Prom Night



It was prom night and my mother had spent all she had left from her paycheck on that long periwinkle blue dress I’d been coveting for months. She curled my hair into long ringlets and applied my make-up herself, matching the eye shadow to the color of my dress. She dabbed a drop of Chantilly behind each of my ears and loaned me her good pearls.  She stepped back and smiled. “You look stunning,” she said.

She took photographs of me and my date on the front porch of our duplex and helped me fold the bottom of my dress into his truck so the door wouldn’t close on it.  She blew me a kiss as we drove away.

Seven hours later my date carried me to my mother’s front door and rang the bell. I was too drunk to stand. The world spun. Half a fifth of Jack Daniels didn’t mix well with Dr. Pepper and a virgin drinker.

“Why in the hell did you let her get this drunk?” My mother questioned my date, but didn’t wait for an answer. She directed him to carry me upstairs and deposit me on my bed. She then escorted him from the house.

My mother was the one person I could count on to be there for me, no matter what. Whenever I was sick, she was the one with me on the bathroom floor, holding me, pressing a cool washcloth to my forehead, whispering that everything would be alright.  She made homemade chicken soup when I had a cold and bandaged my scraped knees. She stayed up late helping me staple and paste construction paper models of the universe for a school project, and sat on the kitchen stool reading off the recipe for enchiladas I planned to take to Spanish class. She woke me in the mornings for school and made sure I ate a hearty breakfast. She patted my back and held the tissue box when a boyfriend dumped me.

After my date slipped from the room, I lay on my bed dreading my mother’s wrath. She knew how to make me quiver with a look. She knew how to make me cry just by expressing her disappointment. She knew the most painful punishments. I was in trouble and dreaded the consequences.  I fell asleep with my head full of spinning fuzz, but I was sober enough to know I needed to atone for my sins.

The first wave of nausea woke me. The room spun. I swallowed convulsively. I was going to throw up. I still had on my long formal dress and it tangled around my legs as I tried to weave my way to the bathroom. I pulled the dress above my knees and attempted to run, but the spin of the room and my navigation skills didn’t match. I bounced around in the door frame of my room and lurched across the hallway to the bathroom. I missed the toilet, spraying vomit across the small tiled space. I knelt before the toilet and heaved what remained of my stomach contents into it.  I couldn’t find a washcloth to wet with cool water. I couldn’t find my legs to carry me back to bed. I lay alone on the bathroom floor,  slick with my emesis, and fell back to sleep.

I woke again some time later. The house was dark and I was still alone. The smell of my own sickness overcame me and I lifted my upper body, embraced the commode and vomited the bile that had collected during my sleep.  My hair was stuck to my head, wet and sour smelling. My beautiful dress was slimy and ruined. I couldn’t remember ever being so sick.

I dragged myself up and into the shower, dress and all. I turned on the water and stood under its spray, heaving and crying. Where was my mother when I needed her? How could she sleep when I was so sick? How was I going to make this right? How could something that started out so fun, turn out so horrible? How was I going to live through this disaster? What would my mother do to me?

I left my dress in a heap in the tub, spread one bath towel on the floor so I wouldn’t step into my own vomit, and wrapped the other towel around my wet body. I stumbled back across the hall and fell into bed, my hair a tangled mess, my make up streaked down my face, and I slept.

The next morning, I could see the light through my closed eyelids, but my head hammered so badly I was afraid to open my eyes. The headache made me nauseous all over again. I knew today was the day of reckoning. I would be on the receiving end of my mother’s wrath. I would be grounded until I left for college. I’d never drive again or see my friends. My boyfriend was history. My room would become my jail cell. My television would be disconnected. I’d lose contact with the entire outside world. I wanted to roll into a ball and die.

I opened one eyelid. The room wasn’t spinning anymore. That was a good sign, but the light sent an excruciating bolt of electricity through my skull. I closed my eye again. I listened for sounds of my mother, kitchen rattles, vacuuming, the crack of a bull whip as she honed her aim. I cringed. She wouldn’t actually use a bull whip would she? I didn’t know. I’d never done anything like this before. The only sounds I heard were the birds outside my window and they were screaming.

I continued to lay there. I couldn’t get up. My head pounded. Movement made me sick. The thought of food made me sick. The thought of television, radio or reading made me sick. Then, I heard a faint sound from the first floor,  footsteps ascending the stairs leading to the upper floor, leading to my room. They were my mother’s footsteps, slow and steady, sliding onto the hardwood steps one at a time. I counted them, trying to remember how many would bring her to the landing, then to my door. I hid behind my closed eyes and waited.

When her footsteps stopped and didn’t move past my door, I pictured her there, veins bulging at her neck, her eyebrows knitted, her fists clenched, her mouth a thin line of anger. I imagined her toe tapping against the floor. I knew she was standing there waiting to mete out my punishment.

I opened my eyes to slits and met my mother’s gaze.  She stood leaning against the door jamb, arms crossed, but not looking like the monster I imagined. She didn’t say anything for the longest time. She just stared at me, her daughter, a towel covered, bedraggled, tangle-haired, make-up smeared, head pounding, mess.

When I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer and wanted to whisper to her to take out a gun and shoot me, to put me out of my misery and hers, she raised her hand, pointed a finger at me, smiled,  and said, “Bet you never do that again.”

Then she turned away, walked back down the stairs, and left me to clean up my own mess.


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12 Responses to “Prom Night”

  1. OldMack Says:

    A finely honed story. Almost too vivid to read before breakfast, but an arc like a rainbow.

    • train-whistle Says:

      thanks Mack. One of the many lessons my mother taught me. She’s a great woman. I am blessed.

      • OldMack Says:

        Does your mother read you stuff?

        My own was a voracious reader and hoped some day I’d learn to write. All she had at the time she mentioned this “hope” were my letters from Korea, which she deemed “atrocious ”

        “Didn’t they teach you to write a simple sentence in school?”

        “No, mother. That must have been the line they taught in those grades I skipped. I missed out on basic math too. But hey! I maxed my courses in Calculus.”

        She scowled, screwing her face into a grotesque mask with all of those facial scars from being thrown through a car windshield in a head-on collision. When I finished something, maybe the college honors thesis, I paid her a visit and asked if she’d like to read it.

        “I can’t read now. That stroke messed up my vision and it can’t be corrected. Maybe you could read it to me.”

        I read the introduction. “Stop,” she said, “You’re giving me a killer headache.”

      • train-whistle Says:

        She does read my stuff Mack, and is always impatient to read more and for me to complete the book I’ve been working on. She’s read the first draft and of course, because she’s my mother, thinks it wonderful. I hate editing, so have put off going back to add backstory and flesh out my characters more. You know, all the grunt work that comes with second, third and fourth drafts. I should get it finished though, if not for me, at least for her. 🙂 Thanks again for your support of my writing. It means a lot to me.

      • OldMack Says:

        Putting it off. . .We’ve had a rat, a voracious rat, getting into the cupboards where I store dry cereal, crackers and Meow Mix. Well, that sucker ate through the boxes and bags and plastic liners the following stuff: one box of Rice Crispies (planned for candy); one half bag of cat food; a box of saltines and he ate the labels off the oatmeal box. The kicker that made me go buy a rat trap was when he destroyed a new plastic tub (containing Meow Mix). So I baited the trap with Kraft American and set it near the hole it gnawed in the back wall of the base cupboard. In the middle of the night–frst night–I heard what sounded like Chris falling and bringing a bookcase down on top of her. I reluctantly got out of bed, found Chris asleep on the sofa and everything in order. Aha! The rat trap. Sure enough, there the fat rat was with the bar of the trap across its neck, dead. After disposing of the remains I reset the trap. Nothing for three nights; that fat sucker must have been a loner.

  2. Virginia Phillips-Smith Says:

    Margaret, I hope this didn’t happen to you. I never heard about it if it did. Bless your heart. It might have been a good lesson to learn early. I always had to learn everything the hard way, and this was a hard way for you to learn this lesson.

    • train-whistle Says:

      It really did happen Jen, and just like this. I thought it a good Mother’s day story. My mother did the right thing and taught me a very valuable lesson. I’ve not forgotten it. Thank you for reading and as always for your comments and feedback. I love you too. –md

      • Virginia Phillips-Smith Says:

        You mom did the right thing!
        I’m afraid I couldn’t have done that. I would have tried to comfort you, which would not be good. Please let me know how things are going. I am so very sorry for your loss. You have had to face a lot, but you sure have turned out beautifully. Love always, Jen

  3. Jim Cantwell Says:

    exquisitely written post, I did not want it to end.
    Funny the lessons our parents taught us with just a few words 🙂

  4. allthingsboys Says:

    Great! Love this! Thanks for sharing!

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