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As what should have been the last few weeks of her high school career loomed, Bangor senior Aislyn Tkacs resigned herself to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic had turned all her plans upside down.
Among the events she wouldn’t experience: senior prom.
“I kind of gave up, because everything was closed for so long,” Tkacs said. “I didn’t think there was any option to get a dress, or anything like that. I definitely gave up.”
But her prom date, Owen Smiley, didn’t give up. Neither did his mom, Sarah Smiley, who vowed to help the couple celebrate in style. Both realized that while Owen, a junior, has another year to make memories at Bangor High, Aislyn, who will study nursing at the University of Maine in the fall, will not have that chance.
Sarah Smiley said her son was sad that Aislyn would miss out on her prom, and wondered if there was something he could do. When she asked him what he envisioned, he said he thought that giving Aislyn a reason to get dressed up, prom style, would likely take the sting out of a sad time.
So that’s what they did.
On Tuesday, the couple went to The Henry’s Bridal Boutique in Bangor and picked up formal wear at the curbside. Later that day, in an event inspired by local photographer Soubanh Phanthay, they held their own “porch prom,” complete with Phanthay on hand — at a safe social distance — to take photos.
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After procuring their formal wear, Aislyn began preparing for the big date in her own way. Owen did the same.
“She went to the hair salon and got her hair done. And while she was doing that, I just went and played a round of golf,” Owen said. “I was like, ‘I’ve got nothing else to do.’”
After Owen finished golfing, he headed home to get ready for the rest of the day. On tap: A trip to Sunset Rock in Dedham for more photos and dinner at the Lucerne Inn, where Aislyn works. Since the restaurant is located in Hancock County, it was one of the closest open establishments that seemed to set the proper tone for a prom date.
Sarah Smiley said that when Owen began brainstorming in April, he figured a takeout meal on the Bangor waterfront might be best. But she warned him that nearly everything was shut down, and they might have to think creatively. As establishments opened up, their options became more varied.
After a nice dinner at Lucerne Inn, the couple weren’t finished. They were all dressed up, after all, and they had somewhere else to go: Back to Owen’s house, to play a special video game.
“Then we played ‘Just Dance’ [while wearing] the tux and dress, to try to replicate a little bit of the prom experience,” Owen said.
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Sarah Smiley said she was a bit worried that people on social media might criticize the couple for what could appear to be improper social distancing practices, but after spending a month apart, the couple have been allowed to spend time together, and have virtually quarantined with each others’ families. When she posted photos of the prom, she said commenters seemed to support the date, and the idea.
Aislyn said when Owen started talking about an alternative, two-person prom, she smiled but didn’t expect much.
“I didn’t really know how serious he was until he was planning it. I thought, that sounds cute, thanks, whatever,” she said. “But then he actually got stuff together and it was pretty exciting.
And Owen? Things turned out just like he’d planned.
“I think we did pretty much everything you would hope to do,” he said. “I think it ended up being pretty good in the end.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share your Up Beat stories with him.