As with a lot of adolescents and early post-adolescents, I defined myself in many ways by who I wasn’t. My sister-in-law grew up deciding that she was first and foremost not her father. Most seem to define themselves by not being some authority figure or another. Some, though, define themselves against mainstream society as a whole. They’re not a conformist or a preppie or whatever else.

That’s more the category that I fell into. I had minimal beef with my parents (as far as such things go when you’re that age, of course), but I hated everyone around me. I hated the rich snobs at my high school. More than that, I hated high school culture itself. Though there was always a special emphasis on the connection between money and popularity, though naturally it extended to the conformity required. Deep down, of course, a lot of it had to do with the certainty that I could conform and do everything they asked of me and still be an outcast. Meanwhile, I had a group outside my school that accepted and even celebrated my presence. Who needed those snobs?

Up through my junior year, I never went to a high school dance. That was mostly because I could never ask a girl to one. I declared the grapes on the tree sour and turned my failure to participate in any extracurricular activities into some bizarre badge of honor. The senior prom, though, was different. I was willing to put the badge on the shelf to avoid a certain other mark — the mark of someone that couldn’t get a date.

Back when I was a junior, I had a friend that I didn’t care very much that spent prom night watching movies with his parents. I decided right then and there that one way or another I would go to the prom if only so people wouldn’t think of me the way that we thought of him. That superceded the Badge of Nonparticipation.

I decided, though, that if I was going to do the whole prom thing that I was going to do it on my own terms. I was not going to spend the outrageous amounts of money that the other kids were spending. There would be no limousine. No beach house in Surfenberg. Not even fine dining. I was going to do this thing for under $20 (excluding gas).

My mother was horrified. She told me that Julie was going to dump me if I did this to her. I pointed out that it wasn’t her prom and besides she was on board with the whole idea. She went to a working class high school where things like limousines and the like weren’t done anyway. Besides, just because I was going to be cheap doesn’t mean that I was going to be lazy. Mom told me that she would take care of the corsage because a friend that made them owed her a favor anyway. She begged and pleaded me to allow her to buy our dinner at a nice restaurant, but I refused.

Instead I drove all the way down the interstate looking for some sort of park that had some covering. Then I found the nearest Wendy’s, which was the establishment that she and I had eaten at on our first official date.

I picked up Julie at her house on prom night. That meant going in the wrong direction, but it still seemed like the thing to do on prom night. We stopped by the Wendy’s nearby and ordered two salads, two burgers, shared fries, a shared drink, and a shared desert. A three course picnic in a little canopy in the wind and rain. That she had a good time was one of the things that I really loved about her.

The prom was the prom. Neither Julie and I are dancers, so we only danced on a couple of songs. There had been an election for what the official prom song would have been. Ironically, the song in question was never played until the very end, where it had to be cut short because our time was up. We had our picture taken (those cost money, of course, but I didn’t count that because that wasn’t on prom night), I had my pictures taken with my best friends Clint and Dave. On the whole it was… kinda boring, actually.

Things picked up afterwards when Julie and I somehow hooked up with my classmate (and reluctant friend) Scott Sanders and Marianne Silbet. The four of us went to the beach together and considering that Scott was by far one of the least fun people to be around, we enjoyed ourselves walking on the pier in our bare feet. Talking about the prom, high school, and all that. That replaced the picnic as the high point of the evening.

Unlike a lot of people, there wasn’t any sex on prom night. By the time we drove home I was beyond sleepy. I told Julie that we’d need to pull over so that she could drive. She asked why and I told her that all of the lane changing I’d been doing (and I’d been doing a lot) had not been intentional. She quickly pointed out the first exit afterwards. She took the wheel, we drove to her house, and I slept on the couch in my tux.

That I was able to go to the prom spending so little money was a source of pride for me for a long time afterwards, though in the last couple years my perspective on it has changed. The biggest factor in that, I think, is the realization that my decision to be different on such inconsequential things as that was a bigger barrier to my social life than anything else. And with the exception of the popular people and the select few people that didn’t like me for one reason or another, it wasn’t because they were snotty and hated my individuality or anything like that, but rather it was because it cost me opportunities to get to know people.

Looking back, I wish that I had gone to the prom with Clint and Dave in their limo or whatever it was that they had. Or if their limo was full, I’m sure I could have found someone to go with. I didn’t even like being around Scott Sanders and yet sharing the experience with him was one of my favorite parts of the evening. Even going with him would have been more fun. Though, come to think of it, he may have been hip to the whole $20 prom thing because he was tightwad.

Instead, I let my conception of the way that things should be get in the way of having as good a time as I might have otherwise had.

Unfortunately, I did that sort of thing a lot.

Category: Ghostland, School

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3 Responses to Discounted Memories

  1. Dave says:

    What’s funny is that I wish my experience was a little more like yours. We had like 18 people crammed into that limo-bus, and it was just too much of a production to make it much fun. The beach house was a waste, because we all pretty much crashed by the time we got there. Good thing it was mommy and daddy’s money.

    I figure the important part is spending quality time with people you like, and all the expensive pomp is just showing off.

  2. trumwill says:

    You guys had eighteen people?! Yeah, I don’t think that I would have enjoyed that so much, either. I don’t wish that I had spent more for the “pomp and circumstance” but rather because that was kind of the ticket to go with other people (unless I could have found someone interested in a picnic and a walk by the pier).

  3. Barry says:

    We had dances throughout junior high, and I went to those (stag, of course) but then again so did most of the people. I had fun dancing with a group, and that was fine. The one time I got the courage to ask the then-girl-of-my-dreams to go to a dance with me, (the “Semi-Formal Dance”) we even practiced one evening before-hand to a particular song. When we got there she more or less vanished. When the song came on finally, I found her in a crowd of friends – told her “the song” was on, and she said she wanted to stay with her friends. So that was that. My mom drove me home (her mom picked her back up there) and I felt terrible.

    I never went to another dance, never asked another girl out. Actually, just realizing that as I type this that that dance may have been why. When Senior Prom finally came around, I was in love with another girl – one that already had a date to the prom. I asked her anyway, and she said if the date with the first guy didn’t pan out (there were questions if he was going to be available) she’d go with me. He was, she didn’t, and I hung out with some church youth group friends that night. So I never went to my prom at all.

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