In my junior year of high school, my mom and I moved from Ohio to South Carolina. It was a much-needed fresh start on a South Carolina beach. Ohio is nice, too. It has cornfields and restaurants.
When senior prom came around, I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t made any childhood friends by then. Also, I had never been to any dance before, because dancing is Satan’s work, and somehow I’d get pregnant and not go to heaven. I should tell you I come from a black conservative Christian background. Basically we have all the rules the white southern conservatives have, except we vote Democrat. It’s a thing. I don’t have time to explain it.
I followed most of the rules because … hell. People were asking each other to prom. No theatrics like it is these days. There was one guy interested in me. I’ll call him Tall Dark and Maybe Handsome, TDMH for short.
TDMH and I had a math class together. He often sat beside or behind me and bothered me. I’m here to learn — or teach, because my teacher often asked me to show the class how to solve problems. Not sure if he knew how. Prom came up during class. TDMH said to a cluster, but loud enough for the whole class to hear, that he wanted to take me to prom and afterward have sex on the beach.
First, sex wasn’t an option because … hell. And, hello — sex on the beach, I’ve heard, is not fun because … sand. Just think about where that sand could end up. Not fun! Sex on the beach cocktail, though — delicious.
I said no to TDMH’s offer. This left me with no date. I wanted to go, because this would be my only school dance I’d get to go to until I’m old and chaperoning my nonexistent children’s prom with my nonexistent husband acting like it’s our prom. I know what I’m talking about. I watch television.
My mom suggested I ask my brother who was in college a few hours away. I thought it was a great idea, because my brother was a cool dude and he’s safe — because we’re not that kind of family. In hindsight, it might be slightly lame to go to prom with your brother.
The night of prom I had a beautiful dress that was fitting to my size and style. So, my brother, my mom, her man friend, and I went to the Westin Hotel for their dinner buffet. General rule: I don’t like buffets because it’s a gluttony fest with the main dish being germs. But I enjoyed the meal that night.
Off we go, my brother and I, to my prom. We took a few pictures. I had a few friends I wanted to see. My brother suggested we walk around the room. So we walked around the perimeter of the dance floor. I had never seen such dance moves. It was pre-twerking, but … it was exactly twerking. My virgin eyes had had enough. I now knew I would not be out on the dance floor.
Then it hit me. I had to go to restroom. When I entered, there were a lot of girls doing prom-girl things, primping and gossiping — also known as everyday things. I went into the stall and remembered all the things I had on under my dress. This was before Spanx was a thing. I had all of the shape-wear on. All of it. Once you take that stuff off, you burn it. I didn’t go.
I left the restroom and said to my brother, “We have to go now.” The principal was at the exit and said that if we left we couldn’t come back. I had to leave. On the way home, we rolled the windows down so I could have fresh air — and because I now had volatile gas.
We lived on the third floor of a condo building. No elevator. As I was climbing the stairs, my body started giving way because it knew it was home. This was before everyone has a cellphone. My mom was surprised to see us home so early. I passed right by her and went to my bathroom.
When I say my body opened every hole, I mean it. Stuff may have even come from my ears. It was an utter war zone in my bathroom.
When the ceasefire began, my mom washed my clothes and hand-washed and blow-dried my dress while I showered. When I was finished, she said, “Okay, put it back on and get back out there.” She’s a super mom. She knew I had not seen one of my friends, and she knew it was important to me.
When we got back to prom, it was over. We drove the perimeter of the parking lot, and I saw my friends leaving and waved at them. Good enough: I saw all of my friends.
To this day I have not confirmed what the initial conflict was, but I remember did have seafood at the buffet that night. Every time since then, when I’ve had seafood, my brother says, “I thought you were allergic.”
He clearly has PTSD: post traumatic shrimp disorder. I can confirm that there has never been a crisis like that since.
Cecily Alexandria is a stand-up comedian and storyteller. A previous version of this story was originally told at a live Tell Me A Story storytelling performance. The theme was “school days.”