I told my prom story to my juniors last year while we were reading The Great Gatsby. Just in time for the culmination of all the prom drama and anticipation, we got to the part of the novel when Gatsby is reunited with Daisy. Gatsby has spent the last 5 years of his life working up to this moment and transforming himself into the vision of the man that he thinks will bring Daisy back to him. While he was busy creating this image, he paradoxically thought that nothing about Daisy or their relationship from 5 years ago will have changed. Nick the narrator describes Gatsby on the day of that reunion: ” I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams-not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion”(Fitzgerald). Gatsby had built his memories of Daisy up to a point that no woman could ever live up to, especially a woman who had moved on, married someone else and had a child with him. I am not a fan of Daisy Buchanan so my internal monologue for Gatsby is along the lines of “Holy shit! What was I thinking! This woman is an idiot! Crap, crap, crap.”
My point with the kiddos was that we do the same things with “life events” like prom. All the teen based movies make it into this elaborately decorated, incredibly fancy, well-lighted, fantasy event. (I’m thinking about the last scene of the ballroom in Pretty in Pink because I’m old and Molly Ringwald was like my high school fashion icon.) With those images in mind, they’ve spent the last 5 weeks (thankfully not years) shopping for dresses, negotiating dates, breaking up with people then finding new dates, talking shit about each other, planning for hair, nails, limos, dinners etc… at great financial and emotional cost.
Yes, I think you should go to your prom. I always try to relay the Pretty in Pink quote from Iona, Annie Potts’ character, to students who aren’t planning to go: “I have this girlfriend that didn’t go to prom and every once in a while she gets this really terrible feeling, you know, like something’s missing. She checks her purse. She checks her keys. She counts her kids, she goes crazy. And then she realizes….nothing is missing. She decided it was side effects from skipping the prom.”It’s one of those high school rites of passage along with walking at graduation that just needs to happen.
Yes, it’s the last dance of the year and, yes, you get to have an extra pretty princess dress. So go! But in the end it’s another high school dance. It’s never well lit, the decorations are immaterial but to uphold the illusion of fanciness, we have our students travel to remote convention venues for the dance. Even though everyone starts the night looking extra nice, they end the night having coat checked shoes, tux jackets, cummerbunds, corsages and emerging dripping with sweat from grinding on each other in formal wear. So despite the fantasy that they’ve bought into, they end up acting the same way they do at any dance.
****Side note: All of my high school proms took place in the “decorated” gym. Yes, the same place where I had to run laps. We also danced by facing the person we were dancing with because we had all seen Dirty Dancing by then and knew that we could still be hormonal, sex-crazed teens without simulating anal sex on the dance floor. I lived.
I tell them my prom story to illustrate that illusions are easily shattered, have fun it’s just a dance, and that even though I got a good story out of it, I would have been perfectly okay, maybe even happier, without the added stress and drama.
****Some names have been changed to protect the people I went to high school with who may have learned how to use the Internet by now.
The Prom Story.
I did not have date for prom my junior year. This is not particularly shocking. I spent most of high school believing I was fat, generally being slightly different than everyone else around me and lacking whatever social skills were needed to attract boys. So my friend Julie and I bought a couple’s ticket together- oh, the controversy- because it was cheaper than buying individual tickets. About 6 of us girls were planning on having dinner at Julie’s house and going stag to the dance. Whatever, we all got to have pretty dresses minus the stress of dinner reservations and carting a boy around. I’m sure at the time that I was heartbroken to not have a date but in retrospect, it sounds like the best plan ever.
On the other hand, our friend Brittany was completely invested in her date Bob. She had the dress, she had the tickets and Bob had better damn well figure out the coordinating cummerbund and flowers or face her wrath. Poor Bob. As Brittany ‘s friends we said this a lot. Bob was the early 90’s version of the Emo, skater punk. He wanted to be tragic, look at the world through his bangs, ride his skateboard and tell stories about boy things he did like jumping off the underside of bridges with his brother. We had no idea why he was dating Brittany.
As a cluster of friends, we were all pretty conservative, good little high school girls. Most of us were in band or color guard, worried about grades and doing well, went to the mall and did not make a habit of smoking, drinking, sneaking out to have sex or jumping off of the underside of bridges. Therefore we did not understand the allure that Brittany held for Bob or any of the other boys who were trapped in her web.
Poor Bob. He had no idea what he had gotten into. Brittany ‘s m.o. was two be in love for about 3 weeks and then “get confused.” Said confusion was accompanied by a variety of head tilts possibly caused by the 20 pounds of waste length hair hanging off her oddly small, pointed head. Said confusion was also often accompanied by bad teen angst poetry and instigated by the possibility of a more desirable male waiting in the wings.
So Bob was the only one surprised when a few weeks before prom, Chuck entered the picture as a potentially yummier, happier, more socially well adjusted prom date and Poor Bob got the boot.
As Brittany ‘s friends we were all like “Dude, it wasn’t going to work anyway. No idea what you saw in her. Sorry about your luck, man.”
On the other hand my “friend” Anne was like “Hey, Poor Bob, why don’t you ask Kristi to prom?”
And I was all like “I have to go to English. Bye.”
Therefore, maybe because Poor Bob was kind of an idiot, it was inevitable that he called my house that afternoon. (This could have all been solved by the existence of caller i.d. Damn you future!!) Bob, without much preamble, asked me to prom.
And because it was an actual boy on the other end of the line asking me to a dance, my mouth said, “Yes.”
Brain immediately said, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING??!!! NO!!! ABORT! BACK UP! HOLY SHIT, NO!!”
Despite the lack of Facebook, email, cell phones and texting, by the next morning when I walked into high school, it seemed as though EVERYONE knew that I was now going to prom with Bob.
People I barely knew were coming up to me and saying things like, “Ok, ok, I heard the funniest story. This can’t be true. It’s ridiculous. I heard you’re going to prom with Bob.”
My Amazon of an English teacher, the woman who I model all of my sarcastic snorts and evil eyes after, brought it up in class and mocked me.
There was no hope…and then it got worse.
Every day after school, Bob would call the house. Each conversation would start with one question about prom.
Day 1: Poor Bob:”So, hey, do you think I should wear my Vans or my Chuckies with my tux?”
Me:”I don’t care, Bob. Do what you want.”
Day 5: Poor Bob:”So, hey, do you think I should brush my bangs over my right eye or my left eye?”
Me:”Who doesn’t give two shits? This girl, Bob!”
Day 103: Poor Bob:”So, hey, do you think I should wear my bandanna around my ankle or my arm?”
Me:”I DO NOT FUCKING CARE WHAT YOU DO! OKAY, BOB?”
After that day’s initial prom question, he would then babble on with stories about skateboards, fire, jumping off of stuff, breaking things etc… and I would fake my own death because I was otherwise too polite to hang up on him.
Maybe somewhere in his boy brain he thought I was the perfect date because I really did not care what he chose to do or wear.
Aside from the presence of Bob, my general prom plans had not changed. We would be eating potluck at Julie’s and travelling to the dance with the girls because…Guess what!…Bob, a senior, did not have a driver’s license (This part always makes my students groan from the very shame of it all.)
Finally it was game time. Prom was within the week and suddenly there bloomed a tiny light in the darkness, a shred of hope, an end to my suffering: Prom ticket sales were well over and Brittany was still in possession of both prom tickets.
Bob had no ticket!
Poor Bob:”She has the tickets and is going to take Chuck. I don’t know how I’m going to go to prom.”
I t all seemed like it was going to work out for everyone except Bob until one day after lunch. I was at my locker, when Brittany came barreling down the hall, 20 pounds of hair flying Medusa style around her and screaming: “IT’S NOT FUNNY!”
I had no idea what she was on about and said so. She just kept shrieking and crying that IT was not funny.
In the end she was right. IT was not funny because IT meant that in the end I had to take Poor Bob to prom.
The IT was that during her lunch period, Bob delivered a small box to Brittany at her table in the middle of the well populated cafeteria. Inside of the box was a note that read:
“I want my fucking prom ticket back you, bitch.”
….and some pig brains.
I am told that chaos ensued.
This would have been a perfectly good excuse to angrily tell Poor Bob that I absolutely would not be accompanying him to prom after this rather rock star move. I don’t remember why I did not use IT.
In the end, he was my “date,” the now dateless Brittany (Chuck had not purchased a ticket either and had to wait for the after party to see her) came to dinner with the girls and is standing in the picture with all of us and an unhappy Bob. I slow danced with him exactly once and ignored the fuck out him the rest of the night, taking shit for being a bad prom date from all the people who thought it was hilarious that he was my date in the first place.
I was intent on having fun. I had my pretty dress, a righteous perm and, after all, it was just a high school dance.