Prom. A funny word when you think about it, a noun that’s often spoken in the absence of a determiner. As in “I can’t wait for Prom.” Or, as it was in my case, “I waited too long and now I have no date for Prom.” Originating from the word promenade, Dictionary.com defines the word as a formal dance at a high school or college. The medical community also uses "PROM" as an acronym for a medical event that can occur during pregnancy. Ironic.
Looking back to my Senior Prom, I remember the excitement-filled weeks leading up to the event as most of my friends talked about their dates and planned the color of their dresses. Indeed, I did wait too long to find a date for the prom, turning down quite a few male friends along the way, hoping just once to attend a formal with someone whom I would actually want to dance the fast part of “Stairway to Heaven”. Alas, this was not to be- two days before the big event I found myself accepting an invitation to attend my Senior Prom with one of the few boys left without a date. A boy named Bobby Roberts; yes, a boy with the same name, first and last.
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My friend Mary Kay quickly fitted me in one of her old dresses, a be-ruffled, one-shouldered lilac number whose hem I promptly ripped to shreds while trying to gracefully insert myself into the bucket seat of Bobby’s Ford Pinto. My hair, circa 1983, was appropriately swept into a braided side bun, giving me a lopsided Princess Leah appearance, a trend that thankfully disappeared with the close of the early eighties. Pictures of the event show me gamely smiling up at Bobby, while a hairy growth seems to be taking over the side of my head.
I found Bobby to be a perfect gentleman, sporting the finest tux offered by Toggery, and presenting me with a wrist corsage that left me unable to easily lift my left arm. He solicitously escorted me to his car, politely ignored my battle with the hem of my dress, and drove us to the pre-prom party and Prom without incident.
In the fine tradition of many Catonsville Senior High graduates before us, the class of 1983 held our Prom in the ballroom on the top floor of the Belvedere Hotel. Walking in to the elegantly appointed room my nose was immediately assailed by intense notes of Polo cologne and Obsession perfume, and my eyes dazzled by a rainbow display of dresses- some sporting shoulder pads so large that the young girls bearing their weight looked like they should be on the gridiron instead of the dance floor.
Bobby and I did not spend much time together during the prom; in fact, I have no clear memory of seeing him there at all. What I do remember is being surrounded by my friends, many of whom had brought other friends as dates. I regretted my decision not to attend the dance with my friend Joel, as I watched he and my good friend Sandy skip kick and shimmy on the dance floor to the blaring sounds of The Police and Pat Benatar. Sandy at 5 feet 1 inch tall, having to bob and weave around the gyrating shoulder pads all about her.
Following the dance I found Bobby and we headed to a classmate’s house for the after-prom party, an event that was more highly anticipated than the Prom itself. It is after-prom parties like the one I attended in 1983 that have caused today’s parents to corral kids from midnight to 5 a.m. at local Dave and Buster’s arcades. My after-prom party got a little out of control, which explains why I finally discovered my date at 6 a.m. curled up in a corner, surrounded by Solo cups and empty Fritos bags, and fairly non-responsive.
I ended up catching a ride home with my friends Sandy and Joel, fighting with Sandy over who would get the front seat of Joel’s car. At my house I stood for a moment in the misty light of early morning, my torn dress trailing on the ground, the left side of my neck aching from the strain of holding up a giant bun, and my once carefully curled bangs now forming hair horns on the top of my head. I realized the best part of my evening had been the car ride home with Sandy and Joel.
Looking back at that young girl entering the house, having to support her left wrist with her right hand due to the great weight of the decaying foliage wrapped around it, I understand that, for me, the Prom was not about the perfect date or the perfect dress. It was about a blowout good time with my friends, one last big shindig before we parted ways on our divergent roads through college to adulthood.
….wait a minute, sorry, I have to come clean. There were no divergent roads. Almost all of my friends stayed fairly close to home during college, and for those that went far away, most of them eventually returned to Catonsville as well. I see Mary Kay nearly every day (she now lives across the street from my mother, for God’s sake). I see Sandy and Joel frequently as well.
After all, this is Catonsville, the Capistrano of the East Coast.
But you know what I mean.