I don’t consider my prom experience a failure. But looking back it was less than picture perfect. If anything, it was awkward and inescapably average. It also managed to poke at many of my high school insecurities, making it all the more cringeworthy in hindsight.
First thing to note, promposals had yet to go viral. Most kids asked each other via baked goods, flowers, and the occasional teacher collusion. I didn’t get asked until two weeks beforehand. Which at my high school was late, like you were debating your party line for not getting asked. Do you go the I didn’t want to go anyway route or do you pull up your cowgirl boots and go stag?
That’s where I was at when Freddy Gomez*, in the middle of AP English, slid two tickets onto my desk with the simple question “Prom?” written in blue ball point pen on the envelope.
Full disclosure, I was mortified.
Here I was, the girl who got asked last, with absolutely no hoopla, in the middle of a Crime & Punishment lecture, by a guy who (to his credit was actually really smart and cute and played on the varsity soccer team) was vaguely in my friend group.
She was in on my secret and all I could think was she’s laughing at me.
As a complete sidebar, I think about Freddy sometimes now and wonder how he felt that day and throughout the rest of the prom experience. I never found out why he asked me or if it had meant more to him than it did to me. I hope he walked away with a similar feeling that I did – we were glad we went but knew much bigger and better things lay ahead for us. Ideally not involving formal wear and peer pressure.
Literally blushing from forehead to mid-abdomen, instead of smiling at Freddy and acknowledging the huge gesture he’d just offered me, I subtly looked around the classroom to see if anyone else had noticed. It was just my luck that Jessica Green, arguably one of the prettiest girls in my class (who I fancied must be going with her equally glamorous boyfriend), caught my eye. She smiled knowingly with, what I think now, was genuine excitement. She was in on my secret and all I could think was she’s laughing at me.
After regaining a modicum of composure and making sure Jessica was distracted, I slid a note back to Freddy accepting his invitation.
My mom was thrilled, “now we can go dress shopping!” We went to Northgate Mall after dinner on a school night to do what my mom and I like to call a down and dirty shopping spree. Neither of us enjoys shopping and at the time I especially hated having her in the dressing room with me.
I just wanted to look like Grace Kelly.
We struck out at the usual suspects: Nordstrom, Macy’s, JC Penny, Jessica McClintock, before finally winding our way to Cache. I’m honestly not even sure if that’s still a thing? For anyone unfamiliar, it is/was a classic occasion dress shop that you’d only find at an indoor mall.
We tried on a few vintagy numbers, which has always been my affinity in evening wear. Valentino, anyone? Every girl was trying to find Keira Knightley’s green Atonement dress and I just wanted to look like Grace Kelly. Needless to say, I ended up with a floor length navy dress with a sweetheart neckline and ruffles running down the full length. It’s still hanging in my closet, because my mom insists, “you never know if you’ll wear it again.”
Upon checkout, the sales girl asked if I wanted some Spanx to go with my dress. Queue a flood of internal body shaming. I know she was just trying the build a multiple item sale, but still. That shit hurts. My mom turned to me and asked if I wanted the Spanx. I said sure. We checked out, drove home feeling accomplished, and never really addressed the shapewear elephant in the car.
The rest of the planning was a blur. We rented limos, we bought corsages, our moms threw together a huge group feast at my friend Lily’s house. There were between 10-15 couples in my group, so that’s a lot of mouths to feed. God bless them.
As for the day’s beauty preparation, I made the decision to splurge on getting my hair done. Something I had never done before. I was on Hair & Makeup Crew for my school’s musical every year, so I was feeling pretty confident in my smokey eye skills, less so styling an updo on my own head.
Where were my face framing curls? Why was there so much hairspray?
In an attempted to save money, my appointment was at a neighborhood beauty school. I knew that meant compromising on expert ability and my time, but other girls had used this strategy for dances before me so I wasn’t too worried. I went in with a photo of Eva Longoria on the Oscars red carpet and, obviously, a very reasonable grasp on beauty expectations.
After three hours, I walked out with all my hair pulled back into a tight bun of curls and 57 bobby pins. (I counted them as I pulled them out later in my room on the edge of tears). Never trust a semi-professional with something you can do yourself, or maybe, just manage your expectations. Where were my face framing curls? Why was there so much hairspray? I tore it all out when I got home and did my best to patch it back together. Never again.
Prom itself was smooth sailing. We arrived on time, we took glam shots in the photo booth, and most importantly we danced. I barely remember Freddy, which I pretended not to feel bad about at the time, and just hung out with my girlfriends. We took a ton of photos with our point-and-shoot cameras, because that was still a thing. I was proud of myself for wearing my slingback heels all night, a small but important victory.
After prom, we went to my friend Sophie’s house for snacks, movies, and a giant co-ed sleepover. There was canoodling among the steady couples, but Freddy and I were on the same page. We’d gone together out of friendship and the mutual desire to survive this high school tradition relatively unscathed. And, we did.
Looking back, I just laugh.
Prom didn’t teach me some lesson about being myself or how to walk away more confident or anything profound like that. I just moved on. The end of senior year was a blur of tests, speeches, goodbyes, and the great unknown that was college looming in September. What I will say about all of this, is I laughed out loud a lot writing down my story. And through that humor and self-deprecation, there’s also truth in my prom experience. It was average. There was insecurity and raw embarrassment. There were a couple mishaps and few moments of genuine feeling. And then, it was over.
*Names changed for everyone’s sake.