Three weeks before senior prom, on the worst hair day of my life, my high school boyfriend told me he was gay. We were sitting together at a corner table in the coffee shop of the Barnes & Noble at the Cool Springs Galleria and I was already twenty minutes late for my piano lesson when he told me this.
And I laughed. Because, really, what are you gonna do?
“But we can still go to prom together, right?” he asked.
We had been taking the school-mandated ballroom dance lessons for a solid month. If we didn’t go to prom together, all those weeks of after-school practice in the Cougar Den gym would’ve been a waste.
On top of that, my mother had made a white satin Badgley Mischka gown from a VOGUE pattern, my gay boyfriend’s mom had hired a chauffeured sedan, and I had purchased my first ever pair of stilettos from Guinn’s Discount Shoes.
Hell yeah, we were still going to prom.
And go to prom, we did. But first we had dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town and, upon exiting the restaurant, we inadvertently attended the first annual Street Nic- “a wholesome, positive celebration of African-American music, unity, and pride.”
A picture exists of this moment. In it, a pale girl in a white dress is linking arms with a stern gay man as they stand on a street corner in the middle of an African pride picnic waiting for their sedan.
I shine like an angel, the light of the flash refracting off my white dress, pale skin and the diamonds shimmering in the triple-strand headband I had bought at Claire’s the night before.
I did not yet know how to walk in stilettos. I did not know to avoid grates. As we waited, my left heel inevitably became ensnared, a plight from which my gay boyfriend did not know how to extract me so he simply stood on the sidewalk and laughed until a benevolent Street Nic-er came to my aid.
At prom, my gay boyfriend’s shoes were too slick. They made a crunching noise when he stepped. My stiletto got stuck again and my dress hem tore. We were a mess that night, from beginning to end.
And yet it was perfect, because that was how we were. To this day, I remember that as we performed “The Tennessee Waltz” on a dance floor that was far smaller than the gym in which we had practiced so that, doing our box steps, we circulated like horses on a carousel mistakenly shifted into high gear, my gay high school boyfriend looked at me with an expression of wonder and I felt like the prettiest girl in the room.