Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Prom Night. I think......

The end-of-school Prom night is one of those things like Halloween trick-or-treat that we seem to have largely imported from the US, and like Halloween, only really do half-heartedly in comparison.  When I endured my rite of passage it was called a 'Formal', presumably referring to 'formal attire', but these days I think they call it simply a School Ball.

(ASIDE): I'm writing this because somehow I ended up daring a friend to write about the high school prom she was having flashbacks to by proposing an "I'll blog you mine if you blog me yours" sort of thing.  Nice the different ways you can be a little harmlessly flirty on the interwebs, isn't it?  Nice too that I haven't lost the knack of unthinkingly committing myself to uncomfortable things for my personal betterment by sabotaging my more habitual cautionary mechanisms.  It is unusual to be blogging on a topic that did not spontaneously enter my mind as such.  I have no idea how this will go....

It's also worth noting that I remember very little about the actual night itself.

1987, year with perhaps one of the shittiest all-time Top 40 lists ever; THE Number one was Kylie Minogue's version of Locomotion, and it was the year Rick Astley first told everyone he was Never Gonna Give You Up.  The fluorescent colours of a couple of years earlier had toned down just a tad, men were by now completely comfortable with hair products, the New Wave was already getting old and the shoulder pads were starting to recede, but just a little.  Water-wave taffeta was the choice of fabric for every Formal and bridesmaid's dress in the land, so if you listened carefully on Friday nights in the suburbs the silky swish-swooshing of nervous ballgoers doing the final touches to their makeup could be heard over the usual din of televisions, dogs and tinnies being cracked..  

My high school was a fairly progressive (yet Catholic) school nestled in bushland at the edges of a market-garden and residential suburb on the Northern Beaches peninsula of Sydney.  The school had an interesting and relevant history in that only three years prior to my starting there, it was an all-girls school.  Then they introduced the first lot of boys just in Year 7, then again the following year and so on, so when I started there were two years of boys above me, but girls all the way up to Year 12.  Change is often slow, with the effect that in my year, the ratio of boys to girls was still something like 1:2.  As Year 10 rolled by and some boys left for trades (but virtually no girls) the disparity rose, so for those of us fellows interested in the fairer sex it was a well-stocked playground indeed.

Let's face it, Proms are all about the date, really, aren't they?

I had a girlfriend in high school.  Well, one major one anyway.  She joined our school late in the piece, maybe Year 10, and lived just around the corner from me.  I found myself a tad smitten and would walk the extra half-kilometre to go past her house and use a different bus stop just to get close to her, using whatever charm and guile a 15 year-old guy could to woo this lovely blondie large-boned lass, Sarah.  Eventually it worked.  We were a little on-again-off-again (but mostly on) pretty much from then on for the duration.  We were actually sort of in an off-phase by the time the Formal came around, and I now can't recall who she actually went with.  It wasn't me, but I remember having a photo taken with her there.  Things were weird and confusing then, so excuse me if I can't quite nail it all down.  I have never had a straightforward or regular relationship life, even to this day.

I  had another sort-of girlfriend by that time, my first experience of a 'younger woman', in that she was in the year below me at school.  Also the larger-framed variety (this was a pattern I had for a while there) with deep golden cascades of ringlets, who was also worryingly the daughter of a local Police sergeant.  Her name was Collette.

See the thing is, I was in a really nihilistic frame of mind during all of this time.  Lots of little things and events combined and contributed over the years.  I used to be a pretty good and smart student, until probably Year 9 or so when I could no longer bear the feeling of futility from the whole conformity and socialisation thing, and really just ran out of ability to be interested in an abstract future over a concrete present I guess.  I was then and still am reasonably intellectually able, and had learned early in life how to be a good learner, so just turning up seemed enough to get decent enough grades.  But as we neared the end of the final year, it became increasingly apparent that I would not magically arse my way into the sort of grades I might have perhaps achieved had I in fact applied myself, as they say.  Then a big blow - halfway through that year it was deemed (I've mentioned this elsewhere) that my family and I would be moving to the other side of the world (well, continent, but it might as well have been) at years' end, so all my previous notions of a continuity of friendships, social life and all that were sent sailing out a very high window.  I was still as vain, egotistical, arrogant and insecure as any other almost-18-year-old, but with a hefty dose of really not caring what transpired.....I'd soon be gone.

Collette and I weren't hugely together as a couple, partly as inter-year romances (romances at all, really) were very much verboten at school, and because I was busily twanging as many strings on that particular bow as I could.  Apart from my school-based social circle, I had an outside one of sorts, and at this time I was seeing a lot of a particular person, who once had been at my school, but had since left.  Estelle and I had a really lovely relationship, a deep-felt mateship thing, relatively unsullied by any untoward sexual tension.  We went places together as a sort of mutually-protective duo, who both easily managed to pass for over-18, and hung out in her bedroom playing music and discussing frustrations in love, etcetera.  We were getting er, closer over time, and may have ended up in a more 'friends with benefits' scenario of it weren't for a key morsel of information dropped by both her mother and mine, separately, coincidentally, on the same night.  We'd each been speaking of the other at home, and in my case I mentioned Estelle's last name, when my mum asked what Estelle's mother's name was.....and said "oh, you two are cousins then!"  Something distant, like fourth cousins, but enough to make our next meeting rather, well, awkward.  Not as if this was redneck backwoods country.

Estelle had a deep and abiding thing for the older brother of a friend of mine, and when that failed to bear much fruit, she went for my friend (who saw through this as a ploy to get back with his brother and who was in any case otherwise occupied) and then discovered that both of them would be at my Formal.  My friend Jordan with his date (from outside of school) and big (like, 6 ft 5 as I recall) brother Kimberley with a girl from our year.  Estelle asked me if I'd take her to the Formal.

Collette also expected to be asked, and in fact I was just about to do so.  Luckily, Collete was canny, flexible (she had actually trained in dance :-) and not terribly possessive of me.  Plus, she had what may have been a detective's daughter's taste for intrigue.  She was very creative at manipulating her parents to have more time with me, for example.  So very naturally, I just asked my erstwhile currently off-again girlfriend Sarah (we separated the last time due to some territorial matters, namely me getting caught out in a rather public fashion with her best friend, also called Sarah, followed by girlfriend Sarah's retaliation; weekending at a male friend of mine's house - kids, eh??) what I should do. After all, we were still good buddies. We had in the past each been key in certain social evolutionary developments at my school, like multiple earrings for girls, jewellery for boys, not actually getting expelled for kissing one's significant other in a car outside of school grounds (we did have our school uniforms on, the shame!) and relationship 'outing' rights in general.  She suggested I take them both.  Estelle, Collette, and both Sarahs were actually delighted to be in cahoots with such a scheme.

I planned it very carefully, this I remember well.  There was a finite number of tickets, but it was clear given the enormous disparity in gender numbers and the fact that not everyone felt compelled to produce a 'date' for the night that there would be some spare.  But each person could only buy two.  I didn't have very good gaydar back then really.  Well I did for guys, but not so much for girls.  I only worked it out many years later,that these two special friends who planned just to go together were most likely closer than average friends.  One of them kindly allowed me to buy her a ticket for a pretend date.  I basically made sure no-one knew until it was too late to do anything about it, and although I can't specifically recall, had doubtless readied a whole series of well-rehearsed denials of any impropriety and justifications on wholesome, moral and righteous grounds - some of which I must have successfully deployed on my surely-complicit parents (I wonder what their recollections might entail) in any case, such was my MO then, as it still sometimes is now.

I wish I could remember the arrival scene a little better now, but I think I was so wound up with anticipation and possibly fear (of ridicule, of failure to be cool, of whatever really) that all I can bring back now is entering the nightclub (we'd booked one whole floor to ourselves) with a comely young woman on each arm, some flashbulbs going off, catching my reflection once in a mirrored pillar or something and getting a mighty egotistical charge, and then the three of us dispersing to our preferred missions for the night.  I recall Estelle spending much time flitting and flirting about the dancefloor with the brothers Brebach (Jordan & Kimberley), Collette mainly hanging with the other girls from her year brought as dates and me trying to be cool with the few male friends I had who were essentially dateless.  I had my picture taken with Sarah (Sarah the First, that is,) in a royal blue water-wave taffeta thing which clashed horribly with the coral bow tie I had accessorised my dinner suit and fine-striped black shirt with, the better to match Colette's rather fetchingly cut coral (wait for it) water-wave taffeta gown.  Estelle wore something black, like always.  Maybe I had a picture with Collette as well.  I suspect the pictures are either long gone or buried in a box somewhere at my mother's house.

There was an after-party, and I was actually really pleased to be invited, because it was at a Cool Person's house, where alcoholic beverages (etc) would be served openly by Understanding Parents, and as Estelle had by this stage lucked out, had her Teary Catharsis and Gotten Over Those Scumbag Brothers For Good she came too.  Plus, Collette had promised the Detective Sergeant to be home etc etc.

Maybe if I'd stayed in the state, stayed in touch with schoolie types I'd remember more.  After all, it's the practicing of memories, the retelling that keeps them vital and fresh.  It probably also warps them more over time - it's well proven by now that a great deal of what we believe to be incontrovertible historical fact we just actually make up.  Anyone in a life partnership for more than a few years will attest to this - to the faultiness of their partner's memory.

What did it all mean?  At the time, it seemed pretty important, an antidote to the stress of study (I did in fact cram a few weeks before exams, the only such study I have ever really done in my life) and an opportunity to put a definitive stamp on one's social standing and persona - to create some closure on the fraught world of teen social politics and identity creation.

When Amber (my challenging friend) first called my bluff and said yes to my dare, I squirmed.  Just thinking about who I was back in that time really creeped I had to find out why.  And I think it's because the overwhelming feeling then was anxiety, something that comes to a head in exams and mass social rituals, and it's a feeling that still rears itself every now and then today.  It's a place I don't like to go, unsurprisingly.  For me, anxiety is characterised by being trapped in a loop of the same thoughts going around and around, and they're all questions to which there are no answers: "What if this, what if that......"  Doing mental laps, as my PE teacher once drolly observed.  It's why I can't access the prom arrival moment very clearly, the paralysis of anxiety forcing out all sensory input.  

Still, I'm glad I went.  I'm glad I was true to my nature anyway, and took two girls, regardless of how that might make me look to my adult self (or to you, dear reader).  I'm glad I can still remember parts of it at least.

Thanks Amber, and thank you, for reading.

PS, if I do unearth photos, I'll edit them in, and be sure to share.


  1. I am always struck by our similarities and differences. I also did not attend "prom" with my boyfriend, my parents moved right before my last year of high school, and by then, I really didn't care (in a teenaged jaded kind of no-care-but-really-cared-too-much kind of way). Although mine was in the equally poor top 40s year of 1996. :-) I, maybe unfortunately, still remember a large portion of mine, and it was not great. I do remember, all of the people who said that high school was the best time of your life, so live it up. I couldn't imagine that the rest of my life could possibly suck as bad as high school. Luckily, they were wrong and my gut was right. Life has been significantly better since then. :-)

  2. Wow, you wrote it! (Saw this a while back but had hoped to comment after my post was complete. But that may take another week.) I love that you attended in unconventional fashion and honestly, this doesn't seem like anything to be embarrassed about! But it seems like you agree with me that pretty much all of high school was an embarrassment. So I get it. Also, I think coral and blue could look great together :)

  3. Karin, yep, 1996 was a bit of a 'dry' year for musical talent in the mainstream, that's for sure. I guess we could do one of those "the world is made up of two types of people" things; those who think high school years were the greatest years ever, and those who think just the opposite. I'd be hanging with the latter - who do you think is happier now?

    amber, yep, in some ways it was like pulling a long and nasty splinter but here it is. Therapeutic, as you suggested, too. SOOOO looking forward to your story! Taffeta gown, at all? ;-)