birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Last Dance...Romance Tonight

For my high school’s senior prom, I of course needed a dress. And not just a pretty one, not just a glamorous garment (though, truth be told I had little experience with either of those categories). I needed a dress that would inflame my imagination and would transform me into a dance partner suitable for David, my heart, my date. He had been the star of our school’s musical theatre program. David, with sparkling brown eyes and tight 70s jeans, drew most every student into his manic magical whirlwind of Fred-and-Ginger moves with his charm and grace and peppy tenor crooning and warm embraces.

We were friends. We were soulmates. And though he’d graduated the previous year, he agreed to attend my Prom. We loved each other—but I felt him slipping away into another world. And I wanted to dress up my flat little gymnast’s body into something sexy and mysterious and glamorous, and make him feel a sharp yearning for me. So I found The Dress. It was a dusty rose, ankle-length, delicate Grecian number that tied at the shoulders and had sweeps of material at shoulder and bodice. But the skirt was way too confining. Its tight A-line would not let me swirl and prance and boogie.

Using modest sewing skills, I cut out the offending slip, used a pattern to sew a many-gored skirt of matching pink taffeta, and then stitched the whole thing underneath the shimmering pink dress.And you know—it worked. One of my favorite pictures of a lifetime is a Polaroid David took of me in the courtyard of his family’s apartment, pirouetting, the dress’s skirt a sweeping impressionist swirl above my strappy sandals, my delicate white arms extended in curves, a ballerina of the night.

By the time we got to the Prom after a restaurant at one of Irvine’s swank-y “lakeside” restaurants, most of the kids were wasted. We didn’t care. David spun me through every advanced disco move we knew, as well as those he’d learned from MGM. I gathered my fulsome skirt in luxurious handfuls and shook it like I meant it. We ended the night with a swan lift like in “Dirty Dancing”—only ours was better.

Now, 40 years later, I still have the dress. I bring it out, a petite tiny little thing, to share with my high school senior students as they drool about their big impending night. I let them I’m still friends with David—I asked him to accompany me to one of my workplace’s proms 10 years ago. I wore a basic, pretty, calf-length dress. A few times during the night I almost reached reflexively for a handful of taffeta, to swirl it, Flamenco style, as in the good, sweet, innocent, yearning old dance days.

Bow Head