THERE WAS NOBODY FOR ME to go to prom with. Remember, Emmett Till was my age. He was hung in the South in 1954; his crime was that he flirted with this white woman. It turned out the whole thing was a sham, that he had been hung totally without reason. So, I understood . . . I didn't understand, but I knew what I had to do. That if I wanted to go to the prom, I had to find somebody from another town.
The most logical place was through my church, which was in Akron. The first girl I asked, who I had a crush on, couldn't go because her family was Baptist enough that they didn't go to dances and do that sort of thing. And it would have been her first date out.
I also had a crush on this older women Clarissa, who was out of high school; she must have been a couple of years older. I asked her for her phone number in church and I called her and told her that I'd really like to take her to my prom and that, because I lived out in the country, that she would stay over.
Clarissa was wonderful. From the minute I asked her, she basically made it all happen, she made it all work. She gave me the illusion that she was thinking it over and that it was a date for us. I mean, clearly it was out of that realm: she was doing a nice thing for a kid.
My parents liked her; she was very acceptable: she came from a nice family and she was an attractive young woman and very together. That she was an older woman was inconsequential, I mean, everybody understood what was happening here: that I wasn't going to get a date with anybody in town. My mother was always practical about those things.
I suspect they were just glad I was going with a girl; they didn't think I would go with a boy, but, you know, in the back of their minds, I think they knew what was going. I'm sure my mother knew. She confronted me when I was fifteen. I went away to camp, but I had some boy magazines--like Adonis and what not--and I had put them under my bed at home. And she had made my bed and changed the room, and there were my Adonises. So when I came home from camp, I can remember coming down the hall, and my mother asking, "Are you looking for something? I know what's going on." I denied it. But when we opened them up and there were these sticky pages, it was like, "Uh . . ."
It's funny, when I asked Clarissa to the prom, I remember thinking that I would have rather taken her brother. And there were several other guys that I liked to be around. But I understood that there was something wrong with that. And that I could get in trouble if I let it go beyond that thought.
Clarissa wore a 1950s thing with lots of crinoline; it was strapless and she had a little jacket. I just sort of remember being the center of attention. It was cool: I had this good-looking young woman on my arm, so I could present; I could be who I was supposed to be. And, of course, she could dance-and you know what they say.
The prom was at a "country club"; in this case, what it meant was it was in the country. One room overlooked a lake and we had dinner there. And of course everybody had been prepped for the dinner, with the idea that you had to eat dainty; you had to eat before you went to the dinner so that you left something on your plate.
Looking back at it, this was our coming out party for boys and girls. And it was like a class where we were supposed to learn how to dress up, and know how to attire yourself in this foreign garb. Every male was going, "I'm not going to wear a tux." Me? Honey, I couldn't wait. If I couldn't get that fucking crinoline gown, I was definitely going to get that tux.