It was the most improbable Homecoming Court in the history of the tiny Kansas high school and the outrage was high.
Standing on the 50-yard line were two couples nominated for King and Queen that fit the paradigm: a male football player with a female cheerleader. You know, the way things are supposed to be. And next to them, on the left of these two couples were Jean and I. She was a butch tennis player (the athlete of our pair) and I was the speech and drama kid.
Jean and I were not supposed to be up there. The social order of things did not support the nomination of such an unlikely pair and leading up to this moment the jocks and cheerleaders made it abundantly clear that they would not accept this high school equivalent of a mutated two-headed Korgi soiling their class identity.
When the results of the nomination election were announced, the football coach demanded a recount. The votes were recounted and the nomination stood. Three weeks before the ceremony, I was kicked out of the largest social group in school, ironically the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Two weeks before, my car (a restored 1951 Candy Apple Red Chevrolet Deluxe) was trashed in the school parking lot.
I was asked by three faculty members to pull myself out of the running because the drama was escalating. I received threatening notes in my locker (this being long before smartphones and Snapchat) and was routinely challenged to have my ass kicked after school multiple times a day.
I certainly didn't make things easier for myself, though. I was a smug sonofabitch who knew he was smarter than most of the football players and some of the faculty. I didn't campaign for the nomination but that's democracy, I'd argue, and explain in detail how democratic elections work to people twice my age. I was, and still tend to be, my own undoing.
For the most part, the geeks and band kids who voted for me kept silent. The teachers who were in my corner were definitely so, but only in moments shared privately with me. For a kid in a high school in the Middle of Nowhere with a graduating class of 86, the pressure and the drama was intense. Those who hated me, demonstrated it vocally and without a break. Those who supported this anomaly were afraid of the backlash from the popular kids and thus feigned ignorance.
Jean, because she was a native to the town, was extremely affable and known by most since kindergarten, mostly got a pass from the vitriol but I only joined the place three years before and I was an unrepentant ass.
You get the picture.
In the end, we were not crowned King and Queen. No one was surprised. Some were thankful. I was relieved the whole thing was over but the sting of so many people leveling such a hateful opinion of me was traumatizing.
A funny thing happened just a short eight months later (eight months equaling 50 years in the dog years time of a teenager). I graduated and went to college. New people to contend with, new challenges, new problems.
And none of the saga of the Homecoming Debacle of 1984 mattered any longer. The opinions of so many whom I gave such high priority in high school were like crumbs of fried dough at the bottom of an emptied KFC bucket. Tasty but empty calories. Nutritionally meaningless.
Like most of my time in those early years, I wasn't looking for a lesson so I didn't find one. Had I been looking, I might have seen what I know today.
The most strident opinions of the most angry people heaped upon you won't matter in eight months. When confronted with those toxic attitudes, striving to achieve or keep power, to maintain popularity and status, you will most likely weather them alone with support coming in private ways because no one really wants that shitstorm piled on themselves.
Now, some 30 years later, it becomes obvious that most of us never moved past high school. Clinging to the old letter jacket, the status of being popular among a tiny group of people is preferable to acknowledging that most of our opinions don't really matter and that those slices of time when we were nominated to be the King or Queen are meaningless in the face of time.