TEEN THURSDAY: Gayle Forman's Senior Prom

Gayle Forman's latest novel, Where She Went, is out next week! It's the follow-up to her gorgeous If I Stay, the story of Mia, a girl clinging to life after horrible accident and trying to decide whether to live or die.

Gayle was generous enough to stop by and share the story of her senior prom, which didn't go quite as planned...

My senior prom turned out to be on the same night as my 18th birthday. The night was like a double milestone event.

I got dressed up, did some very weird things to my hair (it was the eighties, so it involved crimping), went places I’d never been before, stayed out all night, and danced my ass off. But none of this happened at my prom.

In high school, I didn’t have boyfriends—mostly because I was too busy having inappropriate crushes on much older guys (okay, five years older, but when you’re seventeen, those five years may as well be 15). But I did have lots of guy friends, really good guy friends, and one of those guy friends (let’s call him Alex), we decided early on senior year to go to prom together. We’d go as friends. I’d wear a vintage flapper dress. We would not do the limo thing. We’d have a blast.

Alex and I were always together. He helped me with Algebra II. We sat together in AP English and compared notes on Dostoyevsky. We hung out at after school. We had dinner at each other’s houses. I thought we were best friends. But platonic heterosexual friendships are a tough trick to pull off, and one math tutoring session, before I went away on vacation for a week, Alex handed me a note, telling me not to read it until I was on the airplane.

Alex’s note was a love letter, an embarrassingly graphic one. When I returned from my trip, I told him I wanted to remain friends, to have things stay as they were. Of course, admissions of love are like Pandora’s Box. Once they’re opened, all manner of havoc is wreaked and cannot be undone. Alex never recovered from my rejection. Neither did our friendship.

Prom didn’t seem like prom without him. Another friend asked me but I declined. You might only have one senior prom, but you also have only one 18th birthday—and I wanted mine to be memorable. Real. Not a consolation prize with shadows of a lost friendship pogoing about.

In the wake of losing Alex, I’d made another close friend. Her name was Ulrike, or Uli for short. She was an exchange student from Germany. I’d been an exchange student myself the year before so I felt a kinship with her. Uli wasn't going to prom, either (maybe because was German, she didn’t quite get what the fuss was all about). We made vague plans to meet up with friends for the after parties but other than that, we had no idea where we’d go.

We never made the after parties.

Here’s what we did do. We drove to the beach to watch the sun set but cluelessly picked a non west-facing beach and laughed at that. We drove into West Hollywood and ate dinner at this crazy restaurant where all the servers were transvestites, which in 1988, felt totally subversive and made us feel incredibly sophisticated and hip and also giddy (Ohmygod, those are guys!). And we went into this uber-exclusive velvet-rope club Downtown (no one ever went Downtown) that my sister and her friends had snuck me into once before. The club was 21 and over and full of the most beautiful people. I have no idea of how we talked our fake-I.D.-less selves in (actually, now that I think about it, my look-alike older sister might have loaned me her ID for the night—kids, don’t do what I did). As for Uli, she was very pretty and her accent very cute and doormen were more lenient back then. We didn’t drink (I was driving, after all—and, you know, 18). We just gaped. And danced. And got flirted with. I think we left at four. Maybe got breakfast somewhere. Then we went home and crashed.

People often say you’ll regret not going to your prom. Seriously? I feel like I’ve gone to 20 proms. Because believe me, there are ample opportunities in life to get dressed up in a frock, eat rubber chicken and drink too much with your friends. But how often do you get to experience that frisson of a place you think you’ve always known opening up its secret back doors to you? Finding new facets in the familiar still gives me a huge thrill, way more than getting dolled up to go to a fancy party. Maybe it’s why I love writing fiction. I get to discover the new and exotic in my Very Own Brain.

Twenty-five years later, I can see that my prom night was such a perfect way for the person I was becoming to celebrate her entry into adulthood. It was my milestone. And wouldn’t you know, Uli and I are still in touch. I have no idea what’s become of Alex.

Thank you, Gayle! I was one of those "you'll regret not going to Prom" thinkers, but after this story, I'm not so sure. Love the adventure!

Did you guys go/do you plan to go to your prom? Thoughts?


Lisa Schroeder said...

I love this. Thanks for stopping by Gayle and sharing your story with us. You remember a lot more about your prom night than I did, and I went to prom! It's all about the memories, I think, more than anything. And what wonderful ones you have!!

Denise Jaden said...

What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing. I was actually one of those lucky people who was able to have a male/female friendship-only, and my best friend did come to grad with me (though he later professed he was gay - LOL).

K. Jackson said...

What a perfect night! It's a great image of crossing the threshold into all those exciting and scary unknowns of life after high school. And so true about the tough male-female friendship dynamic.

Ashley @ Book Labyrinth said...

At the last minute I decided to go to prom, mostly because my friends were bugging me to go and I didn't want that 'missed out' feeling. I went dateless but with friends... then afterwords my best friend & her boyfriend, and me and my best guy friend went bowling. Full on formal wear and bowling shoes... oh yah, haha.

The actual prom was fun enough, and it all felt very Grown Up having on fancy clothes and dancing in this ballroom. I think it would have been a totally different feeling with a date, though. I don't know... I don't feel like it was anything special, but I can say I experienced it. Who knows what I would have felt if I had decided not to go.

kristen tracy said...

Good story. Wish I could have prommed with a German student. Sounds memorable!

writerchick6 said...

Great story! I had 2 similar experiences with 2 best guy friends. In the first scenario, I went to his prom (it was too late for him to return the tickets) and he left me in the car in the pouring rain, without an umbrella while he went in himself. And the fun continued from there. We hadn't spoken in years. The second guy and I rebuilt our friendship and he's still one of my closest friends. But I am really impressed that you ditched the prom expectations and did what you wanted. Go teenage you!

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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