Live Through This

A Night to Kinda Sorta Remember

Stories of proms that didn’t go so well. The moral? Pretty in Pink is a really good movie.

Illustration by Caitlin

Illustration by Caitlin

Julianne

I was not trying to go to the prom. It wasn’t just that I was opposed to all organized group activities, although there was that. The entire institution turned me off: the idea that this would be the greatest night of my life, and that these were the years I’d reminisce about and long for until I died. Prom was a hallowed affair, and the myth of it was not meant for someone like me. I was an outcast in my status-conscious high school in Cheyenne, Wyoming, because I loved to write, my family wasn’t rich, and I wore thrift-store dresses and giant, boy-size skate clothes. I spent most of the final days of my senior year keeping a prison-notch count of the days until I could hightail it outta there. I had stars in my eyes for Anywhere Else. High school was excessively unpleasant, prom was a capitalist ruse, and there was no way I wanted spend a societally demanded “memorable night” with a bunch of people who hated me (and vice versa).

But. I was also a big fan of the movie Pretty in Pink, in which the outcasts of a suburban Chicago high school decide to go to prom despite it all. Iona, the cool punk-rock character played by Annie Potts, administers a warning to Andie (Molly Ringwald), who’s unsure about attending: “My girlfriend always has that feeling that something’s missing. She checks her pockets, checks her purse, counts her kids, but nothing’s gone. She decided it was side effects from not going to her prom.” I’d seen that movie so many times, I couldn’t forget Iona’s sage advice. I worried that if I didn’t go, I’d forever regret it, too. So I decided to suck it up and make some plans—if only for Iona’s sake.

The theme was “One Moment in Time,” based on a Whitney Houston song I liked, but which seemed corny for this purpose. It had been the theme song to the 1988 Summer Olympics, for one, so it felt like our prom organizers were trying to put SO MUCH pressure on us for this to be the BEST NIGHT EVER, even better than winning gold medals. Still, I had a date—my best friend Steven, who was at the time the only out gay guy in the school, and possibly in the entire Cheyenne district, an honor which invited its own special brand of ostracizing. We decided to attend defiantly, to prove we were as “normal” as all the other kids who treated us like gum scraped off the heels of their fancy shoes.

I engaged in the timeworn tradition of finding the perfect prom dress—one that I liked enough to commemorate in a photo forever, and also that was within my modest budget. Somehow I settled on a dusty-rose-colored, double-breasted gown that looked like a long, sleeveless smoking jacket, and open-toed platform slingbacks. It was nothing too fancy, but I incorporated glitz in other ways: inspired by Björk’s album Debut, with which I was obsessed, I glued rhinestones to the bottoms of my lower eyelids using Krazy Glue, which my adult self thinks is insane. I COULD HAVE GONE BLIND! DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME! But I felt kind of pretty, or at least somewhat cool. If I’m being honest, that was the real reason I was apprehensive about going to the prom in the first place. It wasn’t that I was so OVER IT. It was that I actually wanted to fit in and be accepted, just without compromising who I was.

Steven and me

Steven and me

Steven wore a tux, but our friend Laketta’s extremely disrespectful date stood her up—and may he suffer forever for it—so Steven switched out his accoutrements with the kufi, bowtie, and cummerbund that matched the dashiki gown Ketta’s mom had made for her. We were all dates together. Steven took two photos—one with her and one with me, and our photo is a real piece of work: me with my glittery Björk eyes, sweating profusely from dancing too hard, and him, a white man in a kufi that hid his sub-Morrissey haircut (the Lennon glasses are not pictured). We look more awkward than we do in any photo we have together from our 20-year friendship. But we also look happier. In theory, the night was as bad as predicted: there was Ketta’s absentee date, a few mean taunts from the usual suspects, and about six slow dances to “One Moment in Time” (chill, prom DJs!). But in retrospect, it really was the best, most hilarious night ever. We danced until we hurt, we made jokes and prank-called the creep who left Ketta solo, and once we left, we commiserated back at my mom’s house, staying up till sunrise and feeling invincible. We even talked to some of the people whom we thought hated us, united as we were in that one moment in time.

So even though I thought I never wanted to go to prom, I’m glad I did. It was the first time that I realized that even when you’re in the throes of hellacious hell and you think life will never improve, sometimes it does. Sometimes the worst moments are also the funniest. Sometimes the experiences you dread are the ones that become indelible and awesome in your brain. ♦

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22 Comments

  • thebrownette April 10th, 2013 11:43 PM

    that awkward moment when you’re home schooled and are definitely not going to anyone’s prom and are DEFINITELY not going to “homeschool prom” but wish you had an excuse to wear a fancy dress.

    • HollinsCollins April 11th, 2013 9:54 AM

      Oh my god I FEEL THAT.

      • Kimono Cat April 11th, 2013 2:16 PM

        This entire article was mildy depressing for me to read.

    • theycallmebones April 11th, 2013 2:40 PM

      DITTO.

  • lacecat April 10th, 2013 11:53 PM

    Emma, how did you get to go to 4 proms? Dang, my school only allows seniors only.
    Oh and Julianne, Pixie, and Anna- you guys looked so cute! :)

  • lizzyheinie April 10th, 2013 11:55 PM

    “He was just a bit character in a scene of my life.”

    I need to remember this the next time somebody screws me over. Thanks Anna <3

  • 9ql April 10th, 2013 11:56 PM

    Julianne–those marbled balloons! So cool!

  • Anaheed April 11th, 2013 12:20 AM

    Pixie your NAILS.

    • Pixie April 11th, 2013 9:28 AM

      Haaaaaa! I forgot all about those! My nails are usually like, Frodo Baggins status but I got acrylics (!) for prom and it was the WORST. I almost took my eye out trying to get my contacts out and if I remember correctly I picked half of them off before the prom was over. NEVER AGAIN!

  • unicornconnect April 11th, 2013 4:38 AM

    Amy Rose, this sounds like the most magical adventure ever!!!!!!! Totally reinforces the NYC magic so many rom coms have lead me to believe actually exists!!!!!!!!

    You all look rad in your dresses.

  • Blythe April 11th, 2013 4:45 AM

    Bleh I dunno my Junior Prom is this Saturday and I’m really depressed and I don’t have any friends who are Juniors at school and I’m in independent study so I’m not sure I can buy a ticket, but at the same time I really want to go.

  • iamrachii April 11th, 2013 5:26 AM

    It’s nice to read that you guys were largely indifferent about proms; at my UK school we had Christmas dances rather than an end-of-year prom, and although the senior dance was a big deal there were dances for every age group. I blew them all off and only went in my last year, but as soon as school started in August girls would start talking about booking their dresses and their hair appointments and it was just so boring and ridiculous that their lived revolved around this one night (not even the night itself, more the afternoon of getting ready). I got my dress (and my fancy dress costume for the after party) the week of the dance, on the day itself I was at a preparation for Uni event, and I basically got changed and showed up. I should point out the whole ‘getting a date’ part isn’t a thing over here. Anyway I wore a purple 50s style dress and the highlight for me was that the band I was part of (just a group of musical students brought together to play Jingle Bell Rock at assemblies and other Christmas functions) were asked to perform our song which was more fun than the sitting around or the Scottish country dancing parts.

  • Emma Dajska April 11th, 2013 7:41 AM

    Caitlin, I absolutely LOVE your illustration for this one!

  • caro nation April 11th, 2013 9:49 AM

    Amy Rose, you’re the only person I’ve ever heard describe having a really uplifting experience at prom, AND YOU DIDN’T EVEN GO LIKE A BADASS. Although Emma, your prom(s) also sounded pretty fun, too, because you’re so cavalier in describing them. Like, YEAH, I WENT TO FOUR PROMS FOR MY OWN REASONS, THEY WERE NO BIG DEAL.

  • wallflower152 April 11th, 2013 10:46 AM

    Jr prom: didn’t wanna go. My school you had to have enough “merits” to attend if you were a jr. That was gonna be my excuse not to attend but I ended up earning enough accidentally cuz I helped with a car wash which was actually pretty fun. I wore fake eyelashes and they were too long so I trimmed them and accidentally cut my real eyelashes too haha. Very lame night. I don’t dance and I hated the music that they danced to. I wore a floor length gown with matching chucks. No date just went with friends. I only really had two people there that I considered friends though. Highlight of my evening: texting my guy bff/crush/current bf who wasn’t there and eating at Chili’s with friends after. Got home super early like 12 or 1.

    Sr prom: a little less lame. I took a girl friend who was a soph. and my guy bff at the time/friend with benefits was my other date. Still didn’t dance, still hated the music. There were more friends this time so that made it better. ‘Specially to see my guy friends in their fancy clothes. Got home early and watched MTV’s True Life then opportunity arose to sneak out and go to my guy date’s house, drive down to the dead end on his road and makeout in my grandmother’s car until nearly 5am.

    PS: I noticed I always leave long comments on Rookie haha. I like to read what other people have to say about the articles so I like to share my thoughts too and I’m at bored at work so yeah. : )

  • christinachristina April 11th, 2013 12:53 PM

    I’m certainly not advocating doing drugs, but I went to my senior prom with a group of my best friends in a crappy old limo wearing a ridiculous dress from the 1980′s ON MUSHROOMS. It was completely amazing.

  • GlitterKitty April 11th, 2013 3:00 PM

    What is this junior prom business?? Isn’t the point of prom that you’re graduating? At my school only the seniors are allowed to buy prom tickets. Technically you can go if you’re younger but you have to go as a senior’s “date” and they have to buy your ticket. I feel like it’s some sort of American thing that we don’t do in Canada….

  • flocha April 11th, 2013 3:02 PM

    I live in England, and although my school doesn’t have an actual prom (yay for all girls schools) last year some friends of mine who go to different schools started looking for dresses and hiring marquees for after parties and fire engines to turn up in the September before, because prom had to be THE BEST NIGHT OF THEIR LIFE AND EVERYTHING HAD TO BE PERFECT. I understand the fun and appeal of dressing up/dancing/getting horrifically drunk with friends and everything, but I think that the whole experience would be more fun if everyone just calmed down a bit and stopped placing all their expectations on one night.

  • ellie0226 April 11th, 2013 4:00 PM

    Last year at my junior prom, my date was actually going steady with another girl and I didn’t see him the whole night, haha. I think I had more fun with my friends anyway.

  • glitter riot April 11th, 2013 7:26 PM

    I loved this piece, but it was also really depressing. I too want a John Hughes prom experience, but I really don’t think it’s going to happen. I don’t talk to the majority of my peers and the one’s who I do talk to i’m not too close with. three of my best friends aren’t going to prom, so I would have no one to sit with. I really really wish I could go and dress up and be the only girl who looks like she stepped out of a vintage magazine next to the girls in glittery, sexy dresses. But I can’t dance, I don’t have a date, and I’m scared of going on drugs because I had a really bad experience with them and vowed to never do them again. I mean, i guess i could always get drunk to get myself through it but i feel like I could just do that at with my best friends and save 150 bucks.

  • Lydia Jane April 21st, 2013 4:28 PM

    My prom was last night, and the whole thing was really weird and awkward. I’d definitely been hoping it would be either incredible or terrible–I think I just really wanted it to be a pivotal moment in my adolescent life, a la Pretty in Pink or Perks of Being a Wallflower. This article’s awesome because it kind of gave me a new perspective. I’m looking forward to being able to look back, in a few years, and laugh/cringe/sigh at the uncomfortable-ness and strangeness that was my junior prom, haha. x

  • fashionforteens May 30th, 2013 9:56 PM

    My prom experience was pretty similar to some of these. I basically dragged myself to both proms just because I was afraid of “missing out”. I had even more romanticized, 80s John Hughes-esque hopes for the evening than I’d like to admit and naturally, I was let down. While I’m ultimately glad that I went, neither prom was particularly memorable. I didn’t really hit it off with my date Junior year, who was pretty quiet and awkward. Senior year, the dance itself was the typical boring high school event and the after prom was excessively fun for the oh, about hour or so that I was there before drinking way too much and passing out. So all in all, prom wasn’t really what I’d hoped for but hey, neither was high school and I have the rest of my life for romance, right?