“First Date” by Michael Carpenter


“This essay is part of the “Telling Your Story” program in which prisoners recount profound memories from different stages in their lives. The audio version of this essay was read by a member of the Prisoner Express staff.”


I was an earlier bloomer. Unlike most little boys in the second grade, I did not think little girls had cooties. My attraction to the opposite sex began two years prior to kindergarten. During rest period, we would lay on these little bamboo mats, and I will never forget that funny feeling, those butterflies in the pit of my stomach when Melinda winked at me. I was hooked.

Now I was in the big leagues—elementary school—and we didn’t have “time out.” We had recess! One day on the playground, Susan the tallest and skinniest girl in class asked me if I would like to attend a square dance with her and her parents on Saturday night. I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to get home and ask my mom if I could go.

After explaining the invitation to my mother, she picked up the phone and called Susan’s parents. They talked about whatever parents talked about when their children venture out into the world, and when the conversation was over, mom told me that Susan and her parents would pick me up at five o’clock on Saturday.

The day before the big event, I got to go shopping. We went to J.C. Penny, and mom bought me a brand new, button down, white dress shirt and a clip on tie. Then, it was off to the barber shop for a fresh hair cut. Boy, did I look spiffy.

Susan, with her mother and father, arrived at our house right on time. Making a big fuss, our parents insisted that we pose for pictures. “Oh, how cute,” they would say. After being photographed like a mini fashion model, we were off to the dance being held at Highland Park a community center located in the country about ten miles from town.

The trip to Highland Park was uneventful and maybe just a little awkward. With Susan and me sitting in the back seat, we didn’t talk much. We looked out the window and watched the scenery as we traveled along a hilly and winding country road.

After we arrived and the dance began, the ice started to melt. I learned how to do-si-do, alameda left and alameda right, and promenade, with a few other fancy steps tossed in for good measure. We were having fun, laughing, playing, and dancing around in circles. The more we danced, the hotter I became, and the hotter I got, the thirstier I got. To my delight, Highland Park was furnished with a huge soda fountain, and the pop was free! By the end of the night, I must have drank over a hundred gallons of Coke, Sprite, and Orange Crush, all mixed together.

The dance ended at ten o’clock, and we all returned to the car for the ride home. The return trip was very different. It was dark outside, and we couldn’t see anything outside the windows. With every hill we went over, with every sharp curve we went around, I felt worse and worse. I was getting motion sickness.

With all that soda sloshing around in my stomach, I couldn’t help myself—I couldn’t hold back any longer. I got sick all over the back seat of the car. I up-chucked all over myself. Even worse, I barfed all over Susan! Oh, the horror, the humiliation.

The next day, I spent most of Sunday afternoon trying to talk my parents into moving out of town. When I realized that wasn’t going to work, I spent all of Sunday night trying to convince my mom that I had the bubonic plague. She wasn’t buying it, insisting that I had to go to school in the morning and face the music.

Reluctantly shuffling my feet as long as possible, I walked off to school Monday morning. I arrived late and sunk into my desk in the back of the room with my head low, knowing that everybody was laughing at me.

Much to my surprise, it seemed that no one even noticed. I didn’t hear one word out of the ordinary from any of my classmates. Could it be that Susan remained silent and not said anything to her friends? She never spoke to me again, and she didn’t tell anyone what happened either. To this day, I’m still not sure why. It may be that she felt pity for me, or maybe she was embarrassed for herself. Whatever the case, my reputation was saved, and the possibility of future dates was still intact.

From that day forward, I began to take stock in a pharmaceutical company that made Dramamine, a small, yellow pill to prevent motion sickness. Whenever I got into a car, just like my adulthood credit card, I never left home without it…

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