I met the love of my life at someone else’s prom.
He wasn’t my date.
My date was a lovely young woman whose name I can’t remember. What I do remember is that her dress was blue the way Southern debutantes in movies always wear blue dresses. At least from the movies I’ve seen. It was blue, but not puffy, and I was grateful for that. I’m resistant to puffy. Puffy and poofy. I can’t tolerate either.
We attended her senior prom together, because her boyfriend had just broken up with her the week before and she was heartbroken. The big night was a week away and the non-puffy blue dress had already been purchased. What did young women in the early 2000’s do when they were lacking a prom date?
They went with a homosexual.
Unfortunately for her, all the good gays at her high school had already been taken and so her best friend (whose name I also don’t remember) reached out to a friend at my high school and asked if any of the gay men there would be interested in going to a senior prom in another town an hour away. Word was put out. Offers were considered. Somehow while sitting in the cafeteria eating a parfait I was made aware of the opportunity and I grabbed at it like a carnival ring. Far be it for me to turn down the chance to get dressed up and act foolish in front of strangers my own age I would never see again for the rest of my life.
At school, I was known as the Quiet Gay Kid. We had other gay kids, but they were all loud. I admired them. I coveted their volume, but I could not create my own. I had friends, but only a handful. A spoonful. A spoonful of camaraderie. We went to movies and diners and none of us had curfews, because our parents knew we weren’t cool enough to ever get in trouble. I came out when I was sixteen after meeting a boy at school who was also out. We dated for a week, kissed twice, and then he decided that he liked older men who resembled Ryan Phillippe. I did not blame him. I was not older and I did not in any way resemble Ryan Phillippe. The tragic part about coming out solely for the purpose of dating someone is that once you’re no longer dating them, you can’t go back from whence you came. I was now out and single and still sitting in the cafeteria listening to my spoonful of associates talk about their crushes while picking at my parfait with a plastic utensil when I got word of a distant prom. A place where I could potentially be something else if only for an evening. A Cinderella-in-the-making. I would wow the crowd, turn a few of the quarterbacks into bisexuals, and then disappear into the night.
My mother dropped me off at my date’s house after complaining for three days about the drive. I promised her I would catch a ride home with somebody, but I had no idea who that would be since I wouldn’t know any of the people I would be spending the night charming with my new personality. The limousine was already there when we pulled up, and I instructed my mother to drive another block over and let me out so I could walk the rest of the way. I had no intention of being seen in our dented old family car. My night of fantasy could not begin with an arrival courtesy of a busted Nissan.
The limo was rented by my date’s father. It was her house I walked up to in my rented white tuxedo. There would be four of us going as a group tonight. My date, her best friend, and her best friend’s boyfriend. I remember his name only because it was Jude and I replied “Like Jude Law!” upon hearing it to which he grunted. Most of our communication that night consisted of grunting, aside from the following exchange--
“My cousin is gay.”
“You know him?”
After my date’s mother took a few thousand photos, we were whisked into the limo and sent to the main event. It was being held at a VFW Hall next to a cemetery, and suddenly my fairy tale aspirations were met with unforgiving reality.
I suppose I can still let loose here, I thought to myself, I might even do the Worm in front of that portrait of Ronald Reagan.
We got in line for pictures behind a couple who were already on the verge of being “That Couple Who Broke Up at Prom.” I was eavesdropping as best I could when I saw him.
The Boy in the Pink Tuxedo.
There are moments in life when even if you’ve never heard “If You Leave” by OMD, because you’ve never seen a John Hughes movie and you’re not that into the 80’s, you will hear the instrumental beginning of the song as you gaze upon the person you believe is unquestionably your soulmate.
That’s what I heard as I saw the Boy in the Pink Tuxedo and the Golden Sneakers and the Sunglasses taking photos next to his date--
My body soul asked for permission to vacate my body and visit the future. Permission was granted. Twenty years on, my soul discovered the Boy in the Pink Tuxedo and myself living in Manhattan, hosting dinner parties, and complaining about the price of wine going up for the third time in a year. Thirty years on, we’d be living in Miami. Forty years on? Space, maybe? Who could say? Suddenly there was something to look forward to and I hadn’t even realized that I had merely been living day-to-day. I thought I had an imagination. I thought I had dreams. Little did I know that up to that point, the best I could come up with was behaving like a tourist at a Caribbean resort at a VFW-hosted soiree.
Any plans for being a showboat were instantly put on the back-burner. The new plan of attack was as follows:
- Stand Sheepishly Near the Boy in the Pink Tuxedo
- Be More Alluring Than His Date (Who Was Now My Sworn Enemy)
- Make Him Fall in Love with Me On Sight
- Be Married by Graduation
That’s how I wound up spending an entire evening in the general vicinity of a boy I refused to speak to directly. My date kept asking why I continued to move her around the dance floor instead of staying in one place, but I couldn’t tell her that reason was because the Boy in the Pink Tuxedo was apparently a social butterfly who wanted to say ‘Hello’ to everyone in attendance. Not only was he the man of my dreams, but he was everything I was not. Openly gay, wildly popular, and not afraid to wear golden sneakers at a formal event. Sadly, no matter how close I got to him, I could never get close enough to grab his attention. He was friends with everyone there, but I was an interloper. I was someone else’s date. When I asked the girl I brought if she knew him, she said, “Oh yeah, that’s George. He’s nice. And his boyfriend is so cute.”
Calling the person standing in the way of my happiness “cute.”
I thought what’s-her-name was on my side!
Looking back, that blue dress may have been a little puffy.
Towards the end of the evening, the Boy in the Pink Tuxedo Who Was Named George capped off a successful evening with the title of Prom King. Can you believe it? A Gay Prom King in a VFW with gravestones less than a hundred feet away from us. From what I gathered, the school wasn’t all that progressive, and there were several eyerolls when George took the stage to accept his sash and scepter. Whether he saw them or not was hard to tell, because as soon as the plastic crown was on his head, he immediately dropped down and did--
Reader, I nearly fainted.
Shortly thereafter, George disappeared. Not just from the prom, but from my life. Rumor has it that he went to someone’s house for a sleepover, but that was all the information I could get before my date ushered me back into the limo so we could go to a late-night bowling party organized by the prom committee. I didn’t bowl. I didn’t even try on the shoes. Instead, I sat at the refreshment stand drenching my french fries in ketchup and disappointment. I had the limo take me home an hour later. When my mother asked if I had a good time, I told her that it was the best and worst night of my entire life.
“Yup,” she said, before going back to her episode of Walker: The Texas Ranger, “That’s usually how it goes with prom.”
For the rest of my life, every date I went on was compared--fairly or unfairly--the Boy in the Pink Tuxedo.
When my college boyfriend cheated on me with a TA, I thought, Pink Tuxedo would never.
When my grad school boyfriend left me for the barista at the coffee shop we liked going to, I thought, Pink Tuxedo probably hates coffee.
When I found myself in Manhattan, but alone, living with three roommates in a one-bedroom apartment trying to make a living as a writer, but getting by with temp jobs where I would type up memorandums about the dangers of playground equipment for an insurance company whose name I can remember but won’t say, I thought--
George, wherefore art thou?
After I had finally secured a job in my chosen field, albeit one where I wrote quizzes for a magazine with titles like “Are You a Wizard in Bed? Take our Harry Potter Test and Find Out,” I returned to my hometown for Thanksgiving with my mother. My dad had left the previous week and neither of us was sure if he was coming back. When my mother passed out on the couch watching CSI: Toledo, I made my escape to a local gay bar.
That’s where I was when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Drinking a watered down cocktail that I paid far too much for and staring at my phone wondering which of my ex-boyfriends I should text. Dressed in a torn sweater I found on sale at Macy’s and praying I wouldn’t run into anyone.
And then that tap.
I knew before I knew.
He was older. So was I. He didn’t have on the pink tuxedo or the golden sneakers. There wasn’t any sash or scepter. Neither one of us could get away with doing the Worm unless we wanted to risk major physical calamity.
But he was there.
“I saw you from across the bar. Can I buy you a drink?”
I could tell you how the rest of the night went.
And the night after that.
And whether there even was a night after that.
But why don’t we leave it there?
Some things you can pull from the past and some belong to another place that’s happier and more devastating all at the same time.
A place where names evaporate, and pink tuxedos never go out of style.