Here’s the thing about my high school Prom: it wasn’t even in the same city as my high school. Instead, it was at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it just created certain complications. One was that we were locked in to where we would eat. Dinner was organized at the hotel and we didn’t have any choice in the matter (okay, that’s not completely true, we got to choose between chicken and beef for an entrée). The biggest issue though, was that we weren’t allowed to drive ourselves to the Prom. We rode a bus.
At least it wasn’t a school bus, which I craftily avoided for most of my high school career. The school charted nice Greyhound busses for us which, while comfortable, weren’t exactly luxurious. It just didn’t feel like Prom as we loaded by the dozens on two large buses.
Chaperones checked us for any signs of alcohol or other contraband before we boarded. As anyone who has watched any teen high school movie ever knows, it didn’t work. I didn’t have any, but others did (and at least once it forced me in to an interesting situation).
The ride to Nashville was awkward for a variety of reasons. Many of the girls had difficulty arranging their dresses in the confines of the seats. There were also pockets of rowdy students of course, and since we had little choice in which bus we got on, the random mix of students occasionally caused tension. Of course, the biggest source of awkwardness for me was that, even though I had a date, we didn’t know each other that well which allowed our conversation to often lapse into uncomfortable silences.
We finally arrive at Opryland Hotel and exited our buses. The grand and stately facade of the building gave us hope about our Prom. As we filed in and entered this hotel filled with exquisite luxury I thought, this could actually be good. We passed the Conservatory, several shops and restaurants, and wound our way to the room for our Prom.
It was not a big room. You couldn’t refer to it as small, per se, but it certainly wasn’t big. Nor did it seem as any of us had imagined it would. We found a place at one of the several tables set for dinner. The moment I sat down, I knew I was in way over my head.
I stared at my place setting in bewilderment. I could not fathom that any meal required the number of forks in front of me. There was also an array of three spoons and a couple of items I still don’t know the names of. I shifted uncomfortably while repeating the one piece of dinner etiquette I recalled. Outside in, outside in, outside in.
“What?” asked my date, “Did you say ‘side in’ just now?”
“Sorry,” I said, “I thought that was on the inside. Not inside out I mean, just that I said outside in on the inside. NOt side in on the outside. Or inside out, which I now realize I already said.”
She cocked her head curiously in way in which I am all too familiar. Fortunately, our waiter saved me. Well, he saved me for a moment before it got really weird again.
Our server was dark complected, quite swarthy, and I guessed he came from South of the U.S. Then he spoke with an almost cartoonish French accent.
” ‘ello, my name is Pedro and I will be your server zis evening.” My brain melted as he made sure which entrée each of us ordered. Then the really weird moment came.
He grabbed what I thought was a table decoration directly in front of me, but soon realized was a napkin after he shook it loose with a flourish. He then took the now open napkin and spread it out. In my lap.
“Uh, I can get that, thanks,” I said.
“Oh no, sir,” he said as he made sure there were no wrinkles in the napkin, “this will be a full service meal.” He finished with what I still hope was an imagined flourish and pat on my thigh. At least everyone else got the same treatment (and thought it was as weird as I did).
The dinner was excellent, if a little high falutin’ for my tastes, and more enjoyable than I expected. After dessert, I folded my napkin and placed it in front of me to make sure Pedro wouldn’t again need to put his hands in my lap. I then stood and brushed imaginary crumbs from my legs (just in case).
It was time for our Prom proper, which is when things really started downhill. We had a DJ and a dance floor. The music was loud and there were a few lights, but, and there’s no other way to put this, our Prom was kind of lame. It wasn’t long before many of us got bored enough to leave our small room and wander the hotel.
As we walked the hallway, we heard much better, and more importantly, live music wafting from another room. We neared an realized that it was another school’s Prom. A much better Prom. Since we were dressed for the occasion, we decided to crash it.
“Not so fast,” said a large man from behind an outstretched arm, “Which school are ya’ll with?”
“Um, this one?” my friend tried.
“Nice try,” the bouncer (if I can call him that) laughed.
We moved along and soon ran into a classmate that had either slipped alcohol past or chaperones or procured some at the hotel.
“What’s up people?” she slurred at us.
She ended up walking with us for a ways and at one point looped her arm through mine. Even though my date and I didn’t know each other that well (and would in fact not see each other again after that night), she seemed none to happy about this development.
“So, Leighton,” she asked, even though she seemed to have difficulty focusing on me, “How come we’re not at this Prom together?”
“Uh, because I have a different date.”
“Well, I came by myself, we should have gone together.”
“Well, we didn’t.” I was getting more uncomfortable by the moment.
“You should have asked me.”
No I was in a precarious situation. I didn’t want to lie , but I didn’t want to upset my date either. I went for the truth.
“I did ask you.”
“Are you sure?”
“What did I say?”
“You said ‘no’ obviously.”
“Oh. My bad. Want to go to Prom with me?”
“Little late, dontcha think?”
We extricated ourselves from the increasingly bizarre conversation. As we walked away my friend said ,”Ignore her. She’s drunk.”
“No, really?” I said with as much sarcasm as I could muster.
We made our way back to our Prom. Oddly, it didn’t require a guard at the door (unless it was to keep us inside). We looked inside and kept walking. We came to another room. In it were several men in familiar clothing.
Here’s the thing about tuxedos: different ones can still look pretty similar. All I will say about what happened next is that somewhere there is a couple wondering who that extra groomsman in all their pictures is. And if you happen to be a part of that wedding, you’re welcome for an amazing story.
On the whole, the evening was neither good nor bad. It just was. At the time that greatly bothered me, but now I’m happy my senior Prom was such an anticlimax. I’d hate to think I placed as much stock in that one night as some people I’ve met.
My date didn’t come to the after prom (and who could blame her). It’s not her fault, but I had more fun at the after prom, probably because I wasn’t awkwardly trying to impress her.
We stayed up all night. I think we all really started to get that this was almost it. High School really was ending. Even though we saw each other again at school, a lot of us already started leaving in our minds that night. I certainly did.
Even though I placed more emphasis on my Prom than I still care to admit, time has rewarded me with the perspective to see it as an interesting blip in the rest of my life. It wasn’t the ultimate night for me, nor should it have been. It didn’t have to be anything other than what it was. My one and only senior prom.