Although I really hated high school, I still tried to make the most of it. I learned at some point that trying to disconnect from the experience was actually more detrimental than trying and failing to enjoy it. Plus, some things I actually did enjoy. So, while some of my stories may sound like I did nothing but wallow on the outskirts of high school, I did make an effort to participate. I never went further than I was comfortable with. I never went to football games or ran for student elections. I felt too strongly that those things would be intolerable, not just for the atmosphere but because those activities would be filled with people I disliked. But I went to some school dances. I was in concert band. I was even the editor of the school newspaper for two years. I was in drama club. I even tried out for track in my senior year. And of course, I went to prom.
I actually went to three proms. My junior prom was a lot of fun, and I have fond memories of riding around all night in our limo. Unlike all of our classmates, we split our time with the limo so that it would drop us off at prom, but then we would have it after the after party for a couple of hours. So me and the two other couples who split the cost just drove around all night. My senior prom ws a lot more fun, but I’m going to reserve my stories about that for now, it could possibly come up in a later post, and I don’t want to bury my lead on this one. The prom I want to talk about wasn’t my prom, but a prom I was invited to.
Way back at the beginning of this blog, I had a week of bands that didn’t quite make the cut, but still deserved a mention. In my post about The Offspring, I touched briefly on my summer retreat at Christian Leadership Institute. It was a pretty pivotal time for me, not for the religious parts of it, since my views on that subject have dramatically changed since then. No, it was more important for the development of self, of identity, and for the friendships I made there. One of those friends was a girl named Marieke. For the record, she was not the girl sitting with me on the dock who would become my first girlfriend. No, Marieke and I never dated, but we double dated a lot. She and my girlfriend Missy both lived in Rome, New York. Marieke’s boyfriend (who she also met at CLI) Brian and I lived in Syracuse. So our families would carpool. My parents would drive Brian and I out there, or his parents would, or Missy or Marieke’s parents would drive the both of them to us. And we would spend a weekend hanging out at one of the four houses. It was a good arrangement for a while. Marieke and Brian broke up before Missy and I, but only by a few weeks. She had come in to town with her church youth group to go to a Syracuse basketball game, and my church youth group was also going. It was a diocese wide event. Missy couldn’t go, and neither could Brian. So Marieke and I hung out. She would stay over at my place, and had plans to see Brian the next day. Well, he called to reschedule those plans the next morning, then called to cancel them in the afternoon. In the evening, he called to break up with her. I had a front row seat to this, as it was on my phone in my room. I also got to be the one to deal with the fallout afterwards, a role I gladly accepted. Marieke and I remained friends after that, though, and still got together whenever we could. We both found our ways in and out of various relationships for the next year, but were both single going into the late spring of our respective senior years. And so it was that Marieke asked me to be her date to her prom.
Her school was too small to have separate proms for juniors and seniors, so they had a combined prom. I rented a tux and bought a corsage, and my parents drove me out to her house the morning before her prom. I got changed in her basement, so there was really no big “coming to pick her up” ritual or drama. Her parents took the obligatory pictures of us in the living room and some outside. Then Marieke and I got into the family minivan and drove off to prom. On our way we picked up her friend Liz who was going stag to the prom.
Now, there are things I am good at. I’m pretty creative. I’m good with technology. I have a good sense of humor. Hopefully for all of your sake, I’m a decent writer and can tell an engaging story. There are things I’m abysmally bad at, though. Towards the top of that list is that I’m not good with strangers. I suck at meeting new people, let alone interacting with them. I don’t like calling people on the phone that I’ve never called before. I have trouble ordering pizza. So, here I am, dressed in a tux, and in a room full of fifty or so people, I know two.
My first instinct was to run away. There were a couple of problems with that plan. I was not near home, I didn’t drive there, and it would have been incredibly rude. I might have been able to work through the rude part, and I have stories where I chose rudeness over social interaction at other points in my life. But the logistics of getting anywhere ruined my chances of fleeing.
I chose to go with my second instinct. It’s a tactic I’ve used at countless parties and social events. I sit in one place, except to go to the bathroom or get more to drink, and I don’t talk to anyone until they talk to me. It’s not exactly a proactive way to handle social anxiety, but it is preferable, in my mind, to trying to talk to people. I go through life pretty convinced that no one actually wants to hear what I have to say. I find the paltry readership stats of this blog to be pretty surprising, to be honest. Thus, I try to wait until someone talks to me to engage in conversation.
This is a fine strategy for when I’m by myself, or when I’m part of a group when the rest of them are having a good time. It’s a shitty thing to do to someone at their senior prom. I have great memories of my senior prom. I laughed, I danced (yes, for a couple of songs at least). There was an incident with the ballot box. And there are just bunches of stories and memories from the event itself, not to mention the rest of the night and the next day. I doubt Marieke could say the same. Essentially, she brought the equivalent of a really big stuffed animal to prom. I don’t look bad, and I could be called at best cute and at worst non-threatening, but I’m not much more than a large object taking up space. I’m rubbish for conversation, and not really useful for a dance. To my mind, that’s the memory that Marieke will have of her senior prom.
Once the prom was over, Marieke, Liz, myself and a couple of their friends piled back into the minivan. We had a lot of adventures for the rest of the night. We went to the local supermarket, all dressed up in our nice clothes, and bought three boxes of condoms. We then sat in the parking lot and inflated them all and tied them to the luggage rack on top of the minivan. We went to a local development where all the house looked the same and rearranged all of the yard decorations. We put them exactly as they were, but on a different lawn. We stopped by Liz’s friends’ house, where they had gotten drunk while watching How to Make an American Quilt. At some point, while we were driving on the highway, I opened the side door to the van and grabbed a traffic cone while we were driving along at 50 mph.
The next day, Marieke drove me back to Syracuse. It was Mother’s Day, and it was snowing, because Upstate New York. We had a really good time once it was just a few people I knew, or when it was just Marieke and I. But I have never shaken the feeling that I was a rotten date for the prom. Though she may or may not remember that night, and she may or may not feel the same way, I will always know that I could have tried to make her night a little more special. I hope she focuses on the other parts of the night, or that she had more fun than I perceived, or that she’s forgotten it all together. But I can’t. Like I’ve said before, I can never seem to forget the times when I was less than the person that I want to be, and even though we didn’t go to prom as a romantic couple, I could have at least been a better friend.