It was the spring of 1999 and I was attending my fourth high school in four years. I was yet again the new girl, but by this point, there was no shiny new feeling–just one of random displacement caused by spending my last year of high school surrounded by strangers. Imagine the awkwardness that you have when you’re meeting someone new at a party and you run out of small talk–but for whatever reason you can’t leave the conversation; you’re stuck. Put that feeling in a bowl and eat it for breakfast every day for four years and that was my high school experience.
Most typical high-school activities could go by and I’d do fine by remaining apathetic to my peers. Lunch? I’d mastered the art of eating alone; or occasionally I’d share my chips and soda with foreign exchange students who didn’t speak English. I’d politely decline buying a yearbook and didn’t care much about who sat next to me during assemblies.
But prom was different. It was the one night of your entire high-school career that forced you to choose how to handle these sometimes-absurd challenges in life. I was sick of letting these supposedly crucial years of my youth slide by while I watched gobs of MTV and journaling. I was going… I just had to figure out how.
The night was about a month away and I barely knew anyone, let alone had any date prospects, so I did what any other lonely senior girl would do. I asked my coffee-shop coworker to my senior prom.
In my plethora of free time I picked up a part-time job, which also came with a side order of sanity. I worked in the one independently-owned coffee shop in town, proudly making suburban Chicago’s best lattes, gelato shakes and hummus plates. One of the perks was that people actually talked to me there, and one of those people was my coworker, Lee.
Lee* had just graduated from my same high school and was attending community college. His high-school experience was fantastic, and it was odd–yet nice–to hear how much he loved the same place I hated on a good day. If prom was my token real high school experience not only would he be a perfect ally, but bonus: he was nice. I liked being around him, so one night while we were closing the coffee shop together I popped the big question… he said yes.
Once the official prom night kicked into gear I soaked up every detail for my memory bank. Am I doing it? I’m really doing it! I’m in his car, smelling his cologne, wearing a corsage and more hairspray than I ever thought possible. We gawked at the cheesy theme, barely picked at our dinner, and took the traditional couple photo. I may not have danced with any best friends, or gone to any parties, or lost my virginity, but it was enough. It was mine and it was real.
*Note: Name changed for privacy
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