The Prom

17 May

A recent episode of This American Life featured a collection of stories about the senior prom. One story was about a prom in a small town in Kansas where, while the kids danced and sang in their school gymnasium, a tornado touched down and destroyed half their town. Another story was about the prom that takes place in Racine, Wisconsin, where the prom is so popular and so hyped that it gets full coverage from the local FOX affiliate.

The interesting thing about this particular episode was the thread that tied all the stories together, which basically explained that proms generally are a big let down; that the hype and expectation for these events is so overstated that when the actual event arrives it must unavoidably fold under the pressure, and leave the participants with a great feeling of “was that it?”. The listener is left to draw their own conclusions as to what this all means, and it left me thinking that, well, isn’t that a perfect send off for these young people, as they leave behind one stage of their lives to start out toward the next stage, known as ‘adulthood’? Life, real life, is full of disappointments. The more one experiences, the more they are hypothetically able to bear them. But these experiences, taking place during the tumultous teenage years, can serve to really mold and shape the person.

Maybe it’s intentional. Maybe it’s a cruel joke that we who have experienced our prom play on the younger generations year after year, just as those ahead of us did to us. We know the punchline to the joke, and we know what’s going to happen to the kids, but we don’t reveal it to them. We let them find out for themselves, because, really, it’s necessary for them to find it out that way, on their own. It’s all a part of the game.

As I listened to the podcast, and thought back to my own experience, I realized I could only partially relate to the proposed thesis. The reason for that was because I actually enjoyed my prom, and took a few pretty happy memories away from it. Perhaps most importantly, I took away very few regrets, which for the teenage me was quite an accomplishment. For perhaps my enjoyment exclusively, I’ll recount a few of the more dominant memories I have of that day.

In the days and weeks leading up to the prom, I considered taking a date, but not having a girlfriend at the time, and not really interested in anyone (which of course means the inverse is true also) I decided to go solo. As a joke, my best friend Grant and I said we’ were going together, and that kind of helped both of us deal with the potentially crushing reality lying just below the surface that we were geeks, and that no girl wanted to go with us.

That wasn’t entirely true, as I found out. One girl actually did ask me. I had heard afterward that she’d actually asked a few guys before me, but each one had turned her down, so eventually she came to me. I remember feeling very guilty when I turned her down also, stating that I couldn’t go with her because Grant and I had already agreed to take each other. I am sure that had to be a crushing blow for her, not just to be turned down by a guy, but to be turned down by a guy who wanted to take another guy instead of her. I think about this often, even now, and I can’t help but conclude that I made the right decision. I didn’t want to take that girl. I didn’t really even know her. I wanted to spend the evening with my group of close friends, and if I took her I’d have had to talk with her, and dance with her and buy her dinner and flowers, and all that, and I just really didn’t want to do that. I think I surprised myself by saying no at the time, because I was a nice guy, a guy who never wanted to hurt people’s feelings. I understood the nerve it took for that girl to ask me, and knowing that, I almost wanted to say yes, just so she wouldn’t have had to feel the sting of rejection. Because I knew I wouldn’t want to feel the pain of rejection either. But I rejected her anyway. It’s unfortunate and ironic that this monumental esteem building exercise had to come at the cost of another persons self esteem, but I can hope that through this ordeal she maybe gained some confidence of her own, some way. I don’t remember seeing her at the prom. Maybe I just didn’t want to see her even if she was there. Or maybe I was just too busy laughing and dancing with my friends.

I remember that I wore an old brown three piece suit of my dads to the prom, and I suppose that that in itself speaks volumes about how I felt about myself at the time. I didn’t have a nice suit of my own, or at least nothing I’d feel good about wearing, and the thought of renting a tux never even crossed my mind. My high school was on the edge of a farmers field, between two small towns in southern Ontario. It wasn’t exactly a hick school, but there was enough of a hick sentiment amongst the student body that one knew better than to wear tuxedo to the senior prom. So I put on my dads suit because it was goofy looking, and I would rather have people laugh at me being goofy than trying too hard and failing to look good. Humour: a time tested defence for those crippled by low self-confidence.

The actual dance itself was mostly unremarkable. It was held in the rec hall of an old run down curling club about a half hour out from where most of us lived, and not at our school, because many of us could legally drink at the time of our graduation, and the school obviously couldn’t sanction such activities. The whole event was organized and run by the students independent of any school involvement, and yes, that took away from much of the ceremony and purpose of the event, but most of the kids didn’t really care, because they could drink. It was just another reason for them to have a big party.

We did all the things that most people do at senior proms. There was dancing, singing, yelling, drinking, etc. Then came the point toward the end of the night where the prom king and queen are coronated. The media have taught us that this is a very important part of the night, where popular people, and sometimes really unpopular people get popularity thrust upon them. In the case of my prom, both groups were represented. As you entered the rec hall on that night, you were given a piece of paper and a pen on which you were to write the names of a boy and girl who you felt were most deserving of the title of prom king and queen. So most people did what I did. Prom queen was an easy choice. Amanda Rogers; the hottest girl in our whole school was in my graduating class. She was so gorgeous that I remember high school boys coming over to our middle school just to check her out when she started seventh grade. By thirteenth grade (yes we had thirteen grades at that time. It’s a long story so I won’t go into it here) she had only grown exponentially prettier and more popular. She was a lock for prom queen and everyone knew it. The choice for prom king was much less obvious. There wasn‘t a clear pick in the bunch. Amanda didn’t have a boyfriend at the time, and while there were other popular boys in our graduating class, there were no clear stand outs the way that Amanda was amongst the girls. So of course that meant that the ocassion was ripe for an underdog to come up the middle and take the prize. All the underdog needed was a wave of momentum which he could ride to the finish line. That momentum came in the form of two of my closest friends, who by the time they got to the prom were well on their way to classic high school levels of inebriation, standing at the door way, drunkenly coercing everyone who passed by them to vote for me for prom king. It was a risky gamble. And because there really were no other clear candidates from which to choose, or because nobody really cared that much, or both, it worked, and I won.

I can clearly remember the moment when I heard my name called over the loudspeakers by the DJ. I was sitting in a chair, off in a corner of the room where I’d been resting up after a racous dance session to the song “Thunderstruck”. I collected myself, got up and walked over to the front of the room where Amanda was waiting. I give her full marks for being a good sport about it all. She accepted and endured the whole thing with dignity and grace. The DJ asked us what song we wanted to dance to. Immediately I thought to ask for “Land of 1000 Dances” by Wilson Pickett. He didn’t have that one. What about “C’est La Vie (You Never Can Tell)? No, he didn’t have that one either. I was out of good songs. I blanked. I didn’t want to dance to anything from the 1998 catalogue, that much I knew. At that moment one of Amanda’s friends walked up to the DJ and said “My Girl”. I have to admit that even though it wasn‘t my first or second choice, it was still a pretty good song to dance to with the prettiest girl in the graduating class. All too soon the song was over. And the dance was over. Which meant the prom was basically over. We all streamed out of the building slowly, milling about in the parking lot, listening up for where the after parties were being held. The carload I was in with tried to find one, at a hotel, but got turned away at the door. So we went to an all night Donut Shop, where we stayed for about a half an hour, and then, with nothing better to do, we went home. It was a good night.

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One Response to “The Prom”

  1. Bri May 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    That was a damned good story told damned well. Whatever became of Amanda?

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