Spring Is In the Air: And We’re Reading It Like an Open Book
Our annual literature issue meets springtime lust?
A marriage, we thought, made in hog heaven. We asked readers to submit stories and poems about betrothed or betrayed. A few selections that our family-friendly newspaper could run:
Prom Nerd Revenge by Polly Greist
Modern proms can be brilliant experiences, reflecting evolving attitudes toward sexuality, gender, social roles. Dress down, or up; come stag; bring a unicorn as a date—anything goes for hip Millennials. Gone are Prom King and Queen—the A-Teamers reaping more glory—instead replaced by a people’s court of commoners.
Damn if that doesn’t mess one of life’s cherished beefs, the sour memory of proms past. For many unfortunates, prom night was rarely the promised pinnacle of high school years, but instead another confirmation of outsider status.
Ouch! Didn’t get invited to your prom? Felt out of place even if you did go? Spent the evening instead with your Dungeons and Dragons cohort, bingeing StarTrek, designing your next ComicCon costume?
In the spirit that “It is never too late to have a happy childhood,” prom redemption finally came for me and some nerdy friends. (Once grown and free of the horrors of high school taunts, most nerds I know embrace, even celebrate the title.)
I gathered a hearty group of family and friends on my coveted permit to raft 16 days down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Wilderness at its best, a Grand adventure challenges river and social skills; physically arduous and intense, it demands groups come together as a tribe for success. Here, we are all insiders.
An equal mix of Baby Boomers and Millennials, with a fair showing of nerds, but also real life prom kings, we enjoyed some ‘theme nights’ to spice dynamics; think ComicCon on the river. Early themes—Pirate, Animal Dreams, Toga Party—were hilarious, abetted by copious amounts of alcoholic drinks. But the real hits came toward trip’s end, when all were considerably loosened by so many uncivilized days: Nerd Night … culminating a few nights later by Prom Night.
Many of us joked on Nerd Night that we didn’t need to dress up, since we lived the dream every day as academics. Scheming commenced that night to snag a date for the big night, and we all scored. Millennial Nick carved a prom invitation in the sand before 70 year old Denny’s raft … and by morning, Denny’s YES! was carved in the sand before Nick’s boat.
We all dressed as whim moved, in outfits showing the wear of 14 days stuffed into drybags: Wrinkled shirts, tiaras, sashes, tuxedo jackets, sparkly vests. Denny (“Crystal”) wobbled over the sand in spike heels and a slinky black dress, highlighted by Nick’s corsage of riverweeds. I crowned two prom kings, for outstanding valor and service to the group.
Tiaras askew, we sat in a tight circle under a blood orange evening sky promising rain. Let it rain. Who cares? We are the kings and queens of prom! We toasted ourselves with the dregs of the rose, which several weeks of hot sun had altered into an indefinable but potent alcoholic substance. The evening promised the traditional prom couplings … but hey, we are prepared: We have Plan B in the First Aid kit.
On Paper by Anonymous
Brilliant are the fall leaves in Montana, crisp and clear is the air, but my heart is filled with more than the usual expanse of teenaged angst because my mother has just announced she will be getting married. To the Ugly Stepfather.
My mother is resolved. Nothing my sister or I can say will alter her course. After I refuse to attend the ceremony, the couple departs for a weekend and then it is done.
We never did talk about that little betrayal — easier to mound it in the pile with all the others, the castle of her blind convictions.
Years later, on a summer day, I let my mother know that I will be getting married to my sweetheart. I thought mom would be happy, but she balks. She had met and approved of Anna, said the token words of new-age mothers (“It’s just another soul in a human body!”) but now, something about betrothal reveals deeper fears.
“You don’t have to get married, you know,” she says, sweeping cracker crumbs off the kitchen table after a family gathering. Stout and German as ever, I can tell what she is thinking under that body-armor smile. I try to rationalize my decision in terms she will understand.
“You and Ugly Stepfather got married, didn’t you think there were good reasons to do it at the time?” My mother looks at her Birkenstocks, then her hands. Part of her jaw shifts back, as if it doesn’t want to participate in what is about to be said.
“We didn’t actually get married.”
“We needed to do it at the time. Or let people know that we were. For business reasons.”
“So you made it all up. You’re not legally married?” For a moment, I can’t tell which will win out: my relief, or the remnants of that teenaged anger bubbling back up.
“Not on paper!” Her voice has risen in pitch. As usually ends up happening in our few serious conversations, I start feeling sorry for her. A life built on illusions. A family built on secrets.
“We love each other…” she continues, but I’m already gone in my mind, wandering in the sunny garden, calling Anna to reveal the latest turn in my family’s soap opera.
“…just like you and Anna do. You don’t need a piece of paper to say that.”
I tell her she’s right. That’s not what the paper is for.
Two months later, we gather a small group of friends together at our home in Oregon. The leaves are just beginning to turn and let go of their branches. A strong wind whips up out of nowhere to pluck a handful of yellow leaves from the tall cottonwood that borders the property. They travel straight toward me, littering the otherwise pristine green lawn. I catch one in my hand. It’s pale and thin as paper, but carries so much more.
Nineteen Years by Tuula Rebhahn
Nineteen years put on shined shoes
took a sip of fortification
set off for a manicured lawn
far from Colorado.
Nineteen years fussed over her baby
in the bridal chambers all day
then found a seat in the white tent
managing to avoid her former
For nineteen years they always
brought a lawyer
and nineteen years
is not an easy thing to break
but this time
all she brought was a flask,
and all he had was a story.
It begins like this:
The night our baby was born in Colorado
our friend tried to bite the head off a rat!
She stands for a moment,
sets nineteen year aside to announce —
no mic needed —
that she’d forgotten that part of the story
all these years.
He continues on and the tent roars
at the part where the hospital
was having a fire drill
but the story continues
she was born and tonight
this baby marries
and the mother stands again
the father weeps
she crosses the stage
breaks nineteen years
with one embrace.