So I was catching up on “Parenthood,” which is a GREAT show that not nearly enough people are watching (Go! Go! Forget my blog; go to Hulu and watch this glorious piece of art!) and one of the episodes featured the show’s two teenage girls and their dates going to the prom.
I can’t even tell you how much prom television episodes fill me with nostalgia. Back in 1993, I was even nostalgic for prom the week before it actually happened!
The special, time-of-my-life moments made me sad, even then. Because I’d dreamed of being a teenager since I was a little kid, and now I’d almost reached the pinnacle. As I tried on a faded (in color, on purpose) royal blue dress, the color of my school and cheerleading uniform, that really flattered my figure quite well, I stared in the mirror at myself, through tears, and realized even then, how ridiculously emo I was being. Though nobody said “emo” back then.
I didn’t get that dress. There was bead action going on around the mock turtleneck that I just couldn’t abide. Plus even though I usually hated the way I looked in everything, since I liked myself in that dress, I’d surely like myself in others! LOGIC!
A week later, I bought a different dress – long, black, ersatz velvet, with a sweetheart neckline, still beaded, but in a rhinestone way that this ’80s flea market/mall shopper could respect and appreciate.
I’d been to two other proms, before my senior year. The first was during my junior year. We had like, 10 people in my school, so the junior/senior “banquets” (Baptist word for prom) were combined. I boarded the Thomas Jefferson tugboat in a pink, soft lace number with my boyfriend whom I was definitely going to marry. It was a magical night, as was said boyfriend’s (actually called) prom at Jericho Terrace, with West Hempstead High School’s graduating class of Nineteen Hundred and Ninety Two.
Perhaps the awesomeness of the first two proms set my standards too high. Perhaps the fact that ’93 was “My Prom” put too much pressure on the whole thing. But my senior prom day was not a fairy-tale joy repeat of the first two. Rather, I spent the afternoon/early evening of my senior prom crying and in general throwing a fit, as I was Very Fat. I wasn’t, and spent a good 10 adult years wishing to have the body that made me cry, but regardless, that night I knew for a fact that I was, and my boyfriend waited downstairs as I tearfully lamented my terrible body.
In retrospect, despite my body issues, I think I just wasn’t ready to let go. I wanted to be Brenda from 90210 – sassily and curvily rocking out a silver dress, dancing my heart out, but I was too sad and too insecure to buy the cooler dress when (*gasp*) I (*sob*) had (*heave*) the chancccceeeee (*Mom rolls eyes but in her secret way and hugs me*).
When Lauren Graham on “Parenthood” finds out that her gothy, Eff the System daughter Amber is going to prom, she tells her she’s so happy, because prom, though corny, is an apt and sentimental way of saying goodbye to high school.
And when Amber and Hattie came down the stairs, decked out to the nines, everyone exclaimed over their beauty. It was celebratory, but not overplayed.Charmingly sweet, but awkward. It was less about the glamour of ’93 90210, and more about the parents’ vantage point. What this walk down the staircase means, even if the kids don’t realize it yet.
And then Hattie and Amber got their corsages, and it made me sob.
Though in high school I could never relate to the girls like Amber, who think prom is ridiculous, and go for a laugh if they go at all, I relate to them now. Back then, I wondered how anyone with an extra X chromosome could so easily discard such an Important Night, forever. Now I realize in a way that I did the same thing, as I wasted so much of my own prom night filled with angst that kept me from appreciating this moment I’d never get back again.
I remember getting ready for other banquets, before prom. They too were like “dances” — if not to dance, still a rite of passage. A time to dress up fancy, to feel pretty. To wear a corsage.
And though granted, I spent like 27 hours with Victoria Jackson cosmetics and corset bras in preparation for aforementioned events, they made me happy. I felt good. Like even if I wasn’t looking good at the start, I could be by the end of a Saturday spent in the bathroom. And that was enough. Not every day has to be full makeup ‘n heels; perish the thought. But every once in a while, it’s nice to play dress up.
On my prom night, I didn’t have that Hattie & Amber, et television al., presentational walk down the staircase. Instead, I shuffled downstairs in a fit of angst and self loathing. And my senior year, they’d not gotten a tugboat, but a room at Huntington Townhouse, where we had a halfhearted luau theme, and zero dancing. Afterwards, my friends and I did the limo thing and went to the city to a comedy club, and I got heckled for going to the bathroom.
All of it kind of, really, SUCKED.
But all of it also smelled like Eternity perfume and believing that people really do fall in love with and marry their high school boyfriends. So even if your prom dress wasn’t off like a prom dress, it was all good, because one day it would be your wedding dress, and in the meantime you could chill in a gray hoodie and play Mickey’s Castle of Illusion on Sega.
As much as my senior prom experience kind of blew, it was also kind of awesome. And whenever prom comes up, in real life, on TV, in movies advertised during Grey’s Anatomy – I will always cry.
Because no matter what happens, there really and truly is nothing in the world like being 17. And maybe when I’m 70, if I am so lucky as to reach 70, I’ll feel the same way about the memory of 35. So even when the temptation to virtually pitch a fit about my prom dress comes up, I try. I often fail, but I try to remember that I’m never going to get this moment or day back again, either. Today’s Vanilla Musk may be tomorrow’s Eternity, so I should gather my rosebuds. And dance like no one — ESPECIALLY not a strict Baptist classmate who will tell on you to the principal — is watching ❤