It was the spring of 1983.
I had only been asked out a couple of times since my first disappointing kiss during my sophomore year, and none of the dates were anything to write home about. Despite the unfavorable odds against me, I couldn’t quell my teenage optimism and believed that I would soon meet the boy of my dreams and he would ask me to my junior prom.
I was not above desperate measures, and in one act of recklessness, I threw a note with my name and address on it out the bus window when we were leaving a track meet at Kiski Prep all-boys boarding school. I actually got two letters the following week, but the boys were not the athletic studs I was hoping for; they were a couple of pitiful geeks who had fished my note out of a mud puddle on their way to the library.
Finally, a couple weeks before the prom, a boy in my science class followed me to my locker and dropped the bomb. He was a nice guy for sure, but had hair like a Brillo-pad and a seemingly perpetual sinus infection. A mouth-breather, the bottom of his upturned nose was always red and chapped. Speaking in a nasal tone through a full set of metal braces, he asked, “Woodyu wan do go wid me do da prom?”
I was caught off guard, and stuttered, “Uh, wow, great, but I think I might be going with someone else, I am not sure, I need to check with him, and I will let you know….”
I had no idea what I was talking about. I had to come up with another date fast unless I wanted pictures of me and Mr.Crusty-Nose arm in arm under the balloon arch.
As soon as I could, I found my best friend and we scrambled to formulate a plan.
Plan A was to be as cute and charming as possible to attract another suitor. But by the end of the week, it was clear that this was a losing battle; we needed to flex to plan B. I knew a football player, well, actually, he was the water boy who got promoted to 3rd string lineman, but that’s just splitting hairs. He was a husky kid with a jolly disposition. Not popular with the girls, but the popular boys had accepted him almost as a kind of mascot and had nicknamed him “The Duke.” He seemed like the perfect candidate – not popular enough to reject me, but way better than Mr. Crusty-Nose.
One day, I cornered The Duke in the halls after school and proposed that we go to the prom together “as friends.” He responded with an affirmative smile, “Sounds excellent.”
The next day after science, I broke the news to Mr. Crusty-Nose. I felt like a total schmuck lying to him and all, but good thing I did, because he asked another girl who ended up becoming his wife. I guess you could say that he owes me.
My best friend and I swapped dresses – I gave her a violet taffeta monstrosity with huge puffy sleeves, and she gave me an off-the shoulder mauve taffeta gown that wasn’t much better. I informed The Duke of my color scheme, and he happily agreed to rent a tux that would coordinate.
On the night of the event, The Duke showed up in his rental tux – a mauve poly blend with a matching band of velour around the cuffs and collar, a ruffled shirt edged in mauve, and an enormous mauve bow tie. He felt like a million bucks, and seemed hopeful for a fun night. Although I knew there would be no romance in this arrangement, I was hopeful too and excited to be with a fun guy.
We met up with his crowd of friends, who were all popular football players and their dates, for dinner. They had always intimidated me, and I was glad to have The Duke as my buffer. I knew one of the girls from her unpopular days as a skinny little nerd. But during our junior year she “blossomed” and her newfound cup size skyrocketed her to the top of the social scene. At dinner, she bubbled out of her dress as her date and some of the other guys ogled her chest.
Suddenly the attention turned on The Duke and I. A few playful insults were exchanged, a few laughs, and then suddenly, one of the boys shouted, “Hey, it’s The Duke and Duchess!” Everyone laughed except me. Does this mean that the popular crowd accepts me or does it mean they are making fun of me?
Later at the dance, The Duke requested his favorite song, “You dropped the bomb on me” by The Gap Band, and we danced a mauve streak. I did my best to overcome my reservations about the popular group, despite the fact that I was now being regularly referred to as “The Duchess.”
Many dances and a balloon-arch portrait later, we were ready to go to the after party at a friend’s house. Amazingly, her dad gave us permission to stay up all night in their rec room, with a refrigerator, stereo and all the chips we wanted. I was a bit concerned that the scene might turn ugly, but the only one who got out of hand was the busty girl, who made out with her date, started crying for some reason, then abruptly fell asleep.
All in all, my Junior prom was a pretty good time. I dodged Mr. Crusty-Nose, hung with the popular crowd, and just had fun. I might have sacrificed the romance that all teenage girls dream about, but not everyone gets to be the prom king and queen – some of us have to settle for being The Duke and Duchess.
[Stay tuned for my Senior Prom story, “Putting the Hammer Down,” coming soon!!]