Bittersweet, but mostly Bitter

All of my friends had dates for Homecoming my senior year, but they encouraged me to go anyway.

My friend Karen was going with Alan, who probably had a huge crush on her. My friend Dawn (who I’d had a huge fight with over my crazy competitiveness about our writing…she was right, and I was so upset at her being right that I refused to admit it) was going with Bill. They were both considered outcasts, and were going just to spite conventional wisdom that outcasts couldn’t go to Homecoming (picture the two outcast friends from Mean Girls). Lauri was going with Todd, who’d recently broken up with his longtime girlfriend (and one of my less close friends these days) Andrea. Mark was going stag, and told me there was no shame in going stag.

So I decided to go anyway. I have a photo of me getting ready in a peach dress next to my mother, who was getting ready to go out to the bar with her girlfriends. She looked fantastic; she’d lost fifty pounds and was working part time at Casual Corner to help pay for all of the new clothes she needed for her new figure.

Everyone was having fun with their partner, but I was watching all of them together, interacting. I wasn’t as sad as you’d expect, except for a few melancholy moments as people paired up for the slow dances. My friends had asked me to come, so they made a point of including me in their groups; I had conversations, I had a place to sit, I talked with the few graduates who had come back with younger dates. But what I remember the most about that evening was seeing an acquaintance named Joe.

It was the first time I’d ever really noticed him. He had been in band with me all along, ever since freshman year, of course. But I’d never had any other classes with him. I never ran into him, never had a conversation with him. But he was dating a girl named Amy, who was neighbors with my friend Karen.

Joe was handsome, with dark hair and a lean and lanky figure. A strong nose and angular face, he lit up when he smiled and looked peaceful when in thought. He was kind and engaging, even though it was clear he and his date were having a bit of a rocky evening. Karen confessed to me later that she too found him attractive, and Amy was harder on him than he deserved. She predicted a break up would occur sometime soon, at Amy’s hands. Not Joe’s. He was the type that stuck, she told me.

I left alone that evening, alone still when I got home since my mother had not yet returned from her evening out. Despite my friendly conversations, despite the dancing and the fun I thought I’d had, when I got home, the feeling of being alone was so palpable I could taste it on my tongue. It was bitter, like anticipating the sweet taste of creamy chocolate and finding out you’d just bitten into an unsweetened bar instead.

I longed to spit it out.

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