Monday, September 12, 2011

Adonis versus Herb

Like many of my friends, I have a high school senior living in my house … which I guess tells you a lot about the year I’m in for. Exciting, bittersweet, stressful. Fraught.

I know this stage is no picnic for the kids, either. Especially when the adults circle, with their inevitable questions about Life After High School.

At a gathering of families recently, we honed in on one particularly vulnerable member of the youth pack. She’s applying to college and has fixated on a single school. Despite our chorus of dire warnings about the need to have a list of “safeties,” she was adamant.

“What’s wrong with falling in love?” she demanded. “I mean, do people have safety husbands? Do they say, ‘I really love this guy, but if he doesn’t work out, these other three dudes would be fine.’” That caught us up short.

“Don’t think of applying to college like choosing a spouse,” offered one sage adult. “It’s more like … choosing a prom date. Marriage is forever but the prom is just one night.”

“Oooh, prom,” crooned one mother in the group to another. “Does your son know who he’s taking?”

“Prom is in May,” I commented, even though she wasn’t speaking to me. She shrugged.

“Never too early to lock up that date. Girls start shopping for their dresses in January.”

It was the first moment in my life when I actually thought I might drop to my knees and begin pounding the earth with my fists, wailing, “No no no! Don’t make me think about this! Not now, not ever, but especially not in September!”

I remember my own proms. For most of high school, I had the same boyfriend, so finding a date was a non-issue. Until my senior year, when the boyfriend went off to college and we broke up and I was untethered and prom-dateless.

That’s when I focused on … we’ll call him “Adonis” … for prom. He was sort of a friend but mostly a crush, and I really really really hoped he would ask me. He was the slim drummer in the band, a tan, varsity tennis player, and very cute. As the season for asking drew near (in the spring, by the way, none of this 10-months-ahead-of-time nonsense) I remember the phone ringing one afternoon, and a nervous male voice on the other end.

It was Herb. A guy I was friendly with, but didn’t know very well. A generally acknowledged “nice” guy who didn’t cause heads to turn when he entered a room. Herb was a solid citizen; he even stood low to ground. He exuded a sense of gravity.

He politely asked me to accompany him to the prom.

Reader, I tell you and I know this does not reflect well upon me: I turned him down. Not only that. Surprise pried frankness from my lips. I told him there was this other guy (I did not mention Adonis’s name) I really wanted to go with and he hadn’t asked me yet, so …

Yuck. Yuck yuck yuck and fie on the teenage me. As the mother of a teenage son I now loathe and detest all girls who reject perfectly nice boys for prom. I loathe my teenage self who didn’t have the sense to not tell poor Herb she was holding out for someone else. But as it turns out, I got what was coming to me …

Adonis asked me. Wonder of wonders, right? I was beside myself with excitement, and planned a pre-prom party at my house. Meanwhile, Herb went on a juggernaut of asking. Somehow, it got out that girls were turning him down left and right (I learned I was #3 on the list) and people started taking bets. Not only on who would be next in line, but how many he’d ultimately ask and who would finally say yes.

To his credit … to his great credit, actually … Herb got into the spirit of the thing, and when #9, Alison, accepted his offer, he made sure everyone knew. On the day during lunch when he strode to the ticket table to buy his prom “bid,” every student in the cafeteria rose and gave him a standing ovation. Herb bowed and waved.

Herb and Alison came to my pre-prom party and at prom sat at the same table as me and Adonis. Who, incidentally, spent most of the evening at another table, talking to a few of his tennis buddies. Who bought me flowers that clashed with my dress. Who barely spoke with me, let alone dance. For some reason, Adonis had had a change of heart about attending prom with me, and made no effort to conceal it. I had a miserable time.

Meanwhile, Herb was the man. Alison had the most beautiful wrist corsage in the room, and she and Herb danced every dance. I watched as he pulled her chair out for her, brought her punch from the drinks table, told her that she looked great. Let me tell you, #3 was feeling pretty jealous of #9 that night.

I guess this is all a long and tortured way of saying … I don’t know … what we think we want may not necessarily be the best thing for us? In life, go with substance, not flash? Don’t overlook those Safety Husbands, because they are true gold?

Maybe it’s just this: be open. Be open to all possibilities, and people. Because life surprises you.

1 comment:

  1. Your daughter’s comment about safety husbands cracked me up. Best of luck to her and you this year. Great prom story! I went with my best friend’s older brother and had a blast. I loved how you tied proms and college applications together. An idea for your next novel?