At the time most girls my age were showing romantic interest in male people, I was sprawled out on the recliner in the den, watching My Three Sons on TV. My young social life resembled Richard Nixon’s missing tape recordings, with a gap that stretched from third grade to twelfth, and only because I was forced to go to the prom.
I should say, to my credit, that I did find a slot in my life for boys. I did not shun them entirely. In fact, I even thought a few were cute when I was in high school, though it never occurred to me that it might be fun and okay, normal, to let them know. In any event, during the time that boys were liking girls, I made those boys my friends. I had ten thousand boy friends. No, a million. I had more friends who were boys than there are sprinkles on a cone. Ants on a hill. Kernels on a cob.
And, on weekends, we did what friends did. We saw movies. We went to each other’s houses. Joked around, ribbed, played football. Ribbed. Ribbed again. It was the best. They were my most wonderful pals, and still are. However, in eleventh grade, my best friends decided that they wanted girls in their lives who weren’t pals. Unbelievable, right? Really. What the heck for? So, each of them found a different girl and disappeared on Saturday nights. Pouf.
They had a new shared experience, and who knows what else, and I had Robbie. The oldest of the Three Sons, with the wave in the front of his hair.
My brother was away at college and my parents, having worked a long week, generally enjoyed going out a little on Saturday nights. My dad, though, didn’t like the idea of Robbie and me in the den, alone, so he insisted I get dressed and join them. Or, he’d cancel plans and stay home. Either way, not ideal for a sixteen year old, or for Mom. Sometimes, I’d go over to Lynnie’s house and we would eat ice cream with m&ms on top while her mother typed Braille on a special typewriter.
I never thought that any of the boys who were my friends would be interested in me, in an amorous way. That would have been weird. But I found out in twelfth grade that one of them did, and had for a while, uh, for oh, six years. Six years! You have got to be kidding.
Of course, the news did not arrive in an exclamation like that, or even a quiet conversation, as the boy in question chose to rely on actions, not speech. And I, it goes without saying, did not notice the overtures as overtures, not that I would have known what to do with them anyway. The news arrived in time for the prom. Well, sort of.
Mitchell Weingarten and I sat next to each other in the clarinet section. For a concert, he wore a plaid jacket and green tie. I liked Mitchell Weingarten because he was funny and a little irreverent. When I could drive, I picked Mitchell up for school every day in my brother’s old Skylark. He waited on the corner at the end of his street, so I wouldn’t have to turn around twice. He waited on the corner even if it was freezing outside.
I assumed that Mitchell would ask me to the prom because he just would. Unlike the others, he did not have a girlfriend and I–let me just check real fast–was, oh yes, available that night. He would get to drive this time and I’d wear a groovy gown and we’d crack up about Mr. Honer the band teacher and how he threw a music stand off the stage when he got mad one time. It was going to be a blast. He didn’t even have to call to ask because it was just a given. It was understood. Of course we would go to the prom. Together.
So, when I heard in school four days before the big soiree that Mitchell had asked Felicia Feeney to be his date, well, as you can imagine, I was stunned.
“You have to call him on the telephone,” my mother said, stunned, as well.
“That is nuts. He is not going to un-invite Felicia Feeney.”
“You need to find out why he asked her, for your own information.”
I had enough information. It was bad information. And I didn’t need any more of it. “Oh no. I am not going to do that.”
“I think you should.”
“It is just the prom. You don’t have to go to the prom. It will happen, and then it will be over, and no one will remember it.”
My mother was aghast. A teenager in the fifties, she viewed The Prom as an imperative, spiritually, morally, culturally. It was essential to ones being, even if it meant mortifying ones being. “Oh no. You have to go.”
I dragged the telephone cord from the hallway into my room and placed the phone on my vanity table. I sat on its accompanying stool and stared into the mirror. I am not calling. I will just sit here for the duration of a typical “Why didn’t you ask me to the prom?” phonecall, and then emerge from my bedroom, finished. When my mother asks, I can say something like he thought my eyebrows were ugly, or thought I would say no, or liked Felicia better because she had boobs. Something like that. She will believe it.
“Do you know what you are going to say?” my mother called from down the hall.
I sensed that she was in close range, too close, sitting on the chair, maybe, just outside my room. I knelt on the floor at the threshold, turning my head sideways to line up my eyes with the edge of the door. Slowly, I pulled it open. No feet under the chair, no body in it. I crawled out and peered around the corner of the wall that led to the hallway and spotted her at the end of the house. All clear, I re-entered my room and watched the clock. After about fifty-three seconds, though, I heard slippers on the hardwood. By fifty-seven, a turn of the knob.
“You are not on the phone.”
“That is right, I am not on the phone. Yet. Not on the phone, yet.”
“Well, go ahead. Don’t wait.”
“There is no urgency, Mom. It’s not as if he’s going to ask someone else, if I don’t call this second. The deed is done. I could call when I’m thirty-five.”
I put the phone on the floor and sat next to it. I tried out a few opening lines. “Hi Mitchell. So, do you have fever that is making you delusional?” or “Okay, you can stop the joke now, you are so funny.” I picked up the receiver and dialed.
“Mitchell, hi. It’s Pam.”
“Hey Kripper.” He would make it hard for me.
“What’s up. Interesting remark. Well, I hear you are taking Felicia Feeney to the prom. Do you even know Felicia Feeney?”
“I know Felicia.”
“Kripper, I know her.”
“Well, I don’t think you know her well enough to go to the prom with her.”
“No, you can’t go to the prom with someone you don’t know, because that is just not how it’s done.”
I had no organized attack for getting the answer I needed. I was all over the place, disjointed, focused on the wrong ideas. I would have to ask him point blank, why her and not me. Oy. I couldn’t do that. That is so pathetic. So needy. I was not needy.
“The truth is, Kripper, I have been asking you since seventh grade and you have never said yes.”
Wow. We did not have a prom in seventh grade. No, you idiot. He’s not talking about the prom.
“So I decided…”
Oh God, more.
“…I decided not to ask you anymore.”
It was a lot to take in. I didn’t know how to say that I was afraid to like him back, or didn’t know how to like him back, but liked him, I knew. I didn’t know that I had hurt his feelings when I thought I was just being his friend, a really good friend. How could that happen. So I said nothing, nothing but okay, see you tomorrow. I’ll pick you up on the corner, regular time.
My mother narrowed down my choices to three of my brother’s friends who were home from college for the summer. I would have to ask one of them, since the acceptable boys in my class were already paired up. Staying home was not an option, and if you had to ask someone, why not an older boy who went to Dartmouth.
So, I dragged the stupid phone into my room and called Mitchell (yes, same name) Winston (and initial) and he graciously accepted, after he figured out who, exactly, I was. He was the perfect date, handsome, gentlemanly and most important, present, even when I danced a dance with Mitchell Weingarten. After the party was over, I thanked him very much and went to the beach with Lynnie.