I was not excited for prom. Which isn’t to say I was anti-prom—mostly, I felt indifferent about it. I mean, if other people were into the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on a glorified dance and dinner then I wasn’t going to rain on their parade, but I just didn’t see the point. I hated high school, and the idea of never returning was enough fun for me.
But my mom really wanted me to go—she was very much into commemorating traditional milestones. I can’t remember how she persuaded me to do it. It happened somewhere between “You’ll regret it later” and “Don’t you want pictures to show your grandparents?” and “Seriously, I’ll buy your dress and pay for tickets for both you and your date, but you’re going.” I decided I wanted to be as low-key as possible: no limo, no fancy hotel parties. I conceded to getting my hair done, but bought the dress secondhand days before the event. I would go, and I would even let myself have fun, but I would not allow myself to put all—or any—of my expectations on one night.
I expressed my ambivalence about the night to a platonic friend from middle school whom, for the sake of a Pretty in Pink reference, we’ll refer to as Blane. I called Blane my best friend, but that was mostly because I was into the idea of having a guy for a best friend, like Xander and Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I harbored a massive unreciprocated crush on him, which, for the record, is not usually the basis for a healthy friendship.
Here is a historic re-enactment of our phone call:
Me: I just don’t see what the big deal is about prom. It’ll probably end up being lame.
Him: Would it be less lame if I went with you?
Me: Are you saying you want to come to my prom?
Him: I don’t know, do you want me to go to your prom?
And with that, I had a date. Blane lived six hours away and would have to take a bus into the city. “Are you sure that’s OK?” I asked, stressing once again how laid-back I wanted the event to be. “If it’s too much, I’ll just go with friends.” Blane assured me he was planning to come visit for a week around that time anyway, and we decided he would stay with me for the first two nights before crashing with other friends.
The event itself was held on a rainy June evening. We took photos in the living room. I was wearing a pale gold, embroidered dress from the 1950s. The corsage came from my mom; Blane refused to wear his boutonniere because he said it’d ruin his tux. There was increasing friction between the two of us. I mean, we were getting along all right, but it was clear that though we had been close friends during the first few years of high school, we were growing into very different people. I could never quite put my finger on it, but we had fewer and fewer mutual friends and we no longer laughed at each other’s jokes. Still, I could play the role of the happy prom attendee, dressed to the nines, for an evening that I would describe as “perfectly nice.” The food was pleasant. A dude was elected prom queen. I tried to engage Blane in that not-quite-grinding-but-not-far-from-it dance that makes parents and teachers cringe, but after about four seconds it felt so awkward that I settled for dancing pretty chastely in a group with my friends. Some people got carried away at the afterparty, and there was lots of puking. It was an evening where everything went as expected and nothing was particularly memorable, but at least I could now cross “prom” off my list of life experiences. Blane and I returned home at 4 AM, and the following morning my friends came over and my parents made us pancakes and coffee.
When Blane eventually left to visit his other friends, I started talking to my mother. I confessed that he and I had grown apart. My mom added that she noticed tension between us, and was surprised that I had volunteered to pay for his trip down here. Cue the record scratch. I asked my mom to elaborate.
“Oh you know,” she said. “When you guys came home, Blane asked for a check to reimburse his bus ride down here. I figured you guys had talked about it.”
I couldn’t believe it. Blane had waited until I had fallen asleep to ask for money from my parents to pay for a trip that he said he had covered. I was humiliated. The bus ticket had cost twice what my dress did. I felt like Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You after she found out her date got paid to take her to prom, only I didn’t get a guitar from Heath Ledger out of the deal.
Pissed off, I called Blane. “It was your idea to go to prom!” I practically yelled into the phone. “You promised me it wouldn’t be a problem for you to come into town!” I didn’t listen to his side of the argument, because I had already made up my mind: he had used me, I was a fool, and our friendship was officially over.
I slammed down the receiver, satisfied that I at least got a few dramatic gestures out of the situation, and went to find my mom. “Didn’t you think it odd that I had promised this guy you’d give him money without talking to you about it first?” I asked her.
“I did,” she said. “But I just wanted you to have fun. It was your prom.”
In that moment, I forgot about my rage and realized just how much my mom had done for me the past few days: paying for my dress, accommodating my guest, having my friends over for breakfast the morning after, all to give me a happy experience to end high school with. I was so wrapped up in my scorned crush and my hatred of high school that I had taken for granted one of the relationships that actually mattered to me.
Ultimately, I look back on my prom experience as a happy one. It ended on a sour note, sure, but the event itself was fun. It was a silly night in which I dressed up and danced with my friends—nothing life-changing like in the movies, but I never expected as much.
I don’t know what Blane’s doing with his life now. I found him on Facebook and tried to get in touch when I was writing this piece, but he never replied. I certainly don’t wish him any ill will at this point, but I don’t miss him. He was just a bit character in a scene of my life. ♦