I never had a prom date. Nobody was particularly surprised by the fact that nobody asked, least of all me, but it might have been nice.
The first time around, I went with my best friend and her boyfriend. In the Army, he carried the picture for years: The man with two dates. The next year, she made me my dress, a black satin number, and I went with other dateless friends. My mom bought my corsage. I didn't dance once, but I think I might have liked that.
I wasn't an unpopular girl. We'd all known each other in diapers; popularity didn't describe the situation. I just didn't date much. As an early developer, I spent most of my adolescence hiding in tops the size of tents and blushing to tears when men asked me if anyone had ever sucked on my titties. I was scared of my own shadow, much less men.
Sometime between then and now, I grew into my body and into myself. Boyfriends came and went as I realized that I didn't quite care. I didn't need a prom date. A boyfriend. A husband. It would have been nice to meet someone with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. It still would be, but I am fine with my life.
I actually kind of love it.
I've been to all seven continents and some 43 countries. Invited to tea with a Bedouin chief. I've hiked Longs Peak and the Inca Trail and swum with sharks on the Great Barrier Reef. I've seen the sunset on the Back Bay of the Arabian Sea with three of my friends and saw two of them marry years later in an English countryside wedding. I went with the third.
Work's actually fun. I love my job and the people with whom I work, and they respect me. I've gotten raises when salaries were frozen. I've received official letters of thanks from my clients and an international organization with which we all work, awards generally reserved for internal teams, and a silly little plaque (and less silly bonus) for being the employee of the year.
With theater and symphony subscriptions, I spend my free time at the opera, the zoo, on very long walks with my friends. I read, write and take pictures. I love protests. I've taken cooking classes in the south of France and have a Madeleine pan that I use on a regular basis. I once hooked up with a French foreign legionnaire. (The word "sexy" has been the single most commonly used word to describe me.)
At my high school reunion, I struggled to common ground with people I used to know, people who knew me in diapers, people I watched dance at our high school prom. I know little about the PTA and couldn't care less about seed versus sod. Eventually we found words to share, but I'm single. I don't have kids. I don't fit into their world, which I've learned to accept, but it wasn't until I got to Zanzibar that I truly felt like a freak.
After a couple of days in Bwejuu with breakfast on the beach, snorkeling, sunning and napping in hammocks, a friend and I found ourselves sharing dinner with a couple A German doctor and Italian journalist. The women were full of spark and independence, spinning stories all night. After most of a bottle of wine, things got personal.
"Where are your men?" the doctor asked.
"I'm in love with a man halfway around the world," I replied with a smile, but she wasn't listening.
"There's no reason for you to be alone unless you are lesbians. Are you lesbians?"
My friend and I looked at each other in bemusement. We'd never so much exchanged a peck on the cheek; though, we'd shared a bed often on our travels.
"No, we're not."
The women, these strangers, who talked about life, love and travel as if they were free, told us we were nothing without men. Without children. Without someone else to validate us.
"I remember when I took my first African lover," the doctor drolled, but I couldn't take her seriously.
She wanted to shock us. If she would listen, I imagined I might have stories that would make her toes curl, but she didn't care about me. About my stories. She'd decided that she was the in-crowd and my friend and I just didn't fit. She pretended to be so strong, but she only felt tall when she pushed us down. And push she did. (It felt rather awful.)
After a while, I picked up my lantern and made my way back to my bungalow, dancing alone in its flickering light. I didn't need her approval, and I was done waiting for someone to ask.