remember. The horror began after dinner when the band started playing and everybody, as if by prior agreement, jumped up to dance. Everybody except Bruce and me.

Besides never dating, I had never danced before and, believe it or not, didn't realize that's what the prom would be about. The music instantly wiped out all conversation. Nobody was left to talk to, anyway, except Bruce, who sat with a fixed smile on his face, very carefully not looking at me.

Why, you ask, didn't we just hop up and join the fray, which even included the class's outright nerds? The source of immobilizing self-consciousness for Bruce and me was the fact that I was a few inches taller, a big issue when you're that age.

I just remember that naked, shaming sensation, my cheeks aflame in the shadows, of having absolutely no clue what to do. I escaped for awhile into the classic prom safety hatch, the girls' room, but that could only last for so long.

Finally I dropped out completely, going to sit in the lobby of the Marriott or the Hilton or whatever it was, and staring up at this big glittering chandelier until Bruce came and collected me for our mostly silent and kiss-less ride home. Disappointment crowded us like an obese third passenger.

Bruce and I, we're still friends, but we never mention the "p" word. Now, have I told you my labor story?

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