My inspiration to write this piece came from a writing prompt that was going around Twitter. People were asked to describe their worst first date. Here’s my story about that.
I read “Little Black Dress” on Episode 050 of Words of Jen.
I had absolutely no intention of going to my Senior Prom. My reasons for holding this unpopular opinion were valid (at least, to me). I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, and the financial cost of going to prom was way out of my reach.
Most of the Senior boys, who I’d gone to school with since kindergarten, pretty much considered me to be “one of the guys.” I was entirely comfortable with that. It meant they weren’t going to hit on me, not even when I went drinking with them.
They remembered me getting into fights with boys who harassed me in elementary school. There was a day where I beat up the school bully (who they were all afraid of).
That year in high school, I nearly broke a boy’s fingers after he decided to shove his hand up my skirt. He ended up wearing a finger splint. It is the kind of story that high school gossip mongers love to spread around.
The Senior boys were asking girls who were Sophomores to prom. One of them sought my permission for him to ask my younger sister to be his prom date. He was one of very few boys that was genuinely nice, so permission was granted. “Tell her I approve,” I told him.
My sister did not go to prom with this boy.
A close friend of mine, Beth (which is not her real name), felt bad for me because I wasn’t going to prom. She decided to set me up with a friend who did not go to his Senior prom last year – and regretted not going.
Victor (not his real name) was someone I’d met before. The three of us were in a school theater group together. He and I barely knew each other.
Beth told me that Victor had joined the National Guard after he graduated. We weren’t sure if he had been deployed oversees as part of Operation Desert Storm, which started in January of that year. It was the first time that the National Guard had been sent oversees that I knew of.
Already, I felt very unprepared for this date. Victor was in the military – he was an actual adult. And here I was, an emotional wreck who had not yet begun to unpack all the baggage I was carrying due to trauma. There was a good chance I wouldn’t graduate high school – based on my very low attendance rate. I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life.
I didn’t say any of this to Beth, though. Instead, I attempted to slightly change the subject – and maybe talk my way out of this impending date.
“Wait, I thought Victor had gotten engaged to Melody?,” I said. (Melody is not her real name).
“He did… but, they broke up. He’s single now,” Beth said, nodding her head emphatically. She explained that the two of them both joined the National Guard, and then broke up.
“Victor told me he likes you. He just wants to take you to the mall,” Beth explained.
I started breathing a little easier. The mall was always super busy. We would be surrounded by people and have no opportunity to be alone together. It was a place I knew well and felt somewhat comfortable in.
After taking a moment to convince myself I could do this, I agreed to go out with Victor. Doing so would, at the very least, make Beth stop asking me to go out with him.
On the evening of the date, Victor drove to my house to pick me up. I remember flying out the door and jumping into his car as fast as I could move.
“I’m going to the mall,” I yelled over my shoulder at my parents.
My father was racist, and so was my grandmother (who lived with us). They absolutely hated when I dated boys who weren’t white. Victor was Asian, maybe Vietnamese, I wasn’t sure. My goal was to avoid subjecting Victor to my mean-spirited family members.
We made small talk as he drove to the mall. The weather was nice, and the parking lot was packed. I started to relax. Maybe this date would be fun after all.
Victor and I walked around the mall, stopping in music stores to browse cassettes and CDs. There was a pet store in one wing of the mall, and a toy store somewhere else.
Eventually, we went to the food court. It wasn’t overly crowded, and there were some empty tables to sit at. I remember that Victor insisted on paying for the food, but can’t recall what food he selected, because I didn’t eat.
The reason was simple. I had been diagnosed with multiple food allergies, but not given clear enough information about what was safe for me to eat. The best way to avoid getting sick was to not eat anything. Victor bought me a Pepsi, the beverage I got the majority of my sustenance from back then.
We talked some more while he ate and I picked at a few fries. Beth was right, Victor was nice. He was also funny. I could see us being friends, but wasn’t feeling like this date was going to turn into a boyfriend-girlfriend kind of thing.
After eating, we wandered around the mall some more.
“Let’s go in here,” Victor said. He pointed at a clothing store that was more expensive than I could afford. I hesitated, and gave him a questionable look. He smiled at me, and I figured that this big store was just another place to walk around in.
Eventually, we ended up in the women’s section, where Victor pointed at a dress. “What do you think of this one?” he asked. I took a look at the price tag and winced. “It is too expensive.”
This went on for a while as he kept suggesting other dresses. They were fancy dresses that one might wear to prom. Dresses that he asked me to try on, just to see if they fit.
Strapless dresses that was I not wearing the right kind of bra for. Spaghetti strap dresses that were long, and made for women much taller than I was. I was getting more and more uncomfortable.
Eventually, Victor suggested a little black dress. It had short sleeves, and a round edged collar that fit sort of like a t-shirt would. He held the dress up to me, and I could see that the skirt would go down almost to my knees. The entire dress was covered in a delicate black lace.
“I don’t have the money for this,” I explained.
“That’s ok. Just try it on and see if it fits. It doesn’t cost anything to try it on,” he responded.
Seeing no other option, I took the dress into the changing room and tried it on. At the very least, doing so would stop the dress suggestions routine that I desperately wanted to end.
The little black dress fit like it was made for me. I wasn’t sure what to do next, and hesitated before coming out of the changing room in the dress. Something felt very weird and wrong.
Victor smiled when he saw me. He walked over and put his hands on my shoulders. “You look beautiful,” he said. I had very low self-esteem, and wasn’t at all used to receiving compliments. Anxiety surged through me.
“…Thanks…” I said. Did I look as terrified as I felt? We stood there a moment, staring at each other. My heart was pounding, and I didn’t know what to do.
“I want to buy you this dress,” Victor said. I took a look at the price tag, and shook my head. “Really, I want to,” he insisted. “You look so pretty in it.”
It was then that I realized that the little black dress wasn’t the only thing that Victor wanted to buy tonight.
Back to the changing room I went. Getting back into my regular clothes provided some comfort. I took some time to slow my breathing, to calm down, and to put a smile back on my face.
Victor seemed nice – but I barely knew him. Some guys get mean when they feel rejected. There weren’t any other people in this store at the moment.
Carrying the dress, I exited the changing room. Victor took the dress from me. “Just think about letting me buy it for you,” he said. I nodded. The dress went back on a rack, and we exited the store.
I started trying to walk us back to more populated areas of the mall, as we made small talk. He was still very polite, and I started to feel less afraid.
“VICTOR!!” a woman yelled across the mall. We stopped, and I turned around to see a woman rushing towards us. It was Melody, the woman Victor was reportedly not engaged to anymore.
Melody glared at him, then at me, and then started yelling at Victor. Her friend, a girl I didn’t recognize, caught up and also started yelling. They all got very loud, and yelled over each other, and I did not need this.
I slipped away and found a bench out of range of whatever was going to happen with them. No one noticed. Victor was my ride home, so I was stuck here until the screaming stopped.
It ended when Melody’s friend started dragging her away, as Melody walked backwards and continued yelling insults at Victor. He stood there, looking drained and sad. I felt bad for him.
The mall was starting to clear out, as it was near closing time. Victor looked around and eventually saw me on the bench. He came over to me, sat down, and was quiet.
“We should go,” Victor said. I agreed. He didn’t explain what the very loud argument was about, and I didn’t want to ask. Clearly, whatever was happening between him and Melody wasn’t quite over yet.
Victor found some nice music to listen to as he drove me home. We didn’t talk. What was there to say? It dawned on me that Victor never so much as mentioned prom before suggesting dresses. Tonight was exhausting, and confusing.
He stopped the car in front of my house. When I turned to say goodbye, Victor leaned over and kissed me. I froze. The kiss was so unexpected that I simply didn’t know how to react to it.
To his credit, Victor realized I wasn’t responding to his kiss. He moved away from me. “I guess you’re not that experienced….” he quietly said.
“….Yeah…” I said, very softly.
This was a lie. I frequently made out with the boys I was dating in the hallways at high school. Things never went beyond that, but I was far from being inexperienced at kissing. It seemed kinder to lie, though.
We sort of said goodbye, and I think he mentioned seeing me again, but I was super unfocused by then. I got out of the car, and the worst first date I’d ever been on finally came to an end.
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