The Prom Invitation
By Don H. Staheli

I think I knew it was coming – an invitation to the junior prom. In my high school it was a girl-ask-boy affair. That was probably a good idea, because there were some wonderful girls who deserved to have a special night out, but were seldom invited to the events that did not call for a reversal in the usual gender roles. The young lady who was looking my way was one of them.

I honestly cannot remember her name, but I recall that she sat behind me and few rows over in English class. Though not unattractive, she was not the prettiest girl in school, but she was bright, well mannered, pleasant and creative. She went out of her way to be friendly with me, but I never really responded in more than a very casual way. As prom time approached, however, something or someone tipped me off that she was going to invite me to go with her. This I could not do.

Have you ever looked back and wondered what made you act like such a jerk in a situation gone by? Be it teenage foolishness, selfish thoughtlessness, immature unkindness or whatever, I still cannot fathom what caused me to respond to her as I did.

The Invite

After class one day, she sought me out and handed me an envelope. She was her usual friendly self. I was in my usual less-than-warm, don’t-get-your-hopes-up, dough-head mode. The envelope was parchment and on it was my name beautifully written in an exquisite calligraphic hand. I was unimpressed and a bit embarrassed. I took the envelope and beat a hasty retreat down the hall.

When the envelope was opened, and the winner revealed, I was named, but felt like anything but a victor. In fact, a wave of unfounded disgust swept across my mind. Inside the carefully folded parchment container was another sheet of the same elegant paper. More fine calligraphy, but this time in a long and well written poem, which described her desire to go with me to the junior prom.

I was overwhelmed, but not in the manner anticipated by the thoughtful artist and poet who had put so much into her carefully crafted effort. Just the opposite. Instead of being pleased, I was completely put off and determined to avoid any further advancement of the notion proposed in her prose. At the next opportunity, I would tell her that I was going to be out of town and couldn’t go to the prom. No sense being honest about it. And certainly nothing to gain in actually going with her. No, the thought of that was not to be considered.

The next day, sitting in English class, I could see her out of the corner of my eye in her regular seat. She seemed to be in her typical happy mood, perhaps anticipating a positive gesture from me. No such luck. Little did she know that she was dealing with a guy whose heart had unfortunately been left at the classroom door, or in his locker, or somewhere, but was certainly not where it should have been.

The Lie

After class, I approached her with a contrived look of profound disappointment and expressed my dishonest regrets at not being able to go to the prom with her. Her pleasant personality never missed a beat and if she were hurt, her eyes never gave it away. She smiled and said she understood and that was that. She clutched her notebook and walked away with a girlfriend, and I, with a feeling of foolish relief, headed in the opposite direction. The matter was closed.

Yes, it was over. I didn’t have to take her to the prom and endure a night of good company, fine food, and fun dancing. I didn’t have to come off my high horse and realize a morsel of human kindness and unselfishness in going to the prom with someone other than the belle of the ball. It was over, but I have never forgotten.

To this day, I can still see the practiced penmanship on that specially treated paper. And I cringe to think that I was not good enough to respond in an equally special way. Instead of creating a nice memory and building what would have undoubtedly been an undemanding friendship, I figured that she was simply not worth any investment of my time. Nearly forty years have passed since that episode. She has certainly forgotten about it. Why should she remember such a thing? But the thought of my ungracious actions still lingers in my mind.

Of course, the real guilt is gone and I don’t continue to beat myself up over it. I was, after all, only a silly 16- or 17-year-old boy and had no real intention of hurting her. I simply wasn’t emotionally capable at that point of dealing with the situation in the best way. But I keep the memory alive in order to remember what I might have done and what might have resulted if I had been willing to give a little so that someone else could have a lot. I don’t want to forget that it doesn’t take much personal sacrifice to make people happy, that a little reaching out, a bit of inclusiveness won’t hurt and will likely do a lot of good for us as well as the recipient of our minor benevolence.

I didn’t save that parchment poem. It never became a keepsake. It is, however, framed in the recesses of my memory as a special reminder of the real desires of my heart and the importance of acting with kindness and grace to all who seek what little I may have to offer. Wherever you are classmate, I apologize. I know better now and I’m sorry we didn’t get to go to the prom together. Hopefully, we can both take comfort in knowing that I have tried over and over to make up for that poor behavior by saying yes, with never a regret, to equally kind invitations.

2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.