Saturday, October 6, 2007

I Tried

Whenever I see young women and men in a restaurant in fancy dress between Easter and Memorial Day, I know they are "prom kids." When I did it, I felt so grown up, especially in twelfth grade when I wore high heels with my black dress with yards of skirt circumference. Going to a restaurant with white tablecloths and linen napkins with friends and not family, was a big part of it.

I really wanted the proms I attended, particularly my senior year, to be the fulfillment of those coming-of-age fantasies I (and not just I) had about prom. Ideally, I would attend with a boyfriend, I would be beautiful and graceful, I would stay out all night having a wonderful time, and all of the drama I was experiencing at the time would be resolved, or at least cease to matter.

In fact, I never had a real boyfriend in high school and while there was romance, none of it involved public displays of affection like walking across campus with our hands in each other's pockets or our pinky fingers entwined like in the opening scene of Sixteen Candles. No one ever asked me to a dance, or even asked me to dance at a dance, so I went to proms with friends. For my senior prom I asked a friend on whom I had a crush, so I was halfway there. Maybe he would "wake up and see me" during prom night and that would kick off our relationship.

This is what movies do to girls (see above-mentioned film, not to mention Disney).

I dressed up, even submitting to Mom's administration of blush and lipstick and insistence on gloves (I don't know what her thing about gloves is; she asked me and even KT about wearing gloves in our weddings). I did find the look on my friend's face rather gratifying, though at the same time I was disappointed that he didn't see me that way in jeans and a sweatshirt.

I could barely manage walking on my new high heeled shoes and spent most of the night destroying my patterned nylons by dancing barefoot. I flirted with the waiter at dinner and at the dance a student teacher and imagined they flirted back. I did stay out all night, but spent more than half the time after the prom itself fighting with another friend. I'm sure my prom date was confused by what was happening, as we barely understood it ourselves. The fight was because the friend brought as his prom date a girl I was in love with (without knowing it) while he was attracted to me, and most of the night after the dance was a swirl of anger, jealousy, guilt, frustration, and confusion. The drama I was hoping would be resolved came to the prom too.

I wanted to be changed by the prom experience. I tried to, and thought I would, cross over to "womanhood" that evening but nothing changed. I still preferred jeans and sweatshirts, I still looked at boys primarily with confused feelings of dread and failure, I still wasn't seen by them as "girlfriend material" whatever that was. The drama of the whole semester actually continued into the summer and my gender and sexual identities weren't resolved that night.

In retrospect I see that that's a lot of pressure to put on myself about a dinner and dance. At least by then I knew I where I was going to college.

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