· Our generation skipped that whole thing?
· I went to an all-girls school so you either went with your boyfriend or a friend from Marquette.
· I was entirely oblivious to the entire prom process.
To say I was an awkward child always has been an understatement. No men paid me much attention until I got into college and even then my short boy cut wasn't doing me any favors. I had my go-to date though for dances: Justin Hartman.
Justin was one of the few people I stayed in contact with from middle school. He was always nice, a bit eccentric, and was one of my first crushes (this was before my Gaydar was effective in any way…). Justin was the perfect dance date because he was a great dancer, a fun time, and he actually cared about color coordinating. He attended many a dance with me and I always loved when he came along to DSHA functions. I’ll never forget his go-to skinny black tie.
Prom time was a strange time for me for multiple reasons. On April 10th of that year, I got an email saying I had been nominated for prom queen. Look at pictures of me from that time and tell me that wasn't shocking news. It was a great pick-me-up since I had just failed my first road test. I remember my mom was thrilled at the prospect her daughter could be a prom queen.
The next morning my mom died suddenly.
Prom was about two weeks after my mom passed and having fun was the last thing on my mind. When you experience a great tragedy, even if you’re trying hard to ignore the entire event, you walk through life with a fog around you. I already had my dress before my mom died but the idea of planning for prom was no longer something I thought about. There were no discussion of a limo, no giant after-parties I thought I would attend, and very flimsy prom group plans among my friends.
The week after my mom’s funeral, I got a text from Justin that he wanted to meet up for ice cream. This wasn't that unusual; I had been getting these messages from people frequently checking in on me. I was strangely quiet as we sat. I remember I didn't want to talk to him but it was nice to be sitting in silence with a friend.
By that point, I was sick of talking about my mom. Grieving is hard enough without hundreds of sets of eyes on you constantly. She was a staple in the community and I felt like people kept projecting their own feelings of loss over my mom onto me. Her funeral mainly consisted of me hugging and consoling people rather than the other way around. I was exhausted. I felt like people were pitying me and staring at me at school and all I wanted to do was hide. For once, I didn't like being the center of attention.
Justin smiled, “So, Prom. What are we doing?”
“Well, I know you've been busy for obvious reasons, but we haven’t even talked about prom yet. Isn’t it coming up in a couple weeks?”
“Well yeah, but…”
“It’s, okay, I've been thinking about it. I’m going to see if I can get us a cool car to drive there in…”
“Wait, what makes you think I’m automatically going to invite you?” I teased.
He smirked, “Honey please, who else were you going to take? Obviously we’re going together.”
(He pulled a giant Men’s Warehouse catalog from his lap and dropped it on the table.)
“Now, let’s talk colors. You told me you have a dark blue dress, so I’m thinking of going with yellow, like this color here…”
At this point in my life, everything felt like it was crumbling around me. I felt like I was walking through the rubble and trying not to fall and break my ankle. Home was depressing and everyone around we was walking on egg shells worried they were going to turn me into a blubbering mess. Justin gave me something great in that moment. His bluntness over prom and the refocusing of my attention was exactly what I needed.
A couple days later, a loose lipped family member let slip I had been chosen as prom queen (you’re obviously not supposed to know about that beforehand). I remember I was so foggy in that time I forgot to get him a boutonniere until the day of (now that I think about it, he may have ended up having to buy his own). Justin, on the other hand, handed me on prom day the most flamboyant, loud, entirely fabulous wrist corsage I’d ever seen. There were yellow roses, blue feathers, and a blue sequined wristband.
That night was amazing from start to finish. I had a great supportive group of friends as my “prom family” and Justin was the perfect date. Few moments were more exciting than walking down the steps at the Tripoli Shrine Center in Milwaukee with Justin on my arm, pretending that I didn't know what was going on. We danced the night away; I distinctly remember Justin getting frustrated at my total lack of swing-dance-abilities.
My favorite prom memory still is Justin stealing my prom queen crown and prancing through the event to the confusion of many women around me.
That prom corsage stayed attached to my bedpost for the next two years. I still have the crown on our dresser at home and may or may not wear it around the house when I’m feeling down. Was I made prom queen because I was the girl whose mom just died? Maybe, but I had a remarkable night regardless. I do still love people’s reactions when I tell them I was a prom queen. I’m frequently told I’m “not the type.”
So maybe I didn't get a big fancy prom proposal. Maybe my dress did cost $30 off a sales rack from the year before and had little snowflakes on it even though prom was in April. Maybe my dad did drive us both after Justin’s car plans fell through. And maybe I did get through prom without being about to find a single drop of alcohol. The prom I ended up having though was ten times better, and 90% of that was thanks to Justin.