The Goddess Speaks
For some, prom is their last glamour
It's the beginning of prom season again. I recognize the signs. Lately my classroom computers are not being used for yearbook page construction or literary analysis papers, as they should be, but for Googling all manner of fashion Web sites, tuxedo rentals, limos and jewelry.
There is a mood of pervasive desperation in conversations about dates, dresses and deliveries. It's astonishing to watch normally sensible students suddenly metamorphose into prom-fixated whisperers, entirely focused on fabric, flowers and FedEx.
And, of course, on finding the right date.
A prom date is as serious a choice as a fiancee used to be. As the whole business can run upward of a thousand dollars per couple, I can understand why, but the rationality of this whole exercise used to elude me.
Things changed when I went to a student's wedding just after she graduated from high school. At this event I realized something about prom that I had not understood before. The wedding was a modest affair with donated potluck food in the bride's back yard. Prom, on the other hand, is a gala event with imported flowers, expensive foods and favors, and hundreds of formal pictures to freeze the memory.
For some kids it's the last time they will ever experience glamour -- in fact, prom is a dose of hope and promise. It is a performance that doesn't come cheap, but who can place a price on dreams?
One year, all three of our children had proms, and I remember the bills adding up. There was an ongoing discussion about what constituted "necessary" expenses. In fact, when the well ran dry, our oldest dug into his college fund to pay for a Rolls-Royce limo. I was horrified, but the picture of the date and the car still hangs in the hallway, and he took up life as a bartender and didn't finish college, so which has had the stronger hold on his psyche -- the unpaid tuition or the prom?
These days, I try to be patient with dress and jewelry images taking up computer time, and work hard to ignore the whispered consultations. I even offer sincere sympathy when a sobbing student realizes that the desired date/dress/ hairdo/limo/hotel party isn't going to work out.
My prom was in the high school gym and wasn't important or expensive enough to have been commemorated with an 8-by-10 sterling silver picture frame, and so I wish my students well in their endeavors to create the perfect evening.
As adults, we know that what they seek is nearly impossible to achieve. Still, I find it endearing and somehow reassuring that adolescents invest so much of themselves in the possibility of perfection -- as if it could indeed be guaranteed with flowers, food, film and fantasies.
Cris Rathyen teaches English at Moanalua High School.
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