Most of my junior year, I’d been resigned to not going to the prom. I’d accepted that I wouldn’t be asked. I hadn’t even had a date of any kind. I was “a little too”: a little too smart, a little too tall, a little too ethnic, a little too artsy, a little too odd for my conventional town.
That fall, when I was selected as the representative to New Jersey Girls’ State and went to Douglas College for a week, they held a celebratory dance at the end of the session. My mother co-opted my second cousin Russell into taking me. I wore a gown of green printed material that mother made for me. Russell looked distinctly uncomfortable in his rented tux, and I was glad that I’d never see those girls with “real” escorts again. My roommate had no date and sobbed all night.
Then in the spring, Jeff came onto the scene. A senior with red hair, bright blue eyes, and a sweet smile, he helped me crush glass for the ecology club’s recycling program. Jeff, his friend Alex, and I became lab partners in advanced biology class. In April, I was selected to represent the high school in the state biology test competition. Alex scowled, “Really, a girl?” I didn’t pay too much attention.
Prom time approached, and Jeff asked me on a date, my first real date, to a play in New York. We had a wonderful time, and after that night, I began to ponder, “Is it possible? Would he actually ask me to the prom?” Jeff lived next door to my close friend Sherry, so I hung out at her house, trying to make myself visible without being too pushy. That’s what girls did in 1970. Boys did the asking to the prom.
Time passed, and Jeff and I were friendly, but each day, no prom invitation. Sherry said she’d help me find out what was going on, enlisting the help of her mother, “Mrs. J.,” who knew Jeff’s mother, who was president of the school board. The next evening, Sherry called me, saying, “I have some bad news. The foreign exchange student had no date for the prom, so Jeff’s mom made him ask Karla. I’m so sorry.” So, I wouldn’t be going to the prom after all, and Sherry wouldn’t either.
I had to go to biology class the next day. Jeff and I were too embarrassed and confused to say anything. He and Alex began an experiment in a side lab room, and I went in to see what they were doing, which was something rather unattractive with a rat. The boys looked at me. Alex glared. “OK, Marian, look we are boys, and we are pre-med, and girls won’t be pre-med, so this one is just for us.” I turned away and walked out of the lab, expecting to cry, but before I could, I got an idea. I was going to study as hard as I could and try to outscore them both on the biology advanced placement exam.
Two days before the prom took place, Mrs. J. told us that Jeff’s family needed babysitters for prom night. Jeff was going to the prom with Karla. His sister Leslie, who was in my class, had a date, and his parents were attending because of his mother’s school board position. Sherry and I were invited to stay with the three younger children.
What an agonizing Wednesday evening that was, being in Jeff’s house as a babysitter. I arrived at Sherry’s and we went next door. Jeff looked wonderful in his tux, and I tried to avoid his eyes. Leslie, perfectly blond in an ice blue gown, adjusted a spray of flowers on her wrist. They all looked elegant, sipping on punch in little glass cups before leaving for the big event. Once we put the children to bed, Sherry and I began studying, she for a history exam, and me for the biology exam.
A couple of hours later, we were thirsty and noticed that the punch bowl was still out, so we helped ourselves. After a few swallows, we realized that the punch had a lot of champagne in it, so we drowned our sorrows, singing tunes from our favorite musicals and laughing. We pulled all the knobs off the stereo system and had to figure out how to put them back on. Somehow we managed to look sober when the family returned after 1 AM, then stumbled next door to Sherry’s house, and immediately fell asleep.
At 6 AM, Mrs. J. woke us for school. No one who went to the prom was at school, so each of us knew that everyone else there had not gone. It was a quiet and serious day.
I took the biology exam and made it through the multiple choice section OK. When I turned the page to the next section, I smiled. The question was an essay! “Write an essay about design of experiments.” I knew I could do it.
The year was winding to a close and our test scores came back. Scores were reported as one to five, with five being the best. In biology class, Alex, Jeff, and I looked at our scores together. Alex opened his and became pale. “Two? Two? That’s no credit!” Jeff opened his and looked both relieved and disappointed. “Three. I’ll get credit for college.” They looked at me. I opened the paper and was surprised at how sincerely I smiled. “Four!”
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.