Over the years the facts of what happened on that early summer evening of June Sixth have remained the same. What has changed is our understanding of the reasons for what happened.
Honey Turner came into our lives in the early fall of 1960. Like her name, she was golden, painted from a single palette. Her hair fell in easy curls that framed her face; her smooth skin was sun-washed and her hazel eyes held flecks of gold. The first day she walked down the halls of St. John’s Catholic she became the dream of every boy in the school. With just a nod of her head and a trace of a smile, Honey could have had her choice of any of our boyfriends. She was not one of us.
As October colored the mountains around our town, the girls of Catholic High began to forgive Honey her perfections. She was funny, spirited, traded homework pages with us, and taught us make-up tricks during lunch breaks. She was becoming our friend. Connie Welburn was the first one with the nerve to call Honey at home. In whispered words she reported on her adventure. “Her mother answered and then in this very sophisticated voice she said ‘Just a moment.’ Then nothing. Total silence. No clomp, clomp, clomp. I think they have wall-to-wall carpet.” Each one of us imagined our own Doris Day version of Honey Turner’s fantasy house.
One important detail about our acceptance of Honey as our friend was that she was pinned to Patrick Charles Lawson. Chase, as Honey called him, was a pre-med student at Duke. He was smart, handsome, rich, and co-captain of the track team. What was there to not love about handsome Chase? Our boyfriends were safe. Honey's future was sealed and it did not include any of the pathetic altar boys of St. John’s.
After Christmas break, Honey returned to school with stories about country club dances and parties in the splendid homes of someone just back from Duke, Carolina or UT. The Christmas lights shined brighter in Honey’s world and, with her, we had found a window into that world. We told her about the dance held in the basement of St. John’s, but it hardly seemed the same.
Only one boy had not given up the dream of Honey Turner. Mike Vincent, alone, was willing to face the impossible challenge of Patrick Charles Lawson. Mike carried Honey's books, staked out her locker, and opened every door for her. He was never rewarded with so much as a shared Coke at the drug store. He helped her with geometry. His entire social life was the Tuesday and Thursday biology lab when he was Honey’s partner. He did all the dissections. He got a smile and a sincere thank you. Nothing more.
As the gray months of February and March gave way to April and spring break, two things shifted in Honey’s world. Chase wrote to her and, with little fanfare, announced that he would be joining his fraternity brothers at a house they had rented at the beach. Honey was devastated. At that same time the rest of us were focused on one thing—the crown jewel of high school social life—the senior prom. Dresses, dates, and little else filled our minds. Honey suddenly realized the downside of being pinned to the handsome Chase. A lovesick Mike found the nerve to ask if she would be his date for the prom. Honey accepted.
Mike sold his soul to his older brother for the use of his car on prom night. He rented a tuxedo. He bought a corsage and made dinner reservations at a restaurant that his parents could not even afford. He had one night, one chance for magic to happen.
Mike and the rest of us on the prom committee had to be at the Emory Hotel early. Our theme that year was Stardust Memories and we had to hang a complete galaxy of tin foil stars, moons and planets. Honey would meet us there at six-thirty. She and Mike would then go to Margaret’s on the River for dinner. We waited on the steps with Mike. At first we laughed and flirted in eager anticipation of the evening to come. Honey was late. After thirty minutes some of the couples decided to go on to Margaret‘s. Forty-five minutes passed and the time for dinner reservations had come and gone. We waited, reluctant to leave Mike alone. Still no Honey. At 7:30, couples as colorful as a summer garden of chiffon drifted up the stairs through the hallways and towards the dance floor.
Honey arrived and, in a tangle of bronze silk organza, she jumped from her father’s car before he had come to a complete stop. She ran up the stairs towards Mike. Honey was shaking with anger and sobbing. She told us that her father had not gotten home until after six. He had showered and dressed, then made a telephone call. He had stopped for gas on the way. He saw a friend at the station and chatted for a while. He caught every red light in town. Honey admitted that she had finally broken down and screamed at him, “Why can’t you hurry? We are so goddamned late.”
“I can’t stay, he won‘t let me go to the prom,” she cried to Mike. She quickly kissed him and Mike felt the tears on her cheek. Mr. Turner got out of his car. “We are leaving now. Right now. Get back in the car,” he demanded. Mrs. Turner stood by her side of the car. Her eyes pleaded with Honey to not make anymore of a scene. “Get in the damn car. Both of you. Now.” Mr. Turner looked back at us and saw no one worthy of an apology. The cloying scent of gardenia hung in the air.
Five of us walked down the block to Cosmo’s and ordered cheeseburgers, Cokes and fries. We told or retold the horrors of our growing up and listed the wrongs we had suffered at the hands of our parents. As we walked back to the prom we vowed never to make those mistakes. We promised we would do better and that our children would not suffer as we had. We never saw Honey again. She married Chase. If not him, certainly someone just like him.
We broke the vows we made that night. We as a class and as a generation broke those promises. We married and then divorced like no generation before. We abandoned the homes of our children. We dragged them along as we carelessly stitched together a crazy quilt and called it a family. We pledged to make a better world for all, while our children struggled to raise themselves. We felt better when we told each other that our children were resilient. We never knew or understood the damage we inflicted.
I have a daughter of my own now. She is blessed with the Nordic beauty of her father’s side. Her glacier blue eyes are shadowed. They are a constant reminder that she was collateral damage in the bitter divorce of her parents. She always chooses the wrong men. They are never really available to her, emotionally or otherwise. Relationships end as painful as they are predictable. I would do anything to turn my daughter’s path. It is complicated. I can only wish that it were as simple as a deliberate and calculated slow drive through town on a warm summer evening.