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Prom: Why I Didn't Go
“Can I try your red curry?” my sister asked.
“Only if I can try your pad Thai,” I replied.
“Deal.” Currently, my sister and I were enjoying authentic Thai cuisine in a small restaurant located near her college, 150 miles from our hometown. As I tasted the spicy dishes, I couldn’t help but compare them to the bland, dry chicken I would rather be eating at my school’s junior-senior prom.
It all began with a class meeting. The first step was choosing Casino Royale as a theme. The vote split, boys for “Star Wars,” half of the girls for “Midnight Masquerade,” the other half for “Casino Royale.” Our sponsor promptly vetoed the Star Wars attempt, making Casino Royale a strong winner. Juniors were required to sign up for a committee, so I wrote my name down on the longest list, assuming my job would be minimal.
In a rare moment of inspiration, I decided to sketch an idea I had for the invitations. Before I knew it, I was buying retired casino cards online, along with a poker chips and green paper. I had become the invitation maniac. After a week of cutting and gluing, my masterpieces were complete. The only thing left to do was hand them out. That was where my involvement ended. I quietly let everyone else take credit for my work, for how creative the invitations were. It was the first of many mistakes leading up to that fateful day, April 10.
The next step in preparing for prom was buying a dress. Spring break came along, and my family traveled to Denver. At the mall, I bee-lined to a shop with beautiful dresses in the window. I went in and ran my fingers down both sides of the aisle, gently touching all of the sheer and silky fabrics, immediately finding the one I loved. My family picked up at least 20 dresses for me to try on, but as soon as I got to the fitting room, I knew which one I wanted to try first. I felt like a 1920’s movie star. I tried on the other dresses my family had picked out, but none of them made me feel the way this one did.
“It looked beautiful on you,” the sales clerk said, ringing it up. “Just so you know our store has a no return policy after ten days.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” my mother replied, turning to me, “Now all you need to do is find a date.”
I was embarrassed that she had said it in front of the sales clerk, and I quietly answered that I would.
About a week later, my mom called out to me, “Jessie, I called the salon today. You have a hair appointment for prom.”
I swallowed hard, knowing I hadn’t fulfilled my part of the deal. I hadn’t secured a date, or even a group of girls to go with. It seemed everyone already had plans, and I was far too shy to invite myself to go with somebody. “Thanks, Mom,” I said, trying to sound normal.
“Have you found anybody to go with yet?”
“Not yet, but Shelby is going with a group of girls, so I might go with them.”
“Good. You had better get on it. Prom is only three weeks away.”
“I know, Mom.” Of course I knew. How could I not? It was all I heard about at school, all I thought about at home.
It was true that Shelby was going with a group of girls, but they were all seniors, and they certainly didn’t want juniors going with them; I had already asked. I had one plan left. Too embarrassed to do it myself, particularly at this late date, I asked Shelby to see if her friend had a date yet. I had complete faith that this new plan would work out, and I would be attending prom.
A week after talking to Shelby, I finally got an answer. He was taking his ex-girlfriend, someone I had been good friends with before she graduated. This was the reason I was even in this predicament. All of my close friends had graduated the year before, when I was a sophomore. When I returned to school as a junior, I found that all my friends were a hundred miles away, and everyone my age had already formed social circles back when we were freshmen.
That night I went to bed early. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, devastated, and most of all responsible. It was too much for my emotional sensors. All I wanted was the sweet release of sleep, but it wouldn’t come. It began with a slow tear sliding across my face and resting on my pillow. Once the flood gate opened, it couldn’t be stopped. My body, curled into the fetal position, was wracked with muffled sobs. I couldn’t control it, yet I didn’t want to wake my family. I’m not sure how long it was before I slipped into sleep that night, only to be awakened by that buzzing alarm to face my fate.
All I could think about all day was telling my mother I wasn’t going. I knew she would be worried and probably wouldn’t accept it right away. She didn’t, but after she thought about it, she came to a few conclusions. The first was that she had failed as a parent because I’m a quitter in the sense that I didn’t try hard enough. I could take that; I had already discerned it myself. Her second conclusion was that because she loves me, she wasn’t going to make quitting easy. I was responsible for canceling my hair appointment, which I was actually glad to do because I was afraid of what she might tell the stylists as to why. Worse than that, whenever someone came to our house, she made a point to talk about my dress, saying, “Why don’t you go try it on?” I played her games, and although it wasn’t her intent, I accepted them as reasonable punishment for my failures.
She did agree to a few concessions. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit my sister at her college. While everybody back home was doing hair, nails, makeup, and picking up corsages, I was over a hundred miles away helping my sister do laundry, eating Thai food, and watching movies. By then, I was numb to emotion, and the evening wasn’t miserable at all.
In the weeks and months that followed, I accepted what happened. I was responsible for the events that had started long before prom. When I first went back to school after my friends graduated, I didn’t know how to make new friends. I felt like an outsider among my peers because they were already settled, and I was starting over again. At times, I held them responsible for not reaching out to me, but in reality, I had done nothing to help myself. The fact that I didn’t have friends any more felt like a failure and a weakness. I attempted to cure my vulnerability by proving I didn’t need anyone, and that I could stick it out until college. I seldom engaged in conversation, slowly fading into the background. If I had been more outgoing, more engaging, I might have had a date to the prom.
It would be a lie to say that things are perfect now that I have diagnosed the problem, but as a whole, my social skills are improving. As testament, Shelby’s friend asked me out a few weeks after the prom. It was proof that, although indirect, my contact with others produces positive results. I continue to take things one day at a time, and I can feel myself breaking free from my inhibiting cocoon and metamorphosing into a social butterfly. Who knows? Maybe I will flap my wings just in time to eat dry chicken at the next prom. . .