Claudia (BrokenWing) - 8/28/2008 10:46 AM ET
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|As a high school junior (second year student) my friend Steve, a senior and a year older, invited me to go to his Senior Prom with him. He was just a friend, although I knew he wanted to be more.
I told my overprotective parents, immigrants from Germany, and they commented that I could only attend if they drove me there and picked me up. I was outraged, imagining an announcenment over the fancy country-club's PA system, "Elena . . . your parents are here to pick you up." When I told my date of this, he said he felt a little insulted and would ask my parents for permission to drive me.
My mother took me dress shopping. I had selected a rather modest burgundy dress, which my mother didn't like. To my great surprise, she said the dress I chose made me look "too old" and she recommended a different one – a pale cream chiffon dress with many layers of sheer fabric and a plunging neckline. It did look good on me. It was a sort of frothy confection with many layers and subtle ruffles around the low bodice and hemline; it was quite feminine yet also simple and elegant. It displayed ample amounts of my cleavage which was already well-developed at the age of 16. Due to my parents’ (primarily my father’s) extreme over-protectiveness and old-world views, I had not previously been allowed to date, so this would be a first “official” date. Unbeknownst to my parents, however, I had previously snuck out of the house to see a boy in whom I was interested, while telling them that I had gone to a girlfriend’s house. He was, however, not a senior and there would be no Prom for him until next year.
My relationship with my father was strained at best, tumultuous at worst. As a small child, I had believed myself in hell and thought of my father as the devil. One of my oldest memories of him is sitting at a picnic table in the back yard of our new house in America at about the age of 4. He was a smoker at that time and was smoking. I felt a sharp pain on my arm and yelped like a hurt puppy. He had “accidently” burned me with the ash. I question whether it was accidental because I remembered him laughing rather sadistically when I yelped “ow.” I didn’t have a burn mark on my skin or anything, but ran to my Mom and told her that Dad had hurt me with a cigarette. She made me come inside and scolded him soundly.
Dad’s views were quite traditional and old-world. From a very young age, he had emphasized that all that was expected of me was to learn to do housework, catch a husband and get married and have babies. I detested housework (still do), and had absolutely no interest in marriage or babies. My Dad considered this abnormal for a girl. “Keep zat up, und no man veel efer vant you,” he’d say to me. I had visions of being shackled to some wealthy old German for a lifetime of domestic servitude, and being expected to squeeze out a brat every year. When I got a bit older, my father continued his attempted “indoctrination” into his way of thinking. I was rebellious in the extreme. He kept telling me that I would never find a husband if I acted that way. I told him that was okay because I didn't want one anyway. We argued nearly constantly. These arguments invariably started with his finding fault with me, towering over me, backing me into a corner and threatening me with severe physical harm unless I bowed to his demands. The physical harm was always a series of slaps to the face so sharp that they made my ears ring. I’m surprised I didn’t have hearing damage. The slaps continued until I was a teenager. Of course, by then I was even more rebellious and impertinent. One day, at the advanced age of 16, he falsely accused me of breaking a bathroom fixture and backed me into a corner, trying to get me to confess to something I hadn’t done. When I refused to "confess," he became enraged, demanding my confession in ever increasing volumes, his face like an angry Zeus throwing bolts of lightning. I was terrified, but I refused to lie to make him stop. He slapped me repeatedly. The next day I had a broken blood vessel in one of my eyes along with a spot of bright red blood. Good, I thought, let this serve as a reminder to him. He’ll have to look at the consequences of his actions every day until it heals. My injury seemed to have little effect on him. My father had warned me and my brother never to discuss anything that happened in the house with anyone else. Complete secrecy was the order. Once I got to the age of 15 or 16 and developed breasts and curves, he became even more critical. I dreaded his return from work. The following scenario would play out every evening: he’d come home from work, find fault with me, I’d be impertinent, we argued, and I retired to my bedroom slamming the door and, usually crying. Later, while in college, I read “Games People Play” (a ground-breaking book on transactional analysis). I discovered that this game is called “Uproar” and occurs in households where there is sexual tension between the father and a teenaged daughter. It is sometimes the only way the two can live in the same household. It made my teen years at home a living hell; I escaped whenever possible.
I considered myself liberal and progressive as well as a bit of a junior feminist. An “A” student, I was not especially disobedient, but I was quite often impertinent. I recall telling him that I wanted to go to college. I was completely incredulous and outraged at his reply. He told me, “Girls don’t need college--zey just get married und haf babies.” Another thing that irritated me about him was the double standard he applied to me and my younger brother. He was much more lenient with my brother, Frank. When I complained, I was told, “Zat’s different—he’s a boy.”
At any rate, we purchased formal wear and tickets and made plans to attend the formal dinner/dance which took place at the end of the school year for graduating seniors. It was a huge to-do at our high school. The teenagers were occupied with Prom-related preparations and gossip for months in advance of the event. The date of the prom arrived on a particularly warm mid-June day. My date, Steve, drove his car to our house—ostensibly so that my parents could transport us both to the country club at which the Prom was to take place. Steve was medium height with sandy blond hair and blue eyes; dressed in a formal black tuxedo with crisp white tuxedo shirt and black bow tie, he looked quite smart, I thought. He had brought a lovely wrist corsage for me. I was dressed in my flowing ankle-length cream chiffon gown. I noted that Steve’s eyes lit up when he saw me in my dress. I wore my mom’s blue topaz earrings and a pear-shaped blue topaz pendant, which hung down right to the center of my cleavage, winking in the light and drawing attention to that area. I looked and felt like a debutante attending her first ball. My short espresso-colored hair was styled in a casual, layered style and I had given extra care to make-up, which I had only rarely been permitted to wear in the past. Mom had helped with the application and the effect was light and pleasing but not overdone. Due to the warmth of the evening, my face was glowing, as usual. With my dark hair and hazel green eyes and his blond hair and blue eyes, I thought we made a nice looking pair.
Steve entered the living room and exchanged small talk with my parents. My father was a stout 6 ft 2 tall man with blue-black hair and dark eyes, a quite imposing figure of a man, who looked more Italian than German. My mother, a petite 5 ft 2, woman with dark blond hair and hazel green eyes, barely came up to his shoulder. Her personality was as subservient, sweet and nurturing as his was overbearing. In fact, they were complete opposites. Summoning up his courage, Steve looked up at my father and prepared to make his request. I could tell he was a little nervous.
“Mr. B, if you allow me to drive your daughter to the Prom, I promise that I will take excellent care of her,” said Steve.
Knowing he had just been put on the spot, my father looked down at Steve, towering over him and glowering in his most intimidating fashion.
“Do you promise zat zer veel be no al-co-hole?” asked father
“You have my word—no alcohol, Mr. B”, answered Steve.
“Goot,” replied father.
“I expect you to haf Elena home before midnight,” said father.
“and bring her back ze vay you found her,” he added, raising his eyebrows for effect.
I was completely mortified and humiliated at my father’s audacity. How dare he make assumptions about my chastity and tell my date not to “damage the goods” so to speak?
I wanted to sink into the ground and disappear. I may have won a small victory in the battle of wills with my father that night, but he could not resist adding his own dig to put me in my place. After another assurance from Steve to my father, we said goodbye and made a hasty exit.
When we got out to the car, I turned to Steve and said,
“Oh my God, I can’t believe he just said that.”
“Neither can I,” Steve replied.
We arrived at the Prom. Several hours later, after a good but generally unremarkable dinner and dancing to music from a rather mediocre band, the Prom was over. I couldn’t fathom what all the fuss had been about. Family weddings had been livelier. These events tended to be rather staid, I believed, since they were chaperoned by parents. Most of the “fun” took place at after-prom parties, but I wouldn’t be attending any of those since I had to be home by midnight. Steve was so intimidated by my father that he took me straight home afterwards. All I got was a chaste kiss on the way home.
All in all, it was a disappointment and, having attended a Prom, I had absolutely no interest in attending my own Senior Prom.
I did end up going to college after all. My mother talked to father and told him she wanted to send at least one of her children to college, and since I had the better grades and had shown interest, it should be me. My brother, Frank, was a poor student and had shown absolutely no interest in college, so it wasn’t likely that they would be sending him to college.
I also ended up getting married my second year of college (without telling my parents), but that’s another story. My father’s excessively controlling and domineering behavior probably ensured that I would get married younger than I should have, in part to escape his control and the turmoil of our frequent fights. I did, however, finish my studies and complete my B.A. magna cum laude with a double major and as an honors college graduate. I later went on to complete a master’s degree.
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