In my senior year, a week before prom, I found a most curious note in my locker. It read:
I hope you’re still not mad at me for pushing you down in 3rd grade. It was really mean. The boys were all so mean to you. I think it’s just awful. No hard feelings? Anyways, I know we haven’t been friends much over the years, but I don’t have anyone to take me to the prom, and I think you’re pretty cool. Would you be my date to the prom?
p.s. – just drop a note in my locker #366 if your answer is yes.
I was quite stunned. I read the note several times over the course of the day. And when I actually saw Sissy across the school courtyard I waved at her to catch her attention. She smiled awkwardly and walked inside the school. I was too shy to speak to her, but she’d smiled at me. She’d never smiled at me before. I wondered if this could really be happening.
I’d never been on a date before, and I’d certainly never been welcomed by the popular crowd before. I wondered if she still smelled the same. Old feelings were rekindled and I resolved to say yes.
In sixth period trig class, I wrote a note:
I received your note, and I’ve given it a lot of thought. No hard feelings about what happened. I’d forgotten all about it. I’ll pick you up at 7.
After class, I shoved my way through the overcrowded halls to the lockers by the science lab to find locker #366, wondering if she would be there. She was not, so I slid the carefully folded note through one of the slits in her locker door and headed for American history, last period.
The next morning, I found another note.
I’m totally glad that you said yes. I was worried after all that happened. I think you’re really sweet. Can we just meet at the prom? Under the kissing tree next to the gym parking lot?
Your friend (and maybe more)
Throughout the week I would see her in the halls, but I was still too shy to speak to her, so I would just nod at her, knowing that we shared mutual feelings of affection and she would give me that same awkward smile, almost as if she were confused, but she smiled nonetheless.
“Oh, Jimmy,” said mother smiling broadly, a tear in her eye, “You look so handsome!” she said as I walked down the stairs in my rented black tuxedo with the teal green bow tie and cummerbund.
My hands were clammy and I felt like I was going to vomit. What if this was all just one big joke? My doubts had been growing all afternoon, but I had resolved to go through with it.
“Thanks mom. Is my bow tie on right?” I said, the shiny black shoes pinching my toes.
“Oh sweety! You look perfect. Now remember, a gentleman always opens the door for a lady.”
I’d never opened a door for anyone but Mother. I wondered what other rules there were that I wasn’t aware of.
“I have a surprise for you, Jimmy. I was going to wait for graduation, but I just thought this night would be so much more special.” She reached in her purse and pulled out a set of keys and handed them to me. I’d used these keys many times before, so I didn’t see what the big deal was.
Not wanting to seem ungrateful, I said, “Thank you Mother, this is most gracious.”
“It’s yours, Jimmy.”
“What do you mean? This is Father’s car.”
“And he would want you to have it, Jimmy,” she said, a smile growing on her face, and tears once more appearing in her eyes.
I looked at the keys in my hands with wonder. Mine. The keys were mine. The car was mine. It could barely believe it. I came to her and give her a big hug. She wasn’t the feather-light woman she was now. She was thick around the waist and her arms were meaty. She squeezed me and rocked me. She smelled of Chanel, Virginia Slims, talcum powder, and moth balls.
“My sweet baby boy. Your father would be so proud if he could see you now, all grown up, and going to the prom with a pretty girl! When you meet her parents, I want you to use your best manners,” she said as she let me go.
“I won’t be meeting them. I’m meeting her at the gym.”
“You’re not picking her up?”
“No, Mother. She wanted to meet me there.”
“Well, I guess they do things differently than when your father and I were in school.”
She gave me a kiss and I walked out to admire my ruby red 1978 Volvo 242, which looked just as it did when Father drove it home, brand new from the dealership.
I listened to the radio on the way to the high school, hoping to get a sample of what kind of music they would be playing. I did not care for the music of the day; rather, I preferred classical music and the crooner hits from the forties and fifties.
After parking, I walked over to the tree that was known as the kissing tree. It was an expansive maple tree where boys and girls met after school to exchange kisses. I watched as girls in poofy chiffon and sequin were escorted by boys in tuxedos, some plain black with black bow ties, while others wore flashy waist coat jackets with sequin red bow ties. A limousine pulled up and four couples climbed out laughing raucously.
I waited patiently for Sissy to arrive. I imagined what she would look like. Perhaps her blond hair would be pulled up or perhaps it would be teased and poofy. I tried to imagine what I would say, or if I would say anything at all. I took a moment to breathe the air both to calm my nerves and to smell it. As girls past by I could smell their perfume, a got a whiff of cigarette smoke from some of the stoners hanging around the parking lot. A large blue Chevy pickup blew exhaust fumes as its engine revved. I smelled my own gum, spearmint. This was the smell of new possibilities, perhaps even the smell of a first kiss.
I checked my watch. She was late. I waited. I checked it again. I began to wonder if should would show up, but then I saw her. She was stepping out of a red Chrysler Lebaron. She was beautiful; stunning. She wore a powder blue princess dress and her hair was in loosely hanging curls. I waved at her to catch her attention, but she didn’t see me. And then from the driver’s opened and out came Todd Davis.
At first I thought maybe, he’d just given her a ride, but then she took his arm and they began to walk together. My heart sank like a boat anchor at sea, slowly descending until it reached the rocky bottom. As they walked by the kissing tree, Connor called out to me.
“Sniffer! You stupid fuck!” And he laughed. The same laugh he made when I lay on the ground on the playground in third grade. Sissy gave me the same awkward, confused smile. I wondered if she knew.
As I begin the task of cleaning up my ransacked laboratory, I wonder if Marie would have gone to the prom with me. Perhaps I would have had my first kiss.