It’s that time of year, again. Our daughter is only a junior in high school, yet somehow my husband and I found ourselves a few weeks ago, for the third year in a row, shopping with her for a prom dress.
It might have something to do with the fact that we live in a modest four-story brick, right along with 80 high school boys. These young men assure us repeatedly that she’s just like a sister to them. Sure. This is why she was already under 24-hour surveillance and restrictions even before the state governor mandated just this week that she and her friends leave six feet between themselves at all times.
Her freshman year (I was such a rookie) we took her prom date tuxedo and dress shopping with us. After securing her date’s navy-blue tuxedo, we found the perfect match for my daughter — a satiny floor-length blue gown with gold beading for a bodice.
Things got a little awkward when the seamstress at David’s Bridal tried to loudly force my daughter into the “perfect undergarments” for the occasion. She raced back and forth from dressing room to sales floor, her face flushed, her hands full, her confusion clear as she tried to discern my daughter’s size. The date and I stood on the other side of the slim fabric curtain, looking in every other direction except each other’s faces. I finally had to force my way in and save the day by offering a generous safety pin.
Her sophomore year, finding the perfect dress at Macy’s, we snapped a photo and sent it to her date. A few days later, he responded with an image of himself in a streamlined tux complete with a tie that matched the flowers on her gown perfectly. We smugly patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.
The Urgent Care nurse was so distracted by the photos of Prom 2019 on my daughter’s phone that she almost forgot to inform us that our dancing diva had either contracted strep or meningitis that starry evening. My husband gave me the I told you so look as I disinfected every surface in the house. Apparently, we should have bought an hermetically sealed HAZMAT suit, not some flimsy, floral lace.
2020. We decided to take things low-key. Said daughter announced she was going to prom by herself and wanted us to make a run with her to the consignment shop to keep things reasonable. A few doses of Benadryl later, after she’d engulfed herself in someone else’s cast-off dust and glitter, we were, once again, on the way to the more sterile Macy’s.
“Nothing fits right!” the shrieks came from behind the fitting room door.
My husband glanced up at me from behind his own swollen eyes; allergies run in the family. “Are we really doing this again?” he sighed.
But then a miraculous silence fell across the thinly carpeted hallway littered with straight pins and abandoned chewing gum.
“I found it,” she breathed. “It’s perfect.”
Triumphantly we crossed the finish line together, holding the dress aloft, smiling at the salesclerk.
However, much like Jem and Scout on that fateful eve, little did we know, the three of us, and the dress, were about to take our longest walk together.
We approached the sales desk, grinning from ear to ear, then came to an abrupt halt in tandem. A two-year-old was locked in the loudest fight/temper tantrum with her mother we had ever seen. (This is really saying something given that my daughter herself could throw down with the best of them in her day.) As we averted our gaze in an effort to save the unfortunate mom embarrassment, our eyes fell upon an even worse spectacle.
An aged beagle, service dog lovingly embroidered onto his makeshift bib, was leaving a large and smelly package in the middle of the floor, right next to the marked-down Valentine’s Day merry widows. His elderly caretaker, clearly having predicted this outcome, was prepared with carefully assembled bags for just such a defecation. He bent down, shushed, crooned and whispered, “It’s OK. It’s OK.”
“I want it and I’m not leaving!” came the youthful screams in front of us.
“Daddy will clean it up,” I heard from behind me.
The alternating shrieks and whispers made my ears twitch.
“What madness is this?” I whispered to my husband, covering my nose from the stench as we stepped forward for our turn, finally.
“Sorry for the wait,” the clerk coughed loudly as she took the dress from my daughter’s hands. “I probably shouldn’t be here. My mom is in the ICU. She had the flu and now pneumonia. My brother has it too, and I just can’t stop coughing.”
She handed us the wrapped dress. Stunning in ruby red. Oscar worthy.
It’s never going to see the light of day.
— Vicki Austin
Vicki Austin, faculty and dorm parent at Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School, lives with her husband, two children and 80 or so other teenage boys in Kingston, Pennsylvania. Vicki has more than 20 years of experience in many facets of education and is currently shifting her writing focus from persuasive to creative. Vicki’s most recent work has been featured on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop blog, included in the online journals Projected Letters and Wraparound South and printed in The Walls Between Us: Essays in Search of Truth, a Juncture publication. You can find Vicki on Twitter @VickiAustin02.