Dad (shoved through my bedroom doorway by Mom): You know about the birds and the bees, right?
Me: Dad, we live on a farm.
Dad: Right…ok, guess we’re done!
As a teenager, it was sometimes necessary to step away from the barn and re-enter civilization. This was not something I looked forward to. In fact, I avoided it at all costs.
Flashback to my 16th birthday. A huge gift box. I open it and out spills a puff of red and white lace and chiffon. "What is it?" I ask. I was hoping for a new saddle blanket. This was not a saddle blanket.
"It's a dress," my mother replies excitedly and slowly, as if she were a missionary explaining Christianity to the great unwashed. I wear jeans and flannel shirts. Nothing against dresses, but they tend to get caught in the double clutch on the tractor.
"A what?" I ask, searching desperately for the receipt.
"A PROM dress," she clarifies right before I pass out. I had never even gone on a date. I had been asked out a few times, but since I never knew what to say, I usually just stared back or walked away. That did not go over well, and pretty soon guys quit asking. Now I had a big, stupid, fluffy dress from of all places, that ultra-vogue icon of fashion – Sears, and a mother fully expecting me to grow breasts and social skills in three months. Cupid, shoot me now.
On an even playing field, I might have had a chance. But it was far from a fair battle. I was completely unprepared to match girly wits with the town princesses. For years they had been painting their nails, tweezing their eyebrows, sharpening their flirtation skills, studying Tiger Beat, and generally obsessing about the opposite sex. Meanwhile I was shoveling chicken poo and teaching my horse how to not kill me.
A new boy had just moved to our town. At a small school like ours, where each grade averaged about a hundred people, a new classmate was big news. The even bigger news was that Bernie O’Callaghan was adorable, probably the best looking guy in our class. All the townie girls were abuzz and atwitter, eyelashes fluttering wildly, twirling their hair, snapping their gum, filing their nails, and generally making fools of themselves. I was my usual oblivious bookworm self.
Part of what made Bernie so adorable was his tendency to ignore the rules. He was not concerned about the supreme high school directive of never asking anyone out who got better grades than you. He could care less about grades, including his own. He could care less about what others thought. He was an impish Irish scalawag of the highest, or perhaps lowest, order.
Many of the top social butterflies were waiting for Bernie to ask one of them to the prom. They were, in fact, already fighting over him. Then the strange part happened. A friend of mine found out that Bernie was interested in, of all people, me. Once she recovered from the shock, she cornered me and insisted on becoming my “social coach.” She was tired of watching guys wilt in my gaze, and my insistence on spinsterhood as a career choice. So she staged an intervention.
Some of the townie girls were quite upset by the way things eventually turned out, and my friend still fears retribution, so I’ve agreed to conceal her identity. We’ll just refer to her as “Deep Prom.”
Deep Prom: You know that new boy, Bernie?
Deep Prom: He likes you.
Me: Huh. That’s weird.
Deep Prom: He wants to ask you out to the Prom.
Deep Prom: First, though, you gotta tweeze your eyebrows.
I was clueless, more concerned with our upcoming standardized tests. Usually I’d continue to be clueless, but this time I had my mother to answer to. My mother and that big, stupid, fluffy Sears dress. So "Deep Prom" set up a meeting. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Bernie: What are you doing Friday night?
Me: Nothing. Why?
Bernie: Would you like to go to the prom with me?
Me: Ok. But why don’t we go on Saturday night like everyone else?
Bernie: Sounds like a plan.
Bernie didn’t even blink. He wasn’t aware of my tendency to reduce guys to limpid puddles by staring at them. As it turned out, he stared right back. In a bizarre quirk of nature, I had a feisty, hunky date and a dress. I was terrified.
In the name of style, we women do hurtful things to ourselves. Hair removal is right up there on the owie chart with high heels and chronic insecurity. But Deep Prom was right –my eyebrows needed a mowing. Wow, did that hurt. Now I understood why the townie girls were a bit skitter-headed. Beauty was downright painful.
I made a serious effort to get rid of my farmer’s tan and do something with my wild Irish hair. The real difference came when I put on makeup. Suddenly I had eyelashes, cheekbones, and the potential to make some townie girls cry. We were truly making a silk purse out of a sow’s caretaker.
Prom night was wonderful, even if the butterflies in my stomach did most of the dancing. A few of the town princesses, in their battle for the supreme dress, had ended up in the fashion nightmare of wearing the exact same dress. I believe the style was from Neiman Marcus in New York City. By the time they were done tearing each other apart, though, the dresses were quite different from each other, bearing various rips, slashes, and scratches, a bizarre yet compelling process of customization. My Sears dress, with its red velvet roses on white chiffon, held up just fine. So did Bernie.
I then returned to my studies.