Eric and his Lincoln Town Car showed up with remarkable alacrity at seven on the dot. Not unsurprisingly, his idea of a “cool tux” didn’t necessarily corroborate the image I’d had in my head. In fact, it wasn’t so much a tux as . . . not a tux. It was, in fact, according to him, a “vintage lemon yellow zoot suit.” Its abundant accessories included a top hat with a feather, baggie pants tucked into black boots and a long chain that hung from his waist to below his knees. My mom’s reaction gave voice to what I was thinking: “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
But somehow Eric pulled it off. At first, I was a little embarrassed, then ashamed that I was embarrassed and finally not embarrassed at all, but kind of proud. The fact was, Eric was capable of something I find very difficult—flying in the face of public opinion. It turns out that what you’re worried about when you imagine others are censuring the way you look, is actually no big deal. For every person pointing and laughing snidely, three people would walk up and say that it was the most interesting outfit they’d ever seen.
When we pulled out of my driveway, I asked Eric where he’d made reservations. “Reservations?” he asked. Turned out he had no clue dinner was part of the night. We laughed so hard we had to pull the Town Car off the road. After a brief discussion, we decided on Texas Roadhouse, this casual steak joint with a floor covered in peanut shells. Eric said this was called “embracing the absurdity of the situation.”
Our appearance at Texas Roadhouse was the closest I’ve ever been to celebrity-hood. The entire restaurant clapped for us as we paraded down the peanut-shell-littered aisle toward our corner booth, with me holding my dress up and doing little curtsies.
Eric interlocked his arm with mine and smiled at me. “Your dress,” he said. “It goes so well with the peanut shells.”
“And your zoot suit,” I replied. “It goes so well with . . . nothing.”
We laughed, sitting in a corner booth. Eric threw a peanut at me.
“You ever see the movie Pretty in Pink?” I asked. “Because you remind me—”
“Please don’t tell me I remind you of ‘Ducky.’ The novelty buddy guy, the guy who wears funny clothes and gets dissed at the prom.”
Oops. I swallowed hard. For someone who would be widely considered smart, I said some pretty asinine things.
“I mean it’s no big deal,” Eric added. “I guess I just have some insecurities about being a lovable clown who no one can take seriously.”
I leaned forward and blanketed Eric’s hand with mine. This got his attention. I was looking him in the eye. “I wasn’t trying to intimate that you were a Ducky, okay? You are lovable, but that’s not such a bad thing. And I, for one, take you very seriously. I actually envy you, because you’re a total anomaly, especially in high school. You are a true individual whose personality isn’t malleable based on what others expect of you. You’re real, you know, and different, and you’re not afraid to flout the norm. Which means you’re stronger than most of us. But I imagine that at times it makes you vulnerable, too. But just hold tight, because when high school’s over, college comes. And from what I understand, college does a better job of recognizing the genius of people like you.”
“Wow.” Eric’s eyes were wide and a little watery. “Thanks. That’s the highest acclaim I’ve ever gotten from a girl. Ever.”