It was the spring of 1984.
It took the mercy of my brother and the desperation of his girl-starved friends, but the impossible happened: I got a real date to my Senior prom.
My brother was three years older than me and was in his third year at the US Naval Academy. His friends seemed impossibly cool to me. They were all smart and fairly athletic, in other words, completely out of my league. One friend was a six-foot-four, 200-pound hammer thrower for the USNA track team. He was a New Yorker; the kind of guy that walks in your house, kisses you hello, then opens your fridge without asking. Everyone in my family seemed to think he was terrific and that we would make a good couple. I wasn’t so sure, but since I had no other romantic prospects on the horizon, I went along with the plan.
The Academy often hosted dances at Dahlgren Hall, which were pretty dismal affairs where lonely midshipmen wandered around with punch cups in their hands, looking for any thing resembling a female. With some urging from my parents, I got fixed up with the hammer-thrower and we doubled with my brother and his girlfriend to one of the Dahlgren dances.
The hammer-thrower put me at ease right away with his New Yorker charm and good sense of humor. Even when my brother and his girlfriend peeled off to be alone, the hammer thrower never came on too strong. He danced like a fool and challenged me to several matches of thumb wrestling, but never put the moves on. What a relief.
That year, I went to more dances at Dahlgren. We always had fun, but the relationship never really progressed. It always seemed that my parents liked him more than I did.
When my prom rolled around, I asked the hammer-thrower to accompany me, and he was glad to have any reason to break away from the rigors of the Academy. I couldn’t wait to show my high school class that the person they voted “Class Clown” was worthy of a real date, and not just any date – a 20-year-old six-foot-four-inch hammer thrower in full dress uniform.
Just like last year, I swapped dresses with my best friend — I got the purple poofy taffeta gown and she got the mauve number with the droopy shoulders. Neither of us cared much, we were just glad to have any date at all. My best friend was going to the prom “as friends” with a boy who had the unfortunate nickname, “Goober.” But she had a serious boyfriend the year before, so this was her year to forget the romance and just have fun.
I, on the other hand, had attended my Junior prom “as friends” with a boy known as “The Duke,” so I was ecstatic about finally having a theoretically romantic date for the prom.
The hammer thrower wore his dress blues, and despite the copious amounts of purple taffeta adorning my body, I thought we made a sharp-looking couple. At the prom, we danced and even smooched a little when the chaperones weren’t looking. I was totally caught up in the moment. I wasn’t necessarily in love with my date, but I was totally in love with having a real date to the prom, which was good enough for me.
After the prom, we went to Goober’s house for the after party. After party routines were simple: you change into jeans and stay up all night. I was exited to prolong the fun for as long as we could.
While Goober’s mom started making pancakes, we all sat in the family room yakking it up. The phone rang with scandalous news – One of the couples was late because they drove up to the Catholic church parking lot to make out and their car battery went dead. We all cracked up at the couple’s misfortune, and were excited by the dramatic turn of events. While Goober’s buddies jumped into a car to go pick the stranded couple up, the hammer thrower slouched on the couch with his gold cummerbund askew, and offered only a huge yawn.
After the boys returned, the girls gathered in one of the bedrooms to change into jeans, probably stone washed with pleats. When we returned to the family room ready for a long night of laughs and horsing around, I noticed that the hammer thrower was laid out on the couch, sound asleep. He stirred, sat up, and discretely asked me if we could leave so he could get to bed.
I was disappointed and annoyed that my supposed perfect date cut my big night short. Back at home, he crashed on our living room couch. As I resentfully hung my purple taffeta gown in my closet and climbed into bed, I suddenly realized that he had been totally bored with the whole affair and only agreed to be my date out of pity. He had his Senior prom years ago. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.
But being a cup-is-half-full kinda gal, I laid in my bed and tried to not let my resentment ruin my teenage right of passage. I realized that I should be grateful that I was not home alone on prom night eating a half gallon of chocolate chip mint while watching Footloose. No doubt about it, a sleepy hammer-throwing mercy date is better than no date at all.