When I received a Facebook request from a statuesque woman named “Carol Lee,” I knew the face but not the name. Mentally, I scanned my Midwest childhood, former life as a musical theater dancer, and transition into grad school. I have always loved colorful people, and she did look familiar.
“Do you remember me?” Carol Lee wrote in the message that followed.
I didn’t, until I read the next line. “I took you to prom in 1993.”
My curser blinked along with my cognitive dissonance. Carol Lee was a dead ringer for my high school friend Matt because she was Matt!
Some Google stalking revealed that Matt/Carol Lee was Orlando’s favorite drag performer in 2010, a bodacious blond who called Bingo at a place called Hamburger Mary’s.
I wasn’t amused.
Matt’s/Carol Lee’s dramatic reappearance dragged me back to my parent’s foyer in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I descended the staircase “Hello Dolly” style.
“You’re so skinny you could just blow away,” Matt said when I finally joined him.
I was hoping for a different response. Something more … romantic?
He presented a wrist corsage that matched the pink roses and baby’s breath on his lapel. Accented with tulle, the corsage reminded me of a Chihuahua’s head. Matt liked my long black dress, really liked it. He seemed more interested in my dress than he was in me.
“It’s amazing,” he sighed, as if I were “Pygmalion” come to life.
Moments after he backed out of the driveway, he paused at the stop light in front of my house.
“I have something to say about tonight,” he said.“If 10 percent of the population is homosexual, and I fit into that 10 percent, what would you say?”
“Are you saying you’re gay?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“That’s fine with me,” I lied.
Inside, I was deflated.
Matt, on the other hand, was relieved. I was one of the first people he told. He thought I understood. I did, but he confirmed there would be no fumbling in the backseat, no lost virginity over filched light beer. Silence followed. We passed more intersections on the way to his house for photo ops.
I was humiliated. I had prepared a monologue called “Waiting for Marriage,” and I expected to have to deliver it because I looked hot. I was wearing a padded black lace push-up bra, for crying out loud!
At the Italian restaurant, I could barely look at Matt, who was understandably shy around my friends. I confessed to gal pals, who didn’t know how to respond. At the dance, I ditched Matt for the bathroom. I closed myself into a stall, emerging only for photographs and any song by Nirvana or REM.
Inside the ladies room, I felt nauseous. Outside wasn’t much better, a cacophony of colognes and perfumes, where peers slow-danced as couples or “as friends.” Public appearances had always challenged me, but what to do when a date comes out of the closet?
I was devastated.
If he cared, he could have stayed in denial for 24 more hours. To humor me on my big night, he could have feigned straightness. He could have stayed in what Tina Fey calls “the half-closet,” a safe haven where girls emotionally dump on “boyfriends” who hide their orientation. I needed him to be heterosexual, for one major rite of passage. If we could get through this one night, I could show respectable pictures to my future children.
Emerging from the bathroom, I discovered Matt in a deep in a lip lock with another girl. I don’t remember her name, only that she played saxophone (like him) and was blond (fake) and small (squatty and round).
Helpless, I wanted to yell, “He likes boys, you little tramp!” Later, he admitted to being confused about his orientation, but I didn’t care. I never forgave him.
I considered prom a scratch in a record, one that ought to have played sweetly. Had the night been different, I might be a happily married ex-Broadway performer-turned-author. Instead, I collected temp jobs and three-month relationships. It wasn’t until my 30s, when I went to therapy, that I realized my personal spin cycle: inconsistent work and boys who acted out my scenes of failure, the first of which happened on prom night. When I got Matt/Carol Lee’s friend request, I knew I owed it to him (and to myself) to ask for his side of the story. He responded:
“Think of Matthew as deceased. You know, you were one of the few people who was kind to me, and I appreciate you, and cherish my few memories of our time together. I smile when I think of you, and I smile now knowing that you have become the classy, successful woman I always knew you would be.”
I gladly accepted Carol Lee’s friend request and let my senior prom rest in peace.