Proms and Debs – Or, Who Let the Dog Out?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time. The idea for it came in May of last year when high school students were getting ready for prom. Now it’s a year later, yet another prom, and I am watching 13 Reasons Why so I’m fully immersed in teen life. It’s time.

For the girls, the preoccupation with prom preparation is overwhelming. At least three days dedication is required. About a week ago I was talking to a 16 year old I know, and right in the middle of the conversation she just drifted off — into some fugue state. I said to her, “You know, there’s just no competing with prom. There just isn’t.” She wholeheartedly agreed. The getting ready part: eyebrows, hair, eyelashes, manicures, pedicures, dress fittings – it’s like a wedding. For the boys, of course, it’s much simpler; their moms get them a tux and they show up.

I was recounting this to someone at a dinner party who found it rather alien and amusing. He asked me if I went to prom. The school I went to was an all girls “fancy” prep school, so they weren’t called proms, there were balls and whatnot. A few of my classmates did something that, at least for some of them, was of greater import – making one’s debut. I know it sounds perfectly antiquated – though apparently the custom is still observed – but for girls who were going to make a career as socialites, this was the first step. It’s like being prom queen to the nth power.

Recalling this to my dinner partner led to the abandonment of the whole prom/ball chatter to a story of my best friend from that private school. She was the “bad girl”: defiant, disrespectful, a breaker of rules – in other words someone I would hang around with and get into trouble.

One summer she came up to see me at our place in the country, and both bored and unsupervised we started down the trouble road. Our nearest neighbors were this glamorous Magnificent Ambersons kind of family, chic, cold, blond, and talented. They had a German Shepard who had a large dog run on the side of the house. He had the dog run because the year before he had been hit or swiped by a car, and it was too dangerous to leave him out even though it was a quiet country road. My friend, let’s call her Maggie, decided that it was unfair to keep the dog enclosed all day in the hot shadeless run, and we should let him out so he could sit under a tree and have his freedom. I don’t know, but at the time it seemed like a sensible idea. So we let him out, played with him a little, lost interest and went on to other amusements.

Later in the day, my mother came home and picked up the scent that something was up, so she gave us the assignment of cleaning the garage. While we were sweeping the floor, like two little angels (right!), the son of the family who owned the dog came walking down the drive. Maggie whispered to me, “Remember you know nothing!” Now Tristan, yup that was his name, was handsome, confident, he drove a red convertible sports car at high speeds – he seemed ages older though he was probably 19 or 20. And, despite his crown of lovely curly blond hair, he was a bad boy, much worse than we, I am sure. At the same time, he could spot his own kind no problem. He reached the garage took in the whole “innocent” appearance and asked, “Did you girls let Brandy out?” “What? Who’s Brandy? Oh, you mean the dog, no we’ve been here all day…..” Complete stonewall. He didn’t believe us at all, but he had no proof, so what could he do? He chided us with the reminder that Brandy could have been hurt and went on his way.

Not much of a story, I know. However, the interesting coda is what happened to my friend. She was expelled from school under cloudy circumstances, and was sent to yet another toney boarding school. We lost touch, but some years later I ran into another classmate who asked me if I had heard about Maggie. No, what about Maggie? Well, Maggie must have changed course at boarding school, from excelling in juvenile delinquency to making the complete turn around and becoming not only a debutante, but the toast of the social season, and ensuring her family’s position, for another generation, in the exclusive Social Register. Hmmm…

Sounds like a lot of pressure. A prom in a high school gym seems simpler and more fun. At least there’s room for fashion violations, smeared mascara and goofy T-shirts under tuxedo jackets. And, let’s face it, the only thing that hasn’t changed and runs right across the board from overdone to casual: there’s always crying in the girl’s bathroom.

Have a great prom!

Clare Irwin