The devised theatre piece I’m working on at Stoneham Theatre is entitled PROM, and we’re making it from scratch. The people involved are so talented and smart it’s like going to heaven.
Which, for some reason, has me thinking positives thoughts about my own proms, remembering them. I mean, of course, I hated prom. I am too non-conformist to like prom, and perhaps going to my proms kicked whatever desire to fit in was left right out of me. I mean, two evenings of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin and not knowing why. Not fun. Why did I go? Maybe because I wanted to be another girl entirely, maybe because I was beginning to realize I would not have one normal American experience–that everything I did: high school, dating, prom, college, adult life–would be outside the boundaries of normal. I had half-embraced the notoriety of this, but I still wished for the dream we are all promised. Of course, because of this, I remember both my proms as nightmares. But the truth is, both had really good things about them.
It’s senior prom that has captured my attention. I didn’t drink by then, didn’t get high or do drugs like the other people my age, had no intention of partying or having sex. I just wanted to go and have it be…something. I asked my friend Reed to take me–I was 18, so he was 20 or 21, and so beautiful. Long dark hair to his waist, smooth unblemished skin, dark eyes, slim hips, part Native American, he had grown up outside the norm, was a hippie and had hippie friends. We worked together, and had become close, which surprised me at first–he seemed so out of my league, really, when I first started at the restaurant…older, beautiful, sophisticated, very, very smart.
Anyhow, Reed took me to prom. He asked me about the other girls, the teachers, about the facts of my life at this school–which I never told anyone about. He was attentive that way, caring, the whole night. I felt so awkward that my other conversations felt painful, so it was mostly just us. I was embarrassed I couldn’t have a better time or make sure he did. So it wasn’t until now that I remember how wonderful he was to me.
When I dropped him off–no after-party, just prom and the letdown, and going home–he kissed me. We’d fooled around a little once (which he followed by calling me up as soon as he got home to tell me that he still respected me and I shouldn’t worry about that), but we were friends. No romantic anything. But it was the sweetest kiss–I remember it now, the little smile on his face as he bent toward me, the feel of his lips, that attentiveness, that generosity. It was a kiss that said, I love you, and I am going to give you the best prom kiss I can, because I am your friend and you deserve this.
I think back to that girl, to her terrible hope that prom would lighten the hardships in her life, and in the middle of learning that it wouldn’t, that nothing would, this gesture of kindness, generosity and love.
When he pulled away I looked at him in wonder. I had kissed before, of course, but it still was a first–to be kissed by someone who knew and loved me, who understood, who gave out of understanding. I hadn’t been in love yet, but remembering, letting myself really know that kiss, I feel a sense of awe. How lucky I have been in my friendships. How well I have been loved. How much people have wished goodness for me. How lucky I was to have him.
And here’s the funny thing–I understand his tenderness toward the girl I used to be. He used to say, “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to be like once you get out of Catholic school.” I was terrifically young in some of the ways I approached life and life’s passages. But Reed and I grew close because we were both so sensitive and smart, because we had trouble with our families, because we could talk to each other in a way we couldn’t talk to other people. We spent hours on the phone. We spoke the same language. I think we just liked to be together.
And here’s the thing, I might not have been able to say to him that I knew what he’d been trying to give me, but I would bet you anything he saw it in my face.
“Thank you,” I said before he shut the car door.
Metta for Reed, still back in hometown USA. May gestures of kindness and love follow him everywhere. I was a very lonely girl. And he loved me.