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My odd, unexpected history with proms

A couple of weeks ago, I performed onstage in New York for The Story Collider, an organization that seeks to help scientists share stories about their work, at its annual fundraiser, The Proton Prom.

This week, that story is airing on their podcast alongside another storyteller who performed that night.

They are marketing the podcast as the “Prom King and Queen” episode.

I have quite a history with proms.

When I was in high school, I attended many proms:

My junior and senior proms and those of my girlfriend, Laura, who was a year younger than me.

That made four.

Laura and I also attended the Nipmuc Regional prom with friends from that school. Each friend pretended to take Laura and me as their dates so we could spend the night together, dancing and having fun.

That made five.

I also attended the Nipmuc Regional prom the following year while dating another girl named Lisa after Laura and I broke up.

That made six proms.

I also attended the Hopedale High prom with a girl named Sherry, whom I worked with at McDonald’s. Sadly, Sherry was chronically shy – she invited me to the prom via a slip of paper – and knew almost no one there. In fact, I had more friends from Hopedale High than she did, so about an hour into the prom, with Sheery looking deeply uncomfortable, I asked if she wanted to leave, and she quickly said yes.

I took Sherry to a movie in my tuxedo and her gown, followed by burgers and ice cream at Dairy Queen.

We had a great time. Thanks to our formal wear, we were a bit of a spectacle, but somehow, our clothing, combined with our anonymity, allowed Sherry to relax and enjoy the night.

Sadly, Sherry thought this night was the beginning of a relationship, even though she knew my girlfriend and worked alongside her often. Sherry became angry when I didn’t break up with my girlfriend and eventually handed me a letter at work containing a threat to kill herself if we couldn’t be together. I panicked and asked my manager for help, and soon after, Sherry’s parents arrived at McDonald’s to pick her up, and I never saw Sherry again.

That made seven.

Three years later, I took a girl named Francis to her prom at Brockton High School. I was 21 years old at the time, and though Francis and I were very good friends, she was three years younger than me and not exactly hanging out with me outside of work. But Francis’s mother was nervous about sending her daughter to the prom, so she asked me to escort her.

I also had many friends at that prom, including many teenagers I had worked with in Brockton for years, so we had a great time.

It was my eighth and final prom, I thought.

Ten years later, my school decided that our holiday party would be prom-themed, so my colleagues and I got dressed in as much formal wear as we could muster for a party that very much felt like a prom. I was the DJ for the party, and because I was working professionally at the time as a wedding DJ, I owned a tuxedo and wore it to the party.

Halfway through the night, the king and queen of the prom were announced, and surprisingly, my colleague Debby and I were named king and queen. Plastic crowns were placed atop our heads, and we opened the dance floor by dancing together as my CDs spun in their players without me.

That was my ninth and final prom, I thought.

But then came the Proton Prom last month, which admittedly felt the least prom-like of all the proms I’ve ever attended. I was accompanied by my friend, Kaia, and once again, I knew many people in attendance – storytellers, producers, and longtime friends in New York.

I wore jeans and a tee shirt this time, and since there was no music, I did not dance. Instead, I stood on the stage and told a funny, heartfelt story about Clara. For the second time in what now amounts to ten proms, I was declared the prom king.

I’d like to say that this was my tenth and final prom, but I know better now. Though I can’t imagine another prom in my future, proms and I seem to have an interesting, unexpected, and at least one-time tragic relationship that I will not assume is over just yet.

Possibility abounds. And as a friend recently said, “Nothing about your life is ever normal.”

Not true, of course, but in some instances, at least a little bit true.