They said it was a night you’d remember the rest of your life. I never bought it. It was just prom. Dancing on same linoleum floor that we all sweat on, where the basketball team dripped beet-red nosebleeds. One of the most important memories you’ll ever make, that’s what they said. But I wouldn’t know, because I didn’t go. I’m 28 now, and I’ve had plenty of time to dance and sloppily kiss. It wasn’t because I couldn’t get a date. I totally had one. Ok, no I didn’t. Only because I didn’t want one. And I admit, for a few days I was kind of upset. It was tough to hear everyone talk about their plans and romance. A 17 year old only hear “you will remember your prom night forever,” so many times before you begin to believe it. I got it from Mr. Flandat, my biology teacher. My pastor when I told him my plans for the weekend was not going to Kempville High at 8PM on a Friday, mere hours after I’d done everything I could to leave as quickly as possible. Who would wantto go back to school after you’ve already left? Also, the nurse when I got stung by a hornet on the Tuesday before prom. She wanted to call my parents after I told her. Can’t forget my grandmother, when I spoke to her on the phone. “I still fantasize about how your grandfather ravished me that night. It was the most important night of my life. I’ll never forget it.” she’d said, before getting my identify confused again.
So yeah, I might have been inconsolably filled with angst. That Friday, I’d had it. My best friend Paul came to school with flowers, ditched me for his date at lunch, and skipped gym to get a tan. I had no one to walk with. The final straw was when the Principal came over the loudspeaker in 6th period, 15 minutes before I got to go home. I was so antsy. Sweating for some reason, pulling the hairs out of my armpit. I was a weird kid. His tinny voice crackled over the P.A. system. All 22 normally rambunctious, loud, bratty kids fell silent. I peered outside, the clouds opened up. A hummingbird sat still on a ledge.
“Greetings,” he began. There were mumbled responses from a few, “As you’re aware, tonight is prom. Prom. That’s a funny word. Now, it might seem as distant as Asia, or the Declaration of Independence.” That was where he lost me, however, I was clearly in the minority. Brad Coulson, the starting junior varsity linebacker, was nodding, rocking in his seat. He was slowly tugging at his earlobes, biting his bottom lip. I wanted to comfort him, some strange form of induced K-12 Stockholm Syndrome.
“Tonight, you will enter into a new era. You will share in one of the most memorable experiences of your lives. Boys, you become men, and girls, you flourish into women. Hearts will sing. The earth will shake. There is a profound hope one finds in events like these. A kinship you can all share, from whatever corner of the world you move onto, until you perish. Prom will exist in your memories until the waves of death crash upon your body and ravage your cells, it will be there when you confront your mortality and feel lost amongst the unfathomable infinite blackness of the universe. You will still have this night.” Heather Tannerson began to sob, and her friends came to console her at her desk. “I truly love you all, I hope you all find yourselves in each other tonight.” He dropped the microphone, the speaker screeched and buzzed off. Standing ovation. While everyone clapped and hugged, I left 15 minutes before last bell.
When I broke the news that my mom that her only child was not going to be primped-up in her living room with a date, I thought she had a stroke.
“Micah, please, please, can’t you just call an ugly girl? Who’s that one down the block? Maureen? Can’t you go with her? Let me call her. Micah. This night. Your life.” She gestured wildly with her hands as if she were being swarmed by gnats. I remember right then, my mother drooled on her blouse. She didn’t even notice. “This is such an important part of your life, Micah. You’re going to miss out on such, on. On. On. On everything, on life!”
She sobbed and I told her that even Maureen had a date. My mother retreated upstairs with a bottle of wine, shortly followed by my father, who silently glared at me as he stomped up the steps. The night passed rather uneventfully. I sat in my room and felt like I knew better. I knew better than to be suckered into it all, but it still blew. I could see all my classmates in that gym, drinking punch, grasping shoulders and hips, grinding boners into expensive dresses. So I did what I usually did.
I read comic books, jerked-off, and passed out shortly afterwards. That was it. My night was over at 11pm. It took a while, but I forgot about it, just like any other day. My mom got to see my little sister get all dressed-up a few years later. I was away at school by then. All was well. The world had moved on, just like I knew it would all along.
Then, last week, it happened.
I was going in for my last round of interviews at my dream job. A cushy, fairly lazy job in PR and marketing where I could write 15% of the day and think the other 85%. To have that expensive, reclining, swiveling desk-chair taking the pressure off my spine? Perfect. I could see the digits in my bank account multiplying. The head of HR, Sheila, was interviewing me in her office, the 56th floor, a view of the skyline and the river. The sun sprayed every corner of the room.
“So, Micah, tell me about yourself.”
I rehearsed this so many times. I knew exactly what to say. Some people ramble on about their achievements, their goals, their dreams, or go off on tangents. I had this. I grinned. “Well, honestly, I’m just settling into my life and I really see myself dedicating a lot of effort into a career.” That’s the key, you say “career” not “job.” “If you’re going to ask me about my strengths and weaknesses, it’s opening lids and bullets.”
Sheila blushed and laughed. Nailed it.
“But honestly, I would say my greatest strength is my perseverance. I do not give up easily, and that translate into my projects.”
Sheila stopped me, “So what about your greatest weakness?”
I was going to go with my script and tell her I sometimes take on too many tasks, but I’m working on becoming more focused. For some reason, though, I got out of my head for a second. I just lost it. “I don’t know, probably that I didn’t go to prom.” I threw up my hands, slapped them on my khakis.
Sheila was massaging the little metal clip of her pen while I had been talking. But now, I saw her stop. She slowly set it down on her desk, rolled forward in her chair, and took off her glasses.
“Excuse me?” Sheila tilted her head. “I thought I heard you say you didn’t go to prom.”
Every capillary in my face was rushed with blood. “No, I didn’t. I just didn’t really get the hype and—”
She cut me off. “Well, honestly, Micah, we thought you were a great candidate. But now I think you might not have your priorities in order.”
I was floored. My back went stiff. I felt like I was having diarrhea twinges in the middle of a crowd. “What do you mean? I went to Cornell for Marketing. I interned in three different agencies. My portfolio is—”
“You don’t have the experience of prom-night. It suggests a fundamental lack of character.”
Sheila turned a picture frame around on her desk. It was a group of high-schoolers standing in a gazebo. In the center was very obviously a young Sheila, in a long, ruffled dress. “Does seeing people this happy make you upset, Micah?”
I didn’t know what to say. It could have been the rush of the moment, or it could have been her bullshit actually working on me, but seeing that photo threw me back to when I was alone in my room. The breeze of my open window catching the curtain when I’d sigh. The issue of Justice League resting over my unzipped jeans. I was lonely. “It’s not relevant. I’m applying for a job. This isn’t high school.”
Sheila laughed. She called someone on her desk-phone. “Angie, please come in here.”
A few seconds later, her secretary was in the office with us. She was slim, in a high-waisted skirt. There was a ring on her finger. Maybe just graduated college. “Yes?”
“Angie, tell us about your prom night.”
“Oh, god. The most amazing night of my life. You know, you know, I had never felt anything, not a connection like that, with people, never before. It was magical. I learned so much about myself and life that night. That was the night I realized my own potential. I realized then what it was to be human.” Her secretary was fanning herself with a folder, getting visibly upset. “I’m so glad I shared that night with so many people.”
I thought that I could talk some sense into them, for whatever reason. “What about your ring? Are you married? Wasn’t your wedding more of an experience? How about meeting your husband?”
Angie took off the ring and threw it at me. It hit right on my temple. “Blasphemy! Prom was where I felt alive. Young. Beaming. Full of hope. My wedding was an expensive gesture for my husband to take me and fuck me on a less consistent basis. I met him at the cafeteria in college.” She began to sob through her anger, “I should have married Nathan. We slow-danced.”
Sheila nodded to her secretary, ”You can leave now.”
She silently stepped through the door. She didn’t ask for her ring back.
“See?” Sheila asked.
“No,” I said, “I do not see. That was complete shit. Are you in a cult?”
“Why don’t you understand? What don’t you understand?”
“Everything. I don’t get how not attending my prom makes me less of a person.”
Her eyes began glazing over as she fell into a haze of memories. Sheila leaned back in her chair. “I’m married, Micah. I’m married and I’ve lost almost all elasticity in my vagina due to giving birth to four children in five years. My nipples are all puckered and gnawed. They’ve bled for days. My honeymoon was in Paris, where I got food poisoning at a small cafe. In college, I shook the President of the United States’ hand and he told me I’d had the firmest handshake he’d ever felt. I designed the campaign the brought Wendy’s back from the bottom of the fast-food chain. But do you know what the greatest moment in my life was? It was prom. When I stood on a darkened linoleum floor with my friends and danced to remixes of the Village People. Everyone around us was there to ensure we had a good time. We were safe, but wild. Our spirits soared like eagles. I touched a dick for the first time that night. It was symbolic. I touched God.”
Terror did not drive me from my seat. As with all madness, the root of truth stuck out. Maybe there was something. Something everyone else around me knew about but refused to tell me about. “Why?” I cried, “Tell me why!”
Sheila lit a cigarette, walked over to the window and peered down. “Tell me about your night. The night you did not attend prom.”
I felt my grip wind around the chair. “I sat in my room. I read comics. I jerked off to the thought of Jubilee blowing me.”
Sheila laughed. “Didn’t think about what you were missing out on at all, did you?”
“Of course I did, but whether or not I went to prom doesn’t define who I am.”
She closed the blinds and began to walk to the door, which she locked with a flick of her wrist. She sat down at her desk after flipping the lights all off.
“You never answered me.” I stood up, placed my hands on her desk. She seemed to be browsing the internet. “What exactly do I lack because I didn’t go to fucking prom?”
I should’ve stormed out. I should’ve just gone back to my studio apartment, had a sippy-cup of gin, and listened to George Michaels. But I stayed. I stayed because I wanted to know what was wrong with me, even though I knew there was nothing wrong with me.
Sheila turned her monitor towards me and pushed the keyboard with it. “When you want to understand, press the spacebar.” A video was queued on the screen. My thumb hovered over the button.
I gave in.
“The Circle of Life” began to play over a slideshow of Sheila’s prom experience. A loud man screaming things in an African dialect. Sheila dressed in her living room. Sheila with her arm on her hip. Sheila with her date standing awkwardly beside her. Sheila with her mom. Sheila with her dad.
“This is it, Micah. This is the love. The circle comes round, to begin again. Prom bestows kings and queens in us all. Do you see?”
Sheila in the limo. Sheila outside the limo. Sheila walking into the school. Sheila posing in a poorly-lit photo-op with her date. They had the same theme as my prom, “Endless Hearts,” scattered throughout the gym there were construction-paper hearts inside of hearts reflecting into mirrors reflecting mirror, making endless hearts. They also had the same bright orange bleachers. And mascot, a canary. It took me long enough to figure it out. “You went to Kempville High?”
She nodded, then drew a circle in the air with her fingertips, meeting at the top. She mouthed the words, “the circle of life.”
A brief look of anger crossed my face, but subsided gently into laughter. It was such viscous, authentic, fetid bullshit. The whole thing. “Did you make this video?” I tried to stifle my laughter with my hand.
“Yes.” Tribal drums bolstered her, “yes, I did.”
The soft pan-flute was my cue. There was no question anymore, I had missed out. I didn’t have a fancy slideshow, or the job. But it didn’t matter. You don’t dictate the truly important moments in your life, you don’t all of a sudden become validated as a person because you have pictures of an event. I had walked out of Sheila’s office without saying another word. On the elevator ride down, I called my girlfriend at home.
“Marisa, I didn’t get the job.”
“Aw, babe. I’m sorry.”
“It was because I didn’t go to prom.”
I watched the numbers on the display, inching towards one. I thought, for a moment between 21 and 20, that she might react like Sheila had— I’d never told her. It never mattered. “I didn’t go to prom.”
“You didn’t go to prom?”
“Are you serious, Micah?”
I considered back-pedaling. For a moment, I wondered how long a night could last. Maybe Sheila and the rest of them had it right. “Yeah, I am.”
“No, I went mini-golfing with my parents.”
“I stayed home and jerked off thinking about Jubilee from the X-Men.”
“I’m going to jump your bones when you get home.”
And she did. I put on “Circle of Life,” while we fucked. It was just a Monday night. There were re-runs on the TV to drown the moaning. I fell asleep before 11 and she was in the shower when I woke up. A month later, I was told I was going to have a son.
One Word - Antithesis
You can always tell the guy who’s going to snap under pressure. They’re just a little bit… “off,” you know? We had one of those, Private Greer. He’s the kind of guy who makes a deployment into a special kind of hell. Lean, wiry, and compact, he had a knack for getting into place he wasn’t supposed, taking things that weren’t his, and breaking anything that got in his way. He constantly tumbled up and down the spectrum of private ranks, from E-1 to E-3 and back again depending on how his madness ebbed and flowed.
In garrison, it was annoying. A bar fight here, a hot UA there, but we were scheduled to hit the ‘Stan in a few months, and some things get lost in the rush. So the CO hit him with NJP, put him on restriction until we got in country.
For the first few months in that shithole COP in the ugliest valley you’ll ever see, Greer was alright. Give him something to shoot at, and he’s happy, or whatever passes for happy in his mind. But the winter set in, and the Taliban popped smoke and crawled back into Pakistan, and the target rich environment dissipated. But no one told Greer that, and that was when the nightmare really began.
We kept running patrols, in the winter, in the snow. We constantly wiped down our rifles to keep the water from setting into them. We slogged through mud and shit and frost, and for once in our lives, we were glad that the body armor trapped our body heat in. Warmth was a luxury. Even though there wasn’t really anyone to fight, we kept walking, because it showed that we were here, and the Taliban wasn’t. It showed that we cared about keeping the people safe, and the Taliban didn’t.
We didn’t either, to be honest. The villagers were a pain in our ass. They saw us as a potential cash cow, from their standards. The elders were always at the COP, complaining and begging and blaming. They wanted us to pay them for everything bad that happened in the world. A farmer’s crop was failing because his son ran off to join the Taliban, they wanted us to pay $5,000. They demanded this because they knew we’d pay, and because they knew the Taliban wouldn’t. Someone’s goat wandered into a minefield that the Soviets left behind in the 80s? They want us to pay them $1,000. We won the cold war, and as a last insult, the damn commies stuck us with the bill. What a fucking joke. It was all about winning hearts and minds, the PAO told us, but we were sick of it, and every one of us fantasized about taking something back from that fucker to repay him for his avarice and our weakness. No one acts on it, because that’s what our mission is, but everyone thinks about it.
So we’re humping through the village, again. We’re searching homes, again. We’re finding nothing, again. The Taliban won’t be back for another two months, and everybody knows it. But we’ve got to go through the motions.
I heard two gunshots, the Army “Controlled Pair” that they had trained us to use. Everything goes into lockdown. The civilians in the house are thrown to the ground and held under guard at gunpoint as the rest of us formed up and charged into the basement where Greer had been searching.
Greer stood over the body of a teenage girl, her dress was torn, and blood welled up from two holes in her chest and it pooled on the floor, slowly spreading as gravity sucked in from her cooling body. It welled up where it came into contact with Greer’s boots, crimson wicking into the crevasses in the soles of the boots. A necklace was gripped in his gloved hand. It looked old. Probably looted from the corpse of some unfortunate soldier in another unfortunate war, a memento of their love left behind. Maybe it came from a Russian, it might have even come from a Brit during their last go round for Queen and Country.
Whomever it came from, Greer had just killed the Elder’s daughter to get it. It was probably the most valuable thing in the whole household. Greer walked past us, back up the stairs, leaving blood stained boot prints in his wake. It was the end for Greer, he was going to get shipped home in chains and live out his days in the Army Prison at Ft. Leavenworth, but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. I watched the blood stain grow, and the only thing I could think about was how much we’d have to pay the fucking elder over this shit; hearts and minds… hearts and minds.
The Radio Tower
‘What is it?’ All thought it, so nobody spoke. It was unnecessary.
All eyes turned to the chief. His head did not move, eyes did not waver, focusing on the object. All was silent, all was still. Then at last his eyes shifted, raised slightly towards the heavens. It was barely perceptible. His head did not move. Just his eyes. Finally he closed them.
‘They call it a Radio Tower. It allows them to talk to the skies,’ he said at last.
Silence returned. The elders said nothing. But then – a voice. A young voice. A girl.
‘Why do they want to talk to the skies when they will not even talk to us?’
All thought it, so nobody spoke. It was unnecessary.
Sex on Fire
Medea. A woman of big ideas. When it comes to execution. Well. What else is Jason good for? Her latest. A honey trap.
King Kreon and his palace full of gold. Most of it on his daughter, Glauce. Young girl kept sheltered all her life easily falls for the famous Argonaut. Half Jason’s age, of course. For a man that’s being in your prime. For a maiden. Well. The important thing is being a maiden. When King Kreon catches them, wedding plans are made. Have to be. No secrets in the Ancient World. Nobody will have her now.
So far so good. Everything going to plan. King Kreon heaping gifts on Jason. Good to have a hero in the family. Not so good to have a pauper. Medea. Every day, taking a bit, hidden in urns. Down to the cave by the sea.
Jason doing his bit with Glauce. Lingering. Lingering longer than planned.
Medea lets loose. Sex on fire? That cocksucking teenage bitch? I’ll show you fire. She takes him to the sea cave. Spreads a bed of gold.
Gold makes Jason weak. Greedy.
Remember, Jason. Remember the plan.
Medea opens her legs. Time to do your part.
He shoves his fingers up her golden fleece. Enters her dripping sea cave.
The boat is ready, Jason. Are you?
Yes. Medea. Oh yes.
The execution is hard and fast. King Kreon is running. Trying to save his burning daughter. He catches Jason leaving. Who did this? Your woman?
Yes, says Jason, rending his clothes to look like mourning. Medea did. All of it. Just like before. Her own brother. Hacked apart. Thrown piece by piece into the sea.
King Kreon is broken.
I will find her, says Jason. Make her pay.
You go, Jason. You’re a good man.
Jason follows the gold heavy chariot tracks out of the palace, down to the sea cave.
Medea is waiting, ready to weigh anchor. Her eyes dart past him. Where are the children?
Left with the Nurse.
Medea bites her lip. Are they safe?
Jason recollects. A bloody mess. They weren’t part of the plan. What she don’t know won’t hurt her. You’ll see them soon. But now. We have to go.
Medea falters. You know. I don’t want people to think. After that thing with my brother. You know. That misunderstanding.
Jason laughs. Won’t happen, babe. Look at you. Who could think you were evil?