I see them around town, like migratory birds landed, briefly at the steak house: boys and girls in their prom finery. The boys look awed. Ordinarily they would be embarrassed, but the creatures seated beside them – the girls – have been so miraculously transformed. There is no appropriate response save wonder.
Although that is not the whole story. There are still winners and losers, the gorgeous and the plain. I can no longer trace the difference. My senses have dulled with age, and they have all become beautiful. But beneath the shimmer of glittery body spray and the boutonniere, they see each other, tracing the outlines of who they will become.
Last year I was revising a novel. It came down to prom, a final scene in which a girl (who was almost me) dances across the stage (that was almost my life) in man’s vintage suit, her little, gay heart on her sleeve.
As the poet writes, “There is no loneliness like theirs.”
I love the queer kids, awkward and brave, their chins ready to take a punch, their fists balled up in their cuffs. If I ever have to go to war, I’d want to go with them.
It’s easy to discount the others, this girl in her princess-pink gown, planting kiss after kiss on her boyfriend’s cheek. That cluster of footballers wrestling with the shrimp forks. What have they suffered?
It’s a college town which means next year they will all leave. The university where their parents toil is not good enough. Even if they stay, childhood has shut its fairy doors. There are no more wisteria blossoms like this. Tonight they celebrate the end of everything.
Where else, besides death, do we go for such loss?
Is it wrong for their elders to dress them, for the whole town to spread out its wares and say, “choose wisely,” to spend every cent, to spare no expense, to usher them, bathed in diamonds, into this wedding to the future, these children who know now what they must soon forget, that tonight everything is eternal.
* “There is no loneliness like theirs” comes from “A Blessing” by James Wright