A Fork in The Road
My junior year in high school I was invited to the senior prom by my crush, Clay Thornton. It was exciting to be included with his senior friends and to dance the night away, pretending to be way more worldly than I was. Before we left my house, Daddy announced, “Be home by 11:30, Nan. Nothing good happens after midnight!” Even though I was about to be seventeen, my curfew never changed, no matter what.
Clay was tall, handsome, polite, smart, and played on the football team. I had also been wearing his letter jacket for quite some time, proving to the world our mutual admiration. We dated on and off my whole junior year and until he went away to college.
I started my senior year fresh, unattached, and looking forward to graduation. In the ‘70’s, at Tascosa High School, in Amarillo, Texas, you were assigned to a home room alphabetically. I had been with the same “C” students for three years. Once we got alphabetized in the tenth grade, that was it, until we graduated. Mr. Thompson was our homeroom teacher and also taught government and economics. He had been in the Naval Reserve with my dad, which was awkward, and he chewed on cigars that he carried in his front shirt pocket. He was gruff, crusty, and personally I don’t think he gave a hoot about what we did as long as we were quiet.
There was one student in our homeroom who was not in our usual classes, Tim C. He was super tall, exceptionally thin and had an odd way about him. We knew he went to special classes, but no one was out right rude, just dismissive. Tim was quiet around our rowdy “C” students, so sometimes I went out of my way to say hello to him or smile when passing in the hall, to which he would raise his hand in a half wave and speed off. I tried to be kind, while also tolerating a few snickers at Tim’s expense. Wanting to do what’s right and wanting to be popular is a hellish place to be.
I had plenty of dates my senior year, almost every weekend. When I wasn’t working at Montgomery Wards in the stereo and record department, I enjoyed going to parties, attending games and definitely looked forward to my senior prom, graduation and going off to Baylor University in the fall. My grades were more average than Daddy would have liked, but I thought of myself as ‘well-rounded’ and didn’t worry too much about it.
I was home one evening in February, when my dad came to my room. “There’s a boy named Tim on the phone who wants to talk to you.”
I couldn’t think of anyone I knew named Tim until I picked up the receiver.
“H-hii N-n-ncy, this is Ti-im Coley from h-h-home room.”
“Hi Tim,” I said calmly, feeling awkward.
“H-how are y-y-you?” he asked.
“I’m fine.” I could feel my eyes widening and my heart started to pound. I kept thinking ‘ohmygosh,ohmygosh,ohmygosh.’
“W-w-well, I have s-s-something to ask you. It’s very i-i-i-important.”
“Yes?” My mind racing, I thought oh no, he’s going to ask me on a date.
And plain as day he said, “Will you please go to Prom with me? M-m-y mother w-w-will take us and bring us h-h-home.”
Sitting on the floor of my living room, right beside the bookcase clutching the phone so tightly I thought I might faint, my mind went blank. I was unprepared and nervous and suddenly I burst through the silence with, “Uh, Tim, it’s awfully early to be asking, isn’t it?”
“I-I kkknnnow, I’ve been wanting t-t-to ask since last y-y-year. But my mother said I had to wait.”
“Thank you, Tim. I need some time to ask my dad. Can I let you know soon?”
“OK. S-s-s-ee you tomorrow.”
And with that, we hung up.
It was all my foolish mind could think to say as I stalled, not wanting to hurt his feelings. Instead of just saying no, I prolonged my torture by being dishonest. I thought if I could just wait a few more weeks, someone else would ask me and I would be off the hook. All I knew was I could not go to the prom with Tim C. What would my friends say?
Almost three weeks went by and my agony was palatable. Every day at school was a game where I tried to hide so I wouldn’t run into Tim. I finally, in my angst, wrote Tim C. a note.
Thank you for inviting me to prom, but I forgot someone had already.
asked me a long time ago, so I have to go with them.
Thank you, Nancy
The next day after the bell rang, I dropped the folded note onto his desk as I hurriedly left homeroom. In my blinded teenage fog, I thought I had done a good thing and was happy the ordeal was finally over. One side of me was happy and felt free but the other side of me kept saying, “I think you hurt his feelings.”
You cannot possibly say anything to me I haven’t said to myself in the last fifty years since then. Tim C. never spoke to me again. He would look down when I walked by and he avoided eye contact even more than before my sorry excuse. I disappointed him and myself.
February turned into March into April, and there was not one prom invitation extended to me by anyone else. As much as I dated and had friends, the closer it got to prom, the quieter my social life got. Couples paired off making special plans.
In 1971 girls did not go to dances in groups, it just wasn’t done. It was a date’s only situation, and that was a situation I was not in. The night of my senior prom, I was at home.
I was in my room when my dad knocked on the door and came in. “Honey,” he said, “you’re just too pretty. The boys were afraid to ask you and they probably thought you already had a date.” He hugged me, and in that moment, I broke into sobs of hot salty tears. I wanted to tell my daddy what I had done and how I lied to Tim and hurt his feelings. I wanted to confess this awful secret and get it out of me. I was so disappointed in myself and my cruel actions, but I knew my father’s disappointment would be worse to bare. I didn’t deserve his kind words and sympathy. I deserved to be dateless the rest of my life. And worse, I let my shame keep me silent about my actions for many more years to come.
The night of my senior prom I learned a huge lesson about honesty and decency. The laughs and embarrassment I thought I would have gotten for being Tim C.’s date might have instead, been a lesson in love and kindness for all of us. There is always a fork in the road, where we make a choice that brings us up higher or takes us down lower, and the choice I made was not the best.
Perhaps Tim C. doesn’t even remember me now, but if I could, I would tell him how sorry I am for my behavior. And if I could do it all over again, I would choose differently.
I learned something inside all my disappointment, and shame. I learned how I wanted to treat people and that being a kind human being was more important than potential popularity or perceived coolness. I learned honesty really is the best policy, and that morals are private, but decency is public.