four stupid things that happened at the prom

1.  i went to my senior prom with my friend rich, who went to a different high school.  rich and i were both cashiers at a local supermarket, and he used to throw stray grapes and onions at me when we weren’t busy.  all the checkers knew the numerical code you punched in to ring up a lawnmower (which the store didn’t even carry), and rich and i used to ring up lawnmowers on one another’s machines, thereby forcing each other to call up the store manager and ask, “hey, can you come over here and void this lawnmower?”  once, when rich and i were in the deli on our break, he threw a salt shaker at me and hit me square in the crotch.

so i asked him to prom.  as i didn’t have a boyfriend or many male friends at the time, i had some trouble finding a date.  i wasn’t sure i even wanted to go to the prom, but since everyone else was going, and several people told me that if i didn’t go to the prom i’d regret it later in life, i resigned myself to the task of finding a suitable date.  at first, my friend jessica got her friend allen to agree to go with me.  but i didn’t really like the idea of having a blind date to the prom, so when rich said yes, i called allen and cancelled.  as allen and i had never met and he went to a different high school, too, he was none too upset.

on prom night we assembled at jessica’s house to take pre-prom pictures.  “we” consisted of rich, myself, jessica, jessica’s date bobby, lauren, and lauren’s date tommy.  a few other friends who were skipping the prom but coming to dinner were there as well.  my dress was wonderful–it was black, it was long, it was fifty bucks, and i still wear it today.  my hair, however, was piled up high on top of my head, making me look like the bride of frankenstein.  rich looked about as comfortable as frankenstein’s monster, however, so we matched as a couple.

we took the standard set of photos: each couple alone, all the couples together, just the guys, just the girls, and so forth.  while we were posed for one of the pictures, lauren’s date tommy was stung in the hand by a wasp.  his fingers began to swell.  “it’s okay,” tommy said, shaking off our concern.  “i’ll be fine.”  we kept taking pictures until the wasps got him again, this time repeatedly in the face.  his head swelled up along with his hand, until his bowtie began to resemble a piece of ribbon tied around an inflated balloon.  tommy continued to maintain that he was okay, he’d be just fine, he could still go to the prom.

so six of us piled into my parents’ minivan and we all headed off to dinner.  tommy’s condition was worsening.  he had the air conditioner on as high as it would go, and sweat and tears were pouring down his reddened face.  when we arrived at the restaurant, our friend amanda, who wasn’t going to the prom, took tommy to the nearest emergency room.  they waited there for a few hours before a doctor told them that tommy could either spend a couple hundred dollars on emergency-room care or he could spend five bucks on benadryl and the results would be about the same.  after a trip to the drugstore, amanda dropped tommy off at the prom just as the rest of us were arriving.

2.  our friend jean’s prom date, jeff, was several years older than us and didn’t go to our school.  we knew him from his father’s local ice-cream parlor, where he worked behind the counter.  he used to let us hang out at the ice-cream parlor after hours while he cleaned up.  we’d make milkshakes, play loud music on the stereo, and dance around the tables and chairs.  the only song i clearly remember dancing to is meatloaf’s “i would do anything for love (but i won’t do that).”

jeff had a long history of drug use which he never talked much about.  he had a sticker on the bumper of his hatchback which said, “if you don’t like my driving, call 1-800-RACER-X.”   he had floppy brown hair and a great CD collection, and his stories were so vivid and entertaining that i never forgot the way he looked as he told them.  i had a huge crush on him at first, but he seemed more interested in a few of my friends, so i gave up and got over it.

otherwise young and healthy, jeff had a serious heart condition, and an implantable defibrillator to match.  i remember someone calling to tell me when he had his first heart attack.  i remember him describing how it felt when he had it, demonstrating how they put the defibrillator in, telling us about how he wouldn’t be able to do acid anymore.  i do not, however, remember exactly why he had these heart attacks, or why he was prone to them.

due to his heart condition, jeff wasn’t supposed to get worked up doing things like sports or running or dancing.  but jeff was an amazing dancer, and he loved it, and at the prom he did it anyway.  at first he was just dancing with jean, but eventually the crowd parted and surrounded him to watch him dance, because he was just. that. good.  nobody knew who he was and they were cheering him on and he was dancing better than anyone i’d ever known and i was so proud to be his friend.  since everyone was watching, he kicked it up a notch, and that was when he had the heart attack.

it was hard to tell where the dancing stopped and the heart attack began.  nobody knew what was happening until jeff staggered a bit and then crumpled to the floor.  several people screamed as his defibrillator kicked in, shocking him repeatedly.  “don’t touch him!” someone yelled.  i was gripping rich’s arm, jean was gripping my arm.  jeff lay there on the dance floor, twitching, until the paramedics stormed in and took care of him.

he was okay, thanks to the defibrillator.  i saw him later, pale and sweaty in a chair in the hotel lobby.  he tried to make jokes about it, but i could tell he was still shaken.  it may have been the last time i ever saw him.

3.  originally, the group of us had planned to get a hotel room on the beach in galveston for our after-prom party.  my friends and i never drank in high school, so it’s likely that the evening would have consisted of swimming, smoking cigarettes, and hanging out on the beach singing songs and laughing.  jessica’s parents, however, were worried about the hotel-room party idea, so they told her she couldn’t go.  the rest of us didn’t want to leave her out, so we looked for something else to do.  to their credit, jessica’s parents offered to let everyone come to their house and swim in the pool.  the evening, then, consisted of swimming, smoking cigarettes, and hanging out by the pool singing songs and laughing.

since i’d politely rejected allen’s blind-date-to-the-prom services, jessica and i had decided to invite him to the afterparty.  when we arrived at jessica’s house after the prom, we called allen to tell him to come over.  he said he would need someone to come pick him up, so rich volunteered to drive over and get him.  rich left, and the rest of us went outside to see how many people we could fit in the hot tub.

a few hours later, rich still hadn’t returned.  this was before everyone had cell phones, so we were unable to call him and find out where he and allen were.  when rich finally came back alone, he said something vague about how allen’s parents wouldn’t let him come over, and rich had helped him try to sneak out of his house to no avail.  “oh,” i said, thinking it strange that i’d probably never meet the guy i almost went to prom with.  i didn’t know rich well enough to be too angry or concerned, so i let it go.

i found out two years later, when rich and i were living in the same college dorm in austin, that allen hadn’t really wanted to come to the afterparty.  instead, rich picked him up at his house and the two of them drove around the neighborhood in rich’s car and smoked pot.  i never knew this because when rich came back from allen’s we were all outside in the dark, and i couldn’t see rich well enough to tell that he was high.  also, at the time i had seen approximately 1.5 stoned people, so i wouldn’t have known what to look for anyway.

at any rate, i’m glad i didn’t find out until later.  i never tried any drugs in high school, and i didn’t approve of their usage in my presence.  if i’d known then what rich and allen had done, i’d have been angry that rich was high, in front of me, at my friend’s party.  now i think that since rich was nice enough to go to a weird-ass prom at another school with some girl he knew from the grocery store, he deserved a little weed.  now it’s just funny to think about my prom date and my potential prom date sneaking off together to smoke the ganja.  they probably listened to bob marley in the car.  ahh, high school.

4.  after the swimming, we all went upstairs to the TV room.  someone put on forrest gump, and eventually everyone fell asleep on various couches and beds and spaces on the floor.  i woke up a short time later and rolled over to see two people making out on the floor next to me.  i shut my eyes quickly and pretended to be asleep.  i had to squint through my eyelashes, and it was hard to see in the light from the television, but i could tell who it was.  it was jessica’s best friend, caroline, making out with jessica’s prom date bobby.

as best i could while pretending to be asleep, i panicked.  oh my god!  i can’t believe caroline would do that!  i mean, jess and bobby aren’t going out or anything, but still!  should i tell jessica?  how will she react?  is it any of my business?  what should i do?  “jenny and me was like peas and carrots,” the TV said.

the next morning, before i had the chance to say anything about it, jessica told me that she already knew.  i was so relieved that i didn’t have to get involved, i forgot all about the hours i’d spent trying to sleep while two people made slurping noises right next to my ear.

later that morning, i walked rich out to his car.  “hey, thanks for coming with me to the prom,” i said.  “i know you didn’t have to, and i know it was kind of strange, but i’m really glad you came along.”

“no problem,” rich said.  “i mean, you didn’t put out or anything, but i guess it was all right.”