Saturday, May 03, 2008
Ahhh prom... the dress, the corsage, the giddy feeling as your date comes to pick you up in a big limo. Or so I hear. I've witnessed a prom or two, but never attended one. I, you see, was an uber nerd.
No... no, not sorta-kinda. I was a massive, black-wearing, pre-goth, post-beatnik, way out of time and space nerd. I used to skip school for two things: Red Sox games and to take the MBTA into Boston and lurk among the stacks of the Boston Public Library. I also skipped to go see a few touring shows at the Museum of Fine Arts of Museum of Science.
Yes. THAT much of a geek.
I was also on a different schedule. When other kids were just discovering the giddiness of first love, I was buried up to my neck in college. I wanted a copy of the Riverside Shakespeare for my 15th birthday.
But missing out on a lot of the social stuff made me love watching as a teacher. When I taught one spring in Abington, MA they not only had a prom, they had a big promenade-- every parent in town came out with cameras and all the kids "promenaded" around the gym. It was... well, dorky and sweet and saturated in saccharine cuteness. I ate it up with a spoon. A few of those kids were on dates I even set up.
"I'm not going, it's lame," they'd say, and you'd hear "plus who would go with me?" They didn't say it, but you could hear it. So I'd con two old friends into going. I'll have you know one of those couples hooked up, went steady til graduation, and married a few years later.
I was the COOL English teacher.
Which is funny when you think that in high school, which was so short for me, I felt like the world's biggest dork. People loved my brothers. Star athletes. Most of them, though, looked askance at me like I was from another planet. I felt it, then, as judgment and rejection of myself and my small group of nerdy-artsy beach rat friends. We didn't go to football games, but we sang a capella in the tide-pools on Green Harbor beach. We had sketchbooks and journals filled with dark, scary poetry. We brooded.
But you know... years later, after Harvard and Oxford convinced me that weird has its uses, I have benefited from staying in my small town. Kids I once thought of as rejecting me live down the street. The girl I thought looked down her nose at me sees me at the deli all the time. And I am friendly by nature. So it came as a mild but pleasant surprise when I discovered that's not how they saw me at all.
"She was sooo smart," Colleen recently said to one of her boys as we stood in line at CVS. "She had a horse. She could sing and was in a band. And she always knew the answer when the teacher called on her. I always felt stupid in class with her."
She was smiling when she said it, but I nearly fell over. It was Easter time. Colleen was the girl the other girls wanted to hang out with. I was stunned to think she even gave me a glance, much less had such a fixed opinion of me.
I guess the gift of being the geek who came home to roost is finding out many-- perhaps even MOST-- of those kids in the seats next to you aren't any more what you thought THEY were than you are what they thought YOU were.
So maybe I wasn't as dorky as I thought. Or maybe I WAS, but dorky was ok. And I never got to go to prom. But I'm glad girls like Colleen did, and that the truth is she was just having a good time, not thinking about the people who stayed home.
Being a nerd still, you might think I would snort at things like prom. Academics, please! Serious study! But fun is good for your soul, too. And frankly every experience we can cram into our youth is worth having. So I always smile when I see girls in sweatsuits leaving the hairdresser's with baby's breath in a updo. Or a frazzled mom at the florist growling into her cell phone "what kind of blue?" Ahh... prom!