Eric Kester '04, current faculty member and former Middlesex student, recalls his experience at that timeless spring tradition: Senior Prom.
I decided not to go to prom my junior year in protest of the event’s implicit extension of American bourgeois culture. Also the fact that nobody invited me may have had something to do with it. My involuntary abstinence quickly changed, however, when a senior named Ben started writing poetry to my little sister. Kirsten was a sophomore and I always stayed out of her business, but it became increasingly difficult to ignore the sonnets I found in her desk drawer during my weekly snooping sessions. Kind of an unwritten rule that when a guy starts comparing your sister to a lotus flower, it’s your brotherly duty to intervene.
Ben asked Kirsten to prom via a note written in iambic pentameter. This left me no choice but to break protocol by boldly asking a senior girl to her own prom. I knew I had to find a senior girl who was A) currently dateless and B) into community service, because that’s exactly what she would be doing if she actually took a guy like me to prom. A girl named Nora fit these criteria, and I made my inquiry in front of several people in the hope that Nora’s compassion would overwhelm her common sense. She said no. The next day, after Kirsten told her how many Skittles I ate listlessly while listening to Kelly Clarkson on repeat, Nora said yes.
Keeping an eye on Kirsten and Ben was my ostensible reason for attending prom, but there were other, more important motives at play. Namely, falling in love. Love, according to movies I had been watching at the time, was crazy awesome and more fulfilling than even Skittles. And prom, according to these same movies, was an incubator of amour. Even I couldn’t miss this layup, right?
On prom night I had several targets whom I wanted to impress, but I faced the same problem that plagued me throughout my Middlesex experience: How can I possibly stand out among such accomplished and impressive peers? The school was brimming with guys who were funny, intelligent, artistic, and athletic. Mature young men who, unlike me, didn’t eat soft serve for breakfast every morning. I had to figure out a way to stand out among people who stood out.
My antidote to anonymity was my tuxedo. I rocked a bold pink bowtie and matching vest, figuring that such a color would turn female heads as my outfit oozed confidence and sensitivity. I envisioned that flocks of girls, weary from the banality of their dates’ standard tuxedos, would gravitate towards me as I charmed their faces off and pretended that my dad didn’t tie my bowtie. Guys would hate me but also kind of respect me, because hey, kid’s got swag.
It turned out I wasn’t the only guy who employed this strategy. In fact, it seemed like everyone was wearing my exact tux. Our innate, universal desire to stand out -the very quality that made us such accomplished students- had also resulted in the exact same prom outfits. And the girls had the same problem; duplicate dresses blanketed the circle during picture hour. Everyone agreed that heads would explode at E! News, and that this night was already a disaster.
Much of prom was marked by the ducking and dodging of people trying to avoid their various doppelgangers. An uncomfortable haze settled over the party and the dance floor remained mostly empty.
And then the DJ played Kelly Clarkson. Nora, despite my insistence that reports of my love of Kelly Clarkson were greatly exaggerated, pulled me onto the dance floor. I danced the only way I knew how, like a spastic toddler, and the look on Nora’s face was soon one of profound regret. Murmurs percolated as other students attempted to cope with secondhand embarrassment. But just as I attempted to leave the dance floor for a place where I felt more comfortable (e.g, the buffet), I was encircled by four pink bowties and three identical green dresses.
Maybe it was a solidarity thing, an unspoken connection between the duplicate outfits that wouldn’t allow one of their brethren to go down in such shame and solitude. All I know for sure was at that moment, as a unified swirl of pink and green danced into the night, feeling the same never felt so different. After all, to quote a poem I once read, “When the dust of love finally settles, we see that a lotus is made up of many petals.”