Operation Prom Date
196 Days until Prom
They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So I guess I have a problem. I am a bit of a perfectionist, and my life is anything but perfect. In fact, it’s pretty messed up. I mean, sure, if you look at my grades, I appear good on paper. No question about that. But perfectionism is a lonely island, and it sort of feels like land is slipping further away.
I’m a Christian, so I know you can’t actually be perfect, but I sure have tried, as I believe every Christian should. Make the most of the talents God gave you, right? I love the feeling I get when there’s a red “A” scrawled across the top of my paper. Now that is a scarlet letter I can get behind! But if I get 98 out of 100, I sort of obsess about the two I got wrong. It’s just the way my mind works, but I need to be worrying about important things, like why my clothes aren’t cool.
Claire, my best friend, says I’m warped. Could be. I’m not saying it’s right or anything to obsess, I’m only acknowledging that I do. I’ve seen “Intervention” on TV, so I’m well aware that admitting the problem means I’m totally on the way to recovery. Besides, Claire’s parents are normal and rich, so what does she know?
See my problem? Being perfect—impossible. Being a perfect weirdo—something I’m closer to than I’d like to admit. Another excuse? I’m an only child. My parents thought, “Why screw up many children when we could make one perfect child?”
I’m sure that’s where my deranged thinking comes from—always look to the parents, you know what I’m saying? My mom says the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but I’m hopeful that their tree was on a hill and I’m rolling further away as I write. The thing is, kids like Heather Wells don’t care if you’re weird simply because your parents are weird. You’re just weird. And dateless.
My mom says this perfection thing all started when I was a baby and couldn’t handle being in a dirty diaper. Well, yeah! That’s disgusting. I mean, how is that weird to want to remove myself from excrement? What am I missing? I would think that’s instinctual.
In more recent years, I have never missed a day of school, not since the third grade when I had the chicken pox, thanks to Missy Miller’s birthday party with the lopsided cake and lame “Rugrats” theme. I got her a collectible Barbie in this fabulous, silky red ball gown, complete with tiara, and all I got was the chicken pox. So wrong.
Anyway, it’s not like my parents didn’t have a part in my issues either, but I’ll get to that later. Back to my life on paper and the reason I’m in my current predicament.
Straight A’s throughout my entire junior high and high school career (except for driver’s ed, and that was so not my fault). If you were on a college admission board, you would see me as the student you wanted at your school, right? I mean, I am like every thirty-five-year-old’s dream teenager, but if you’re seventeen like me and you’re someone who resembles a hot vampire in a certain movie? You are not going to look my way for a date.
I’m a freak of nature physically too. Five foot ten, and not in a good Heidi Klum way. In a giraffe-like, knobbykneed, hanging-gorilla-arms kind of way. At that point, you’re thinking “mutant,” not “romance.”
My dad’s lanky genes are totally to blame for this. If I weren’t so tall, I could consider all those little guys who might think about me as a dating option for prom. But I can’t exactly have them stand on a block for the picture, now can I?
If I did skinny well, they would call me graceful, lithe, gazelle-like, slender . . . but I don’t do it well, and that’s why the Abercrombie shirt with Claire’s hand-medown, padded bra underneath was the perfect look for me. (Claire apparently went through puberty, but I’m still waiting, which at seventeen is cause for alarm, or—around here with everyone’s money—for a visit to the plastic surgeon’s office. What is wrong with people? That has to be uncomfortable, right? Sleeping on two hard water balloons? But perhaps it’s just me.)
Now add to this bony package a wardrobe of homemade, “conservative” clothes, and you have a better picture of my so-called perfect life. Being perfect on paper doesn’t actually transfer to real life—as I start my senior year in high school, it’s time to add some practical living skills to my accomplishments.
So why care now? While I was rewriting my “Symbolism in Hamlet” paper four times last year, other girls were giggling, squealing about Zac Efron movies, and generally making themselves matter to people around them. I think I’m irrelevant. And that can’t be good. A perfectly pathetic social life is the antithesis of perfection in high
I’ve been so focused on college, it almost feels like I’ve never been to high school. I simply endured a series of tests and deadlines, but I can’t remember much of anything. Sure, I know the Pythagorean theorem, but do I know how to apply false eyelashes or why the Jonas Brothers are popular? No.
I’ve never had a single date, and while my parents wouldn’t let me date anyway (long, irritating story), I wrestle with the fact that I’ve never had the opportunity to say no. I’ve never broken a heart, I’ve never even registered on a guy’s heartbeat. I’ve flatlined. BEEEEEP!
If I don’t change my life now, I’ll spend the rest of it like this: alone and invisible, never in the moment, always striving for the next big thing, forgetting what lies behind. I might become the first teenager with Alzheimer’s. What if the only impact I’ve had on St. James Academy is the gummy bear I left in the school chapel as an experiment?
So no dates, unless you count my dad’s purity talk over dinner at Hometown Buffet, and I so do not count that. Like I want my dad to talk about stuff like that anyway, and in public? Over fried chicken? Then he pulled out a ring, and people around us actually clapped. OMGSH! My purity on display as cause for applause. I could have died! I mean, what if they thought he was just some dirty old man proposing to his young girlfriend? Didn’t my dad get that? That’s a stupid question, of course he didn’t. Unlike me, my dad lives in the moment, never a thought to the future or what might happen. So part of my diligent nature must be his fault. Am I right?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as committed to purity as my dad wants me to be, but I don’t want to announce it publicly. Sheesh, hire out a billboard next time! Unlike Madonna or Sienna Miller, I don’t want my sexuality, or lack thereof, up for public consumption. Call me crazy, but I think my dad makes way too big a deal over it, like it’s his trophy on the mantel, announcing he’s a great dad. Whatever.
I’m so glad my parents care and all that, but I guess I wouldn’t mind if they cared a little less overtly. Parents have no shame. My dad couldn’t even spring for a fancy dinner, and my ring is nothing more than sterling silver.
“I worried you’d lose a diamond,” he said.
“Try me,” I told him, and he just laughed. Like I was joking!
I should sign up for the convent now, except we’re not Catholic, and the clothing . . . gag! I am not doing any job that requires headgear and nursing shoes.
“After all,” Mom told me regarding purity and my future life as a homemaker, “don’t think Cinderella sat around after marriage. She had work to do. A castle to
Somehow I prefer to think of Cinderella as having people for those mundane tasks, but Mom ruined that too. Sort of like she ruins all the good things about being a girl: no makeup, no pedicures, homemade clothes. I’m a wreck, and what’s worse? Up until now, I didn’t even know I was a wreck!
Just so you know, I’m not asking to be head cheerleader or anything. I just want to exist in this petri dish that is St. James Christian Academy. I can adopt a live-in-the-moment attitude without turning into my parents. There’s middle ground. I’m sure of it.
So welcome to my prom journal. It’s totally pink with little flowers and frilly designs, really girly so I can summon my inner female power, which my mom tells me is completely Proverbs 31—the woman in the Bible who managed her household and sold purple things. I’m just hoping it makes me more socially acceptable. I’m looking for an “Aha!” moment, and if journaling helps me get there—a little further from the family tree—that’s success.
My parents are what you’d call countercultural (read: weird). My dad is a classically trained musician and actor who makes his living delivering balloons and singing telegrams, with an occasional speaking gig thrown in. Money has never been a huge priority for him. My mother is content to believe we have plenty, and life is one big crafting fair for her. Our house looks like a Jo-Ann Fabrics, except it’s much more chaotic and I do believe we have more in stock. Having bare feet around here is like asking for a tetanus shot.
My mom has the rosy cheeks of a sixteen-year-old and the fashion sense of a ninety-year-old. If there was a floral pattern in 1970, my mother managed to capture it in oversized dresses that resemble upholstery. She’s currently on a diet, which usually makes her unbearable, but this time? She’s included exercise, and now she’s all perky and buzzing with unnatural energy. I think I like the grumpy version better, but this one is losing weight, so I have a feeling the mom Energizer Bunny is here to stay.
Anyway, this journal is my own little secret. I’m channeling my inner Queen Esther. Sure, my mom can aim for the house manager in Proverbs 31, but I’ve got bigger plans. Queen Esther saved her people (her year of beauty treatments included!). Granted, Esther saved her people from death and I’m only going for social redemption, but a girl’s gotta start somewhere.
“Daisy!” Mom yells.
“In here!” I shout back, shoving the prom journal under my pillow.
She appears in the doorway. “Do you know where your father’s duck costume went?”
“I’m quacking up, Mom. Why would I have Dad’s duck costume?”
She misses the bad pun. “He needs it for tomorrow. He’s doing a marriage proposal as the goose who laid the golden egg. Isn’t that darling?”
I roll my eyes. “Sure, as long as you’re not the bride. Doesn’t he need a goose costume, then?”
She lifts up her sewing kit. “I’m going to fix it.”
“Mom, if some guy ever proposes to me wearing a duck suit, just shoot me, okay? You be the hunter.”
“Goose suit. I have to paint the feet brown. Ducks have orange feet.”
“I’ll make this easy. Any bird, all right? If the guy dresses up in any animal costume whatsoever, or worse yet, hires someone else to do it? My answer is no. And some geese have orange feet, just so you know. Most, I think.”
“How did I raise such a snob? It’s sweet this man is doing something different. Anyone can get on his knees and pull out a ring.”
“Then any guy should get on his knees. And I’m sure my father dressing up like fowl has something to do with my haughty behavior.”
She shakes her sewing kit. “Have you seen the tea bags? I’m going to dye the suit.”
Am I the mother here? “No, Mom, but I imagine they’re in the kitchen.” Although in my house, one never knows.
“You should watch your attitude, Daisy. Those costumes pay for your tuition. You can’t afford to be snotty when your dad’s sacrifice is for you.”
I’m sorry. Did she just say “sacrifice”? “I haven’t seen the duck suit. Will you shut my door? I want to get ready for school.”
She shuts the door, but not without one of her weary sighs that tells me how ridiculous I am. It never occurs to them that fitting my father for a goose suit for a big marriage proposal contributes to my behavior. Do they expect me to be normal in this environment? Does a polar bear raise a cub and expect it to turn into a penguin? Isn’t Mom the one who is always saying the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? I’m weird because that’s what I know. Duh.
(School and My New Life Start Tomorrow!)
180 Days until Prom
I’ve racked up $447 working in the last three weeks at Checks R Us—a check-printing company that is now 24 hours because of the bank closures. It’s great because they think nothing of paying me extra for my time, and I can work on weekends and everything, which for an office job is pretty great.
I haven’t even had time to think about my prom journal, but I’m finally back here as I get ready for the new school year and the new me. Wait, that’s not entirely true, I have had time to obsess about the number of days left until prom. I wake up first thing in the morning, and that number pops into my head. It’s always one day less than the day before.
So wrong. I am supposed to be thinking about being a normal girl. I even practiced this thing in the mirror where I say, “Oh my gosh, I totally love that!” And I insert some insanely happening cultural reference that reflects the current conversation.
By the very fact that I think in numbers first and know how many days I have left to find a date, I know that statistically, my chances for finding a prom date are dropping, yet every morning I’m haunted by that number. I’ve been trying to get up early and giggle girlishly in the mirror, like the popular girls do. Right now it sounds a little horse-like, but it’s getting better. I’m going to try it out on Claire and see if she notices anything weird.
Claire, my BFF since preschool, is currently going all emo scene on me, so I can’t exactly tell her my life’s goal is to go to prom. Which it’s not, it’s just my high school goal, my short-term goal. See? Totally living in the moment.
Claire’s eyes would roll out of her head if she heard about this. She’d write some depressing poem about it and tell me how hopeless I am to express my pointless thoughts on paper, a valuable resource. “Green” was her last phase, but she found her Mustang convertible was more fun to drive than her parents’ Prius, so that ended the environmental phase. You can’t be green and drive a car that sucks gas into its powerful engine like a kid slurping an Icee after soccer practice.
Claire’s the one wearing a studded dog collar and calling me hopeless. You see the irony here? I’m on my own, and if I find comfort in a frilly pink journal, so be it. Pink is life affirming.
Besides, what’s the point of promised purity if my parents don’t trust me to test it? My dad should realize the purity thing has to be my idea, and if I’m going to stand on my own in college, he needs to understand I can handle myself on a date now.
So I state it here for the record. I will go to my senior prom if it’s the last thing I do. I will obtain the secret prize: the photograph that proves I was not a total nobody in high school and that I could get dates, I simply chose not to. (I’m straightening my shoulders as I write this!) I need proof that I had some semblance of a social life.
Senior prom is the one event you have to go to. All those other years can be erased with the right prom moment.
Let’s put it this way. I’ve seen my mother’s memorabilia, where she’s in a freakishly hideous hot pink minidress, clinging to some nerd. I don’t want to pass on to my children that (1) I had no taste, (2) my date was one step away from my first cousin, and (3) Grandma went to her prom, but Mommy didn’t. I mean, you might as well put the sofa on the front porch at that point.
I have 180 days to find the perfect dress (one that stands the test of time and doesn’t look like Lady Gaga in the year 2024), talk my mother into letting me get blonde highlights, and nab the perfect date to redeem my sad excuse of a social life from total oblivion. It won’t be easy, but I am committed to stay the course.
For future reference, there are a few roadblocks to this plan.
1. Guys don’t seem to know I exist (with the exception of the boys I tutor on the baseball team—and call me picky, but I was hoping for someone who could spell “prom”).
2. My parents believe only in the concept of courting (naturally, because they’re married), so dating is out of the question until I’m of marrying age. Prom hardly counts, though, right? God says the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains, and I have to believe it’s true. Maybe my dad will stand next to the mountain and budge just a tiny bit.
3. I do not plan on “putting out” until my wedding night. Nor do I see someone buying me a meal and renting a tux/limo as cause for losing my purity. You want it? It will cost two karats and a platinum wedding. I do have God’s standards. Duh. As Beyonce' says, if you like it, put a ring on it. And it BETTER have a diamond, know what I’m sayin’? And you’d better not be dressed like a duck!
Mom’s calling. More later!
Excerpted from PERFECTLY DATELESS: A Universally Misunderstood Novel © Copyright 2011 by Kristin Billerbeck. Reprinted with permission by Revell Books
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