Posted by: patti | November 21, 2008

Prom Night (Non-Fiction Friday)

For the senior prom, I picked out a peachy, tea-length dress in a kind of satin brocade.  The skirt flared out from a gathered waist, and the off-the-shoulder top was dotted with shimmery opaque sequins.  This dress broke my mother’s heart.

I found the dress shopping with Lisa, one of the only friends I had left at school.  She was the assistant coach of the speech team, in her twenties, and student teaching in the English Department.  We took the train into the city, and we looked at dresses in Macy’s and Lord & Taylor’s while my Mom sat at home and cried because her only daughter was shopping for her prom dress with another woman.

The first thing I noticed about the dress was its color.  It was the color of my bedroom walls, the color I picked out when I was finally allowed a say in decorating my bedroom.  I was sixteen, and I picked this peach because it went so beautifully with the aqua that was my favorite color then.  I knew my parents would never agree to aqua walls, so I suggested the color for the rug.  The rug we got was closer to a foamy sea green, but it was mine, and I was happy enough.  Mom loved my choice: she said this peach was soothing, and after the year we’d all had, soothing was very necessary.

Dad looked at the finished room and said it looked like a set for Miami Vice.  He was right, of course.

But this peach was soothing.  It was warm, and safe, and it never had the sharp sweetness or the messy brightness of the fruit.

So two years later, when I saw the refuge of my bedroom on a hanger in Macy’s Herald Square, I had to have it.  They didn’t have my size, but I tried on one bigger, and I felt like a princess.  I wanted to buy the dress, too big or not, but Lisa insisted that I shouldn’t settle — I should make them order my size.  We did, and I had them send the size to the Macy’s in Manhasset, where Mom had a part-time job.

I came home gushing about the dress:  the huge bow on the back, the way the brocade brushed my shins, the way the top had little bows on each shoulder, my worry that I’d never find the right shoes.

Mom never pointed out that I’m too pale to wear peach.  Mom never pointed out that I didn’t actually have a date for the prom.  But Mom did go to her store, pay for the dress, and find me the perfect handbag, shawl, and peach pumps to finish my prom dress.

The day of the prom, Lisa came over early to help me fix my hair and makeup.  I noticed Mom was quiet, and I noticed she was a little teary, but it wasn’t until I was letting myself into the dark house at 4 am, the dress stained and rumpled, that I understood.

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