(this is Ira Glass’s prom picture from 1977.)
I really love the idea of everywhere in New York City being my office. I’m sitting at the fountain at Columbus Circle, where vendors are selling things like vintage signs and photographs. My lovely friends N and M got engaged here. A group of three women get close together and hold up their hotdogs so another woman can take their picture. Some people on rollerblades are trying to kiss, but they’re both wearing helmets. Two guys walk by holding hands, one of them wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt. I’m drinking street cart coffee, which I love, and reading Misconception by Ryan Boudinot, which I think I also love, 77 pages in, and listening to this past week’s This American Life, which is about the prom.
I was not allowed to miss my prom, assured by everyone I had ever met that I would regret it. Going was normal, and it was really important to be normal. I went, in the end, with a friend of mine with whom I worked on the year book. I wore a black dress that I bought for forty dollars, and I looked thin. I maybe was thin. I still have the photograph of me in the dress, standing in the front room of our house, the piano and a curio cabinet full of allegedly ancient and expensive vases behind me. The angle of my head, something in my eyes, looks like my mother.
Here’s what else I remember about that night: Driving in a Volvo nicknamed ‘The Silver Bullet.” Two pictures-one with all the boys in their suits, another of all the girls in our dresses, ranging from the elegant to the ridiculous. Sitting at a table that had tiny candles on it. Dancing. Being sweaty. The after prom party, behind the elementary school. Two tents-one small and smelling like cheese, the other large, and possibly reserved for couples. Sitting on the lap of the boy I’d loved for 2 years, who’d broken up with me the previous summer.
Maybe then, I felt like it was dramatic, like I was losing something irretrievable, but I don’t remember now. I don’t remember people being drunk, at least not my friends, but in retrospect, there had probably been a group of them who were doing all sorts of things that the rest of us didn’t know about. I’m sure there was sex, but that was so far away from the life I was actually living that it might as well not even have happened.
Because I take comfort in really bad movies of a certain genre, I wrote a scene a little while ago in which two people are watching one of these movies, and when it’s over, she tells him that she knows there’s supposed to be a happy ending when the two people get together at the prom, but what’s more likely to happen is that they’re a couple for the summer and then they go to college and it’s over. In the last scene, though, when there’s all the kissing and the sparkles and the resolution, you aren’t supposed to be thinking about that. Probably, she says, these movies aren’t made for people like her.