As I watch my daughter prepare for the big day, my mind goes back to the disappointing night I never got over
We are strangers in line at Macy’s, watching my teenage daughter check out, and the other middle-aged mom sighs over the satin and ruffles being bagged.
“Ah, the prom,” she says to me. “Searching for the right dress, worrying if someone else would wear it, getting your hair done up. I have such wonderful memories of it, don’t you?”
Well, actually, I don’t.
I belong to a scar clan with no self-help group: People who didn’t go to a prom. No junior prom, no senior prom, no prom at all.
I, and others like me, have no wonderful memories of picking out the dress, or the corsage, no poignant descent down a winding staircase as tearful parents look on. We have a vague image of what a prom is, and it’s a cross between Cinderella’s ball and the Enchantment Under the Sea dance where Marty’s parents kissed in “Back to the Future.” Beyond that, we go blank.
My daughter does not know this, so to the wistful stranger, I just nod and say, “Uh-huh.” But on the way home, I figure it’s time to broach the subject, confess my own lingering feeling of inferiority to my hip-and-happenin’ daughter.
I start the car and begin cautiously: “You know, I don’t think I ever told you, I never went to the prom.” I expect a murmur of sympathy, the “Aww, poor mama” that usually comes forth when I reveal some raw and painful thing.
Instead, she looks at me, expressionless, and just says, “Why?”
“Well, I couldn’t dance, for one thing,” I said. “But mostly, it was because nobody asked me.”
There it was, splayed out in front of my daughter: the long-hidden truth of her mother’s greatest humiliation.
“So?” she says.
“So?” I say numbly back, still wincing from my bold confession.
“So, why didn’t you go by yourself?” she said. “And, besides, you don’t have to dance.”
Bored by my stunning revelation, she rolls her eyes and changes the subject with an exasperated toss of the head, and in an instant, a light goes on, and I see that Darwin and Gail Collins were right. Evolution happens.
Thirty years ago, not being invited to the prom was a defining event. It defined you as socially inept, less than, bottom-rung. Sitting at home on the night of the prom was evidence that you didn’t measure up in the eyes of the most important people in the world — your peers. You could be president of the Latin Club (like me) or editor of the school newspaper (me, again), but if you didn’t have a date for the prom, your worth was less than a Greek treasury bill. At 17, going promless was the peak of humiliation, worse than being picked last in gym class.
And it’s a rejection that lingers. Even though I obtained a college degree and gainful employment, even though I went on to marry and have four children — including one who will go to her prom — deep down, it’s hard not to feel like I’m still that girl who wasn’t good enough. I can blame anything on it: I’m pretty sure it’s the reason my industry crashed and the reason my marriage blew up.
I was a teenage prom reject. Some things you can never escape.
But here is my daughter, braces and all, making plans for a prom, whether or not she has a date. Suddenly, my heart lifts and the sun emerges. My daughter is right: The world is changing. Who needs a date for the prom? Or, for that matter, a husband?
Newly emboldened by this revelation, I have another: I, too, may go to the prom.
Do you think they need chaperones, dear?
More Related Stories
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Snapchat is secretly storing your photos
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Facebook's hate speech problem
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- When my home was destroyed
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- You are less beautiful than you think
- "Ghetto" tour lets you gawk at New York's poor
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- My miscarriages made me question being pro-choice
- Why I tried to be a punk
- I'm terrified of the cicada onslaught
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
- SAT's right answers are all wrong
- Supreme Court to rule on prayer at government meetings
- Father of gay high school student arrested for dating classmate speaks out
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11