First, let me begin by saying the cover photo of this article is from my senior prom, but this story is about my sophomore year prom. I sifted through all of my photos and could not find a single photo from my sophomore prom. I think I deleted them because I didn't want to be reminded of it.
It was mid-afternoon and I was immersed in the hair-sculpting process. The smell of hot irons and hair spray caught in the back of my throat as I straightened, curled, and braided my friends' hair. Everyone was so impressed with my skills, ooh-ing and awe-ing. "Wow Anna you should be a hair stylist!" I would shake my head and brush off the gushing, but on the inside my ego was bursting at the seams. Oh yes, Anna. You are the bomb, you do hair so well and Prom is going to be fabulous!
Of course, I had been imagining my first prom since I began watching actors on TV who were well out of high school act out the perfect prom. Often times the movie's climax or happy conclusion was prom night-- and often it was very predictable. The guy gets the girl at prom and dances with her as the camera slowly zooms out, and confetti falls from the ceiling. This is how I had always pictured my prom night.
After quaffing all of my girlfriends, we flooded out of the house, colorful gown fabric whipping around in the gusty breeze. All piling into one car, we headed to our photo shoot destination-- clearly anticipating a time we would want to remember that night. As I said before, I'm pretty sure I deleted all of my photos from that night.
The picture-taking session was generally fine, although quite awkward. First, let me provide some background. My best friend at the time (we'll call her Emily) was a senior in high school, whereas I was only a sophomore, and she orchestrated this whole group of fairly mutual friends to all go to her high school for prom.
Originally, I was uncomfortable about her plan because I didn't go to her high school and wouldn't know anyone outside of our prom group. She kept reassuring me that she would make me feel included. However, the only catch was that I needed to have a date who was a junior or senior who went to that school. So, I ended up going with one of the guys in our group (we'll call him Ian) who I really didn't know very well.
This brings us back to the picture-taking. Since we were each other's "dates" to prom, our parents insisted on us taking exclusive pictures together. And just standing next to each other wasn't enough, we had to do some semi-intimate side-hugging and hand-holding. I'm pretty sure the awkward vibe was mutual. Meanwhile, Emily and her boyfriend (we'll call him Charlie) were mutually happy and taking intimate photos.
Finally, after pictures, it was time to migrate over to dinner. Thai food. This was my beacon of hope, a chance for prom night to begin its magic. Unfortunately, upon arrival, I could tell it was going to be a bust. Emily and Charlie were glued to each other, laughing at inside jokes and feeding each other their food. Let's just say that Ian was not feeding me his food-- thank heavens.
After a disappointing dinner, the group split off into our two cars and we began to head back to the event center for prom. Our drive was smooth, Emily and Charlie chatted with me and Ian in the backseat. We laughed and mocked the red-carpet process before prom-- it was ridiculous to us that high schoolers would traipse down a red carpet while family members acted like paparazzi, flashing cameras and screaming as their children walked by. That aside, things were looking up, until we arrived at the event center parking lot.
The other half of our prom squad had not yet arrived yet. After calling the driver of the other half (we'll call her Catherine) a few times and getting no answer, Charlie tried to remain upbeat as the minutes ticked by: "They're probably coming soon-- Catherine is typically late anyway." Soon enough, Catherine called us back: "Hey guys, sorry, but I hit a guy with my car and it's going to be awhile."
The details are difficult for me to conjure up. Roughly, I remember that she hit someone, no one was hurt, but the man was swearing at her violently and threatened to call the police-- which he, in fact, did end up doing. Catherine's father had to drive out to meet her to talk to the police. She told us that we shouldn't feel obligated to wait for them.
But Emily and Charlie were hopeful, encouraging me and Ian that we should wait-- it would be worth it for all of us to walk in all together. To pass the time, we took turns tossing an abandoned deflated basketball into a hoopless basketball hoop. However, as the first hour went by, we became increasingly aware of the setting sun and the fact that we were loitering in a parking lot instead of dancing at prom.
By then, I was pretty peeved. I was all dressed up, my hair and nails done, and I was hanging out in a parking lot while prom was probably at its peak. And there was Emily and Charlie, snuggling up cozily, while Ian paced the parking spaces. I remember fuming just as my phone started ringing. It was my Dad.
"Anna! Where have you been?" my father exclaims into the phone. "We've been waiting to take your picture for at least an hour at the red carpet, but they're starting to pack up and close the doors! We're all here!" I struggled for words, completely thrown by my father's call. They hadn't told me they were going to be at the red-carpet event-- apparently they wanted to surprise me. Tears started to well up in my eyes, and guilt bloomed in my stomach, "Oh my gosh. Dad I'm so sorry. Catherine got in a car accident..." And I explained the whole situation. Emily, Charlie, and Ian stopped talking, and listened to me apologize profusely to my family over the phone.
After that, Emily suggested we go inside and join prom without Catherine's group-- they were taking too long. And I remember thinking, no kidding! So finally, we trekked over to the event center. The red carpet was being put away, but not only was my family still there-- Ian and Emily's families were also there, waiting with cameras. And I felt even more guilty. I began to feel so guilt for something that was clearly not my fault.
So, we headed inside, ready to party. It should also be noted that I had been hosting a serious cough for a few weeks prior to prom night. To suppress the coughing fits I had been popping a cough drop once in a while, trying not to reek too much of ginger and honey. However, since it was getting later, I was coughing more frequently and violently, making it difficult for me to carry on a conversation (especially in a room blasting the bass).
However, there were very few conversations to worry about because my prom group kept forgetting to introduce me to the people they talked to. So there I was, standing in the middle of the prom dance floor, unable to recognize anyone beyond the few people I knew. I was popping cough drops left and right-- trying to dance, but also trying to shield others from my coughing with my elbow.
After a little while, I went back to our table, needing a break from the loud music and strenuous physical activity. At the table I found Charlie, who was gazing at Emily as she chatted with her friends. "Hey Anna," he said, sounding deflated. "When do you feel like leaving?" I raised my eyebrows, fairly shocked he was already talking about leaving. "Well, I mean this cough sucks, so I could probably leave anytime." I confessed. He nodded, "Yeah, maybe another half hour or so and then I'll be ready to go."
For Charlie, the parking lot was apparently more romantic than prom. So after only being at prom for an hour and a half, Charlie and I left. Charlie went home to change into post-prom clothes, and I called my parents, asking them to pick me up so I could go home and sleep off my awful cough.
That night was definitely the worst of my three prom experiences. But why did I put myself through a prom I wasn't excited about in the first place? I think that for most high school students, prom is this built-up fantasy. Movies and TV shows craft this extravagant narrative around prom-- always portraying prom night as a culmination of some romantic journey. And it almost always finishes with a happy ending.
These expectations are, for the most part, unrealistic. If the prom narrative could be rewritten so that it wouldn't be all hype but instead just about good friends having a fun time, I think the experience would collectively be much more enjoyable.