Desperation makes a high school heart what it is, which is my only reasoning for pretending my car was out of gas so that Eva would help me. I like to think it was sort of a sensical madness. I wanted to spend time with her, but I already was – in class, in the play, with our friends. But asking for time for just the two of us was a labyrinth of “Who Would Tell Who”s and “Would She Think The Worst”s. An emergency made more sense.
She drove me to the gas station and I filled a plastic jug with two gallons, and then we drove around instead of going straight back to my car, because she had things on her mind, and I wanted to listen. That was the most wondrous thing about her; My thoughts cleared away. I could actually hear her speak rather than skim the conversation and think about careful rejoinders or a witticism. It was a new feeling, being a really good listener instead of faking it.
Have you ever had a headache, and instead of two liquid gel Tylenols , your Mother tells you to imagine a cool stream emptying into your poor throbbing head? It felt exactly like that was supposed to feel like, only it was heartache, not headache.
She told me she wanted to go to prom, but didn’t want to wait to be asked. She knew everyone expected Shawn to ask her, but she was tired of their Ross and Rachel drama.
“I’ll go with you,” I said, and immediately regretted it. This is what happens when you have a head empty of thoughts – you’re stupid.
“Perfect, John!” I don’t know if my eyes widened cartoonishly, but there has to be a reason why that exaggeration exists.
“Yeah, it’s better if it’s just a friends thing,” I said. And my mind spun into itself, thinking movies and television clichÃ©s could be right, and we could fall in love while wearing fancy, expensive clothes.
You can fast forward to prom. I couldn’t. I still had homework to contend with, and lines to learn for the play, and every afternoon I had to pretend like my character was falling in love with Eva, and she had to pretend that her character was falling in love with me, and I liked to think that maybe all the pretending was just practice for the real thing.
We had to coordinate her dress, my tie. I ended up convincing my parents to buy my tux, pretending like I might wear it again someday. I just wanted the clothes I wore to what seemed like it might be the most important night of my life to be mine. I got my haircut at the same place she got her hair done, but our appointments were at different times. I worried my haircut would be bad, and made a morning appointment to allow a day’s worth of awkwardness to grow out.
The night of prom, I put tissues in all of my pockets, practicing discreetly wiping nervous sweat away. I wore my dad’s cologne, my cousin’s hand-me-down dress shoes. Eva and her parents came over to my family’s house, because we had a rose arch. We took our pictures and then I borrowed my Mom’s car to drive us.
I got lost. I felt like my nervousness was a disease, a brain cancer. Her conversation fell on deaf ears – the butterflies in my stomach had taken residence in my ears, and I had to ask her to repeat everything.
“You nervous?” She finally asked.
“It’s just me, John.” Her dress was black. At a red light, I looked over and she smiled, the curls of her perfect hair framing her face. I don’t remember what her dress looked like, I can only remember her hair, her face, the corsage on her wrist.
How is anyone supposed to fall in love in High School, when you drive your Mom’s car, listen to your sister’s corsage advice, try valiantly to forgot the talk your Dad gave you on safe sex the night before? I felt like only half of a realized person in front of Eva, the other half a mix of familial influences that threatened to anchor me to the bottom of the ocean, or crash land me on awkward island.
The dance was a dance. Too many things sparkled, too many camera flashes flashed. Eva and I danced half our dances together, or at least next to each other. I spun her during a slow number, she put her cheek on my chest, and I alternated between two channels, like a person watching two different edited-for-television movies, trying to avoid commercials. On one channel was a boy winning a girl’s heart at prom. The other was a train wreck waiting to happen, with a boy holding his heart out to a girl that might look on in scorn, or worse, indifference.
After prom, we went out with our friends, ties undone, painful shoes tucked safely into purses. I was pretty quiet – I sat next to Eva and tried to only look at her as much as anyone else. We had malts somewhere, pretended we were from an earlier generation, faked earnestness and mixed our decade-shaded jargon. We were groovy, we were the bee’s knees. We were made in the shade. Far out.
I didn’t take Eva straight home. Her dad had skipped the “home by midnight” speech, traded for “Stay out of trouble.” He might have called me “Chief.” We went to a park I knew, and we watched the sky announce its intention to become morning. It felt odd to watch morning approach. I usually only saw it surrender to the afternoon.
I turned to Eva and put my hand on hers and told her I loved her. She met my eyes, dropped them to the grass next to her, and said she had nothing to say.
She had me take her home.