Anna Swenson, one of the most talented, magical people I know, recently published a blog entry about why she never went to prom. We didn’t meet until my senior year of college (her sophomore year) and she’s almost 2.5 years younger than I am, but I know we would have been good friends in high school, which didn’t foster the greatest years of our lives, to say the least. The difference is that I was particularly talented at pretending to enjoy superficial things and standard teenage experiences whereas Anna didn’t have any use for faking her way through high school. And that’s awesome for her.
Not to embarrass Anna, but she’s written about waiting until the end of college to start dating, and because she was single as a junior and senior, she didn’t have someone with whom to attend prom. As progressive as she was, she couldn’t bring herself to take initiative and invite someone to the event, so rather than go stag, she joined her parents on a camping trip that weekend. And that was it. Prom had ended for her and everyone else and the entire student population would finally have to move on.
Anna holds more feminist views than I do, but I ended up asking both of my dates to the prom — the first because he was my boyfriend/first love and the second because he was a solid platonic friend. Toward the middle of second semester of junior year, prom chatter was in full swing and all my buddies had secured dates, dresses, outfits, you name it for the big night.
Meanwhile, I was stupidly waiting for my clueless boyfriend (hi Kevin! :)) to even say the word “prom.” Anytime I casually brought it up in conversation, I’d hint that I wanted to go, but he either never picked up on my suggestion or simply didn’t want to start getting ready for it yet. His apathy frustrated me, as my own friends wouldn’t shut the hell up about prom and I of course had nothing to contribute to the vapid, repetitive discussions polluting the air every lunch. It was all very discouraging and even offensive, and I think the ongoing obsession over buying an expensive flowing gown, setting up hair and nail appointments, and perfection really turned me off to the affair as a whole, for good.
Even so, I didn’t want to be the only girl in my crowd to skip the event, especially because of my oblivious but well-meaning and adorable beau, so one day afterschool, I asked if he would be interested in taking me there. He said yes, but later confessed he hadn’t thought twice about prom all year, perhaps because he’d skipped his junior prom and didn’t even let the senior prom onto his radar as such.
It ended up being kind of lovely, even though I was freezing and nervous while we posed for photos, so much so that I accidentally stabbed him with the corsage pin. He bled through his white shirt but didn’t have the heart to tell me I’d slaughtered his chest. I only found out later that night when I noticed two circular brown spots below his American flag pin.
We went, we danced, we hugged, we talked to our friends, and then he drove me home in his dad’s special occasions BMW, which had a phone in the front seat, a super cool feature at the time of the vehicle’s release. The two of us hung out on my driveway for ten minutes before sneaking into my family living room, hoping to score some alone time after a night surrounded by fellow well-dressed people and young lovebirds. My parents woke up shortly afterward, so he took off, and that was the end of the short-lived night, which had ultimately been more about attire and cameras than the people I cared about.
The following year, Kevin and I were no longer an item, so I asked my friend Devin (ha, it rhymes!), who went to a neighboring high school, to be my arm candy for the evening. He agreed to take me, so that was a relief, but my dad actually passed away from his long battle with cancer the morning of prom, so I knew then that the two big events would be tethered to each other forever.
Looking at those photos, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that my family (and best friends, all of which are in the snapshot directly above this paragraph) suffered one of the worst losses imaginable earlier that day, but if anything, we’re pros at pushing through rough times and just doing what we have to do, or what we think we have to do. Though I was more relaxed during my second prom, likely because the pressure was off to have the best time with my date, I still associate my senior prom with tragedy, not simply because I said bye to a family member that morning, but because of the shallowness and pettiness that accompany the big night, and that’s one of many reasons Anna was wise to skip out entirely.
I went to junior prom because I thought others would judge and think less of my relationship with Kevin if we didn’t go (I must learn to stop caring this much, because really, who spends any time thinking about me anyway? No one but me … and maybe my mom). I attended senior prom because I knew my father’s passing was inevitable and needed to show everyone that I was OK, really, and could totally run off to a silly dance a mere nine hours after he died in our house because I was just that resilient.
I also went to escape the weirdness of my home and personal life. I’d spent all of senior year wondering when my dad was going to check out. Is tomorrow going to be the day? I’d often wonder before bed, terrified by the possibility of being in the house at the same time as his lifeless corpse. Once he did finally sign off (moments after I left for school, thank God), I had something else to focus on — prom — even though it could only last a night, just like Cinderella’s ball excursion. My appearance would show my classmates, my teachers, and my friends that I was unstoppable and nothing, not even the face of ultimate tragedy, could hold me back from indulging the standard senior experience — an experience it turns out I didn’t want for myself after all.
So, Anna, cheers to you for saying no to a rite of passage that can feel forced, over-hyped, and overrated. My prom pictures are beautiful and make me nostalgic for the folks standing beside me, but as for the memories of those two nights? I could have done without them. I was good enough friends with Devin and so enamored with Kevin that we had enough awesome times together anyway, and prom didn’t come close to any of them in greatness.