“Honey, it’s at least a month away. It’s too early to ask her. A million things could happen between now and then.”
I felt an overwhelming urge to reach out and pull the words back in before my son heard them. It wouldn’t matter. He wouldn’t…no, couldn’t understand.
“Yeah, but if I wait, someone else will ask her.”
And that’s when, for the first time in a very long time, I began worrying about Homecoming.
You might think “worry” an unusual choice of word. If so, you probably had a date. You probably went to all four Homecoming dances with a date or one of those groups of kids who exude wholesomeness via cohesiveness.
I did neither. Homecoming, for at least the first couple of years of high school, was something to get through. It marked a period of avoidance because it wasn’t just about a dance. It was all of the things leading up to the dance. It was decorating committees, and “Wear Your Favorite T-Shirt Day”, and hallways covered in poster-boards advertising candidates for Queen and King, and of course, “Who are you going with?” For two years I spent those two weeks with my head down, mostly inside my house.
My son likes to talk to me while I’m online. Rolling around the room on a big, blue exercise ball, he is like an over-sized gerbil that chatters.
“Here’s what happened.”, he starts as though the previous conversation just ended. “I asked Molly and she said “No”. You know she really likes me and everything but she probably won’t go and if she does go she’s just gonna go with some friends, you know?”
“So then John asked me if he could ask her and I told him, “Go ahead, but she’s not gonna go and if she does go she’s just gonna go with some friends.”, right?”
“And so then he asks her and Molly says “Yes” because John has a six-pack.”
“A six-pack. Girls like guys with six-packs. John has a six pack.”
I started to ask how Molly, or anyone else for that matter, knew John had a six-pack but decided the answer would probably take our conversation in a whole different direction…a topic for another day, perhaps.
“Well, that wasn’t very nice, was it?”, was all I could think to say.
“No…well, I don’t care.”, he answered, rolling towards the closet.
“You could go with a group.”, I suggested as a picture of my sister’s “group” flashed into my head. My sister went everywhere with the “group”. Even as a memory they exuded cleanliness. “Or you could go alone. Lots of people will go alone, you’ll see.”
He rolled out of sight. “I’ll think about it.”, he said from somewhere behind me.
When Homecoming week arrived, I took heart in my son’s participation in “Wear Your Favorite T-shirt Day”. It didn’t matter that he might have worn it anyway. At least he was engaged. But when Tuesday came and went without any declaration regarding attending the dance, I couldn’t help myself.
“So? Are you going?” I was a talking bundle of laundry, floating down the hall on its way towards the laundry room.
“Nah…I’m not going.” His bedroom door, closing behind him, provided punctuation.
An argument ensued as I continued my trek towards the washer.
“He should go.”, I thought. “He’ll be sorry he missed out. I hope he’s not isolating himself.”
“You can’t say anything.”, I thought. “Talking about it makes it a big deal. It’s his decision.”
I said nothing, and the day of the dance became just another Saturday.
I didn’t see the women until one of them spoke, waking me from the sleep walk that had propelled me from my car to the inside of the market. They were “Football Moms”, like me. Our sons had been teammates for years, and now they were freshmen in high school.
And it was Homecoming Saturday.
“Can you believe I still haven’t found him a suit?” The mother of “John Of The Legendary Six-Pack” spoke.
“Aren’t these things a little less formal now? “, I asked, lightly. “He could wear a shirt and tie.”
“What about Shane? Is Shane wearing a suit?”
Did I imagine her eyes widening just a bit, as though anxious for an answer?
“Shane’s not going.”, I kept it light. “You know, he asked Molly before John did.”
Was that a flush of color on her freckled cheeks?
She congratulated her son with a smile he wouldn’t see.
The exchange sparked anxiety that would stay with me for most of the day. Several times over the course of the afternoon I had to force myself not to find Shane and ask him one more time, “Are you sure you don’t want to go?” There had been talk of an after-party. All his friends would be there. I knew because, earlier in the day, I’d surveyed him about their plans.
But I didn’t. I didn’t ask him.
On Sunday, the day after Homecoming, we went for a haircut. As I drove, it occurred to me we wouldn’t have to wait long since all the other boys would have had haircuts the previous weekend, in preparation for the dance.
“I’m really glad I didn’t go to that party, Mom.” Shane spoke into the passenger side window.
It seemed things had gotten ugly between several of the boys. One of them left early.
“What about his date?”, I asked.
“He went with Vicky.”, he groaned. An image of a diminutive fifth-grader with manicured nails and perfectly placed highlights came to mind. “Vicky’s a slut. Everyone knows that.”
Despite his confirmation of my earlier gut reaction, I suggested he find another way to describe the girl.
“That’s why I didn’t want to go, Mom!” He turned to face me, pummeling me with the full force of words that left him in a kind of angry whine. “They all wanted me to go with Amy, Vicky’s friend. And she’s just like her. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation I don’t know how to handle.”
Overwhelmed, I remained silent.
“Maybe I’m weird…but I don’t want it to be like that. When I have sex, I want it to be with someone I at least like, you know?”
I wanted to stop the car. I wanted to stop the car and scoop him up in my arms the way I always did when he faced uncertainty.
But I didn’t.
“You’re not weird.”, I said in measured tones. “You’re not weird, you’re smart. You made a good decision.”
I pulled into a parking space next to a motorcycle that had the Batman insignia on the engine cover.
“Good! Kevin’s here!” Shane bounced out of the car and placed his hand on his favorite stylist’s bike.
He stood straight. There was a quickness in his eyes. He smiled.