Oh Lord, the prom. This may come as quite a shock, but I actually went to three of them.
The first in a black velvet off-the-shoulder number from Laura Ashley, the next I think I just got at the mall, and it too was black, and the whole rigamarole surrounding it left me feeling deflated at my fellow girlfriends. The level of importance they placed on one night, on one dance, and one dress seemed to me to devalue everything that I felt fairly certain all our mothers had tried to teach us.
That and there was just a whiff of decadence that I disliked. Some girls at my high school went, I believe, to New York to buy a dress. I thought going into Toronto was bad enough, but that was ridiculous.
My friends at high school were of the alternative type. It was the grunge period and we were a bunch of misanthropes, weirdos and fruit cakes. We did not at all fit in. Which is of course why we were such good friends. There was a lot about high school I didn’t care for and voiced my opinions loudly and openly. I remember one day going into my final year English class, late, as usual, hair dripping wet from swim practice, holding a coffee.
The teacher scowled at me as I was not meant to be late or to have coffee.
“Gillian,” he said, pointing to the blackboard. “Would you care to give us your thoughts on this?”
I glanced at the question and shook my head.
“I cannot possibly answer that question. It is grammatically incorrect.” I believe I took the chalk and corrected it, shaming him in front of the entire class. When I was finished, we locked eyes and I held up my hand. “I’ll see myself out.”
I mean, honestly.
The fervour with which most of the girls at my school prepared for the prom was very unoriginal and it often felt as though we were living in a teen soap opera. Who would be going with whom, where they would eat first, and so on and so forth. It was as if they were reading it right from cards, or filling in a form. How to do prom, steps one through ten.
I found the entire thing very boring. But I do relish a chance to remind people they are lemmings and that living a boring life is not at all a worthwhile pursuit. I admit, I am didactic in the extreme at times.
So I did all the things the other girls did, but as Frank Sinatra sings, I did it my way.
I went to Toronto with The Mom. Who truly was apoplectic with glee though why she didn’t suspect I had something up my sleeve is concerning. Perhaps she was just so overwhelmed she didn’t know what to do with herself.
We went to Queen Street West, which back then was still pretty cool. We went to the Betsey Johnson store and I picked out something suitably loud. Then we went for lunch at a nearby restaurant that both The Mom and I quite liked. It has sadly since closed, which is a shame. We had a very nice mother-daughter bonding day that day, that adhered to The Mom’s preconceived notions of what such things ought to be.
I don’t think I went to the hairdresser for that particular prom, but The Mom got into the swing of things and as my hair was purple and shoulder-length, she found some fancy Christmas wire that we wove through it.
I have to give The Mom her dues: the outfit was not what she would’ve worn, but she greeted my choices with enthusiasm.
The prom itself was the usual dull affair. Bad music, bad dancing, and people I wouldn’t have normally hung out with – besides my friends. And as usual, for us, at least, we went out back to smoke a joint, which got most of my guy friends in trouble with their girlfriends, so my date and I – the bassist in Crazy D’s band and a couple of years younger than me – called it a night.
We went back to The Mom’s in our finery and camped out on the deck, drinking her gin and looking at the stars, wondering if ever we might escape people who felt the prom was the be all and end all of life.
I read about this math test dress in the paper before The Mom had pointed it out to me. It was reassuring. And I believe, had this woman and I gone to the same high school, we would’ve been friends.