I take showers in the mornings, a foggy stumble into the bathroom for a quick in-and-out of a hot shower and hair washing. In high school, I took a bath just before bedtime and had enough time for a little ritual.
Balancing my little black boombox with a cassette player on the towel rack, I’d put in a mixtape, fill the bathtub with hot water, and soak. Then, right before I got out of the tub, I’d slide down under the water, my hair floating around my head, knobby knees pointed to the ceiling. Underwater, the music sounded muffled and warped. I’d stay as long as I could stand it, and then I’d pop back up, and wash my wet hair under the faucet. Stepping out of the tub, my skin pink from the hot water, I’d dry my hair, put on my pj’s and climb in bed. It was a moment of calm and relaxation in what I considered a tumultuous senior year.
Ginny, Mama and I spent last weekend in Atlanta. The glorious excuse we had for this mother-daughter outing was a baby shower for my sister-in-law, Keisha. It doesn’t feel right to call her an in-law. I’ve loved her since Jamie and I started dating.
Keisha is easy to love. She rarely complains. She goes with the flow. She is happy for other folks to make decisions on where to eat, what movie to watch, what dessert to order, which is wonderful for a Bossypants like me. She loves freely and unconditionally. She is easy to please. So, loving her is easy, too. Bless her heart, in the Sanders clan, if one of us loves you – all of us love you. So, Keisha has always just been one of us – if not by blood, then certainly in our hearts.
So, Mama, Ginny, and I were excited to trek up to Acworth on Saturday afternoon to celebrate Baby Hines’ coming this summer. After a fun afternoon of oohing and ahhing over tiny, little girl baby things and being with good friends from a lifetime ago, we were also looking forward to making our way to downtown Atlanta to enjoy dinner together and spend the night at the Georgian Terrace, located directly across the street from The Fox Theatre. With rain in the forecast, we decided to “be still.”
After deciding to stay at the hotel for dinner at Livingston, the hotel restaurant, we relaxed a while enjoying the darkening Atlanta skyline and talking like mothers and daughters do. Once it was good and dark, we headed down to the lobby. The minute the elevator doors opened, we knew something special was happening. We could feel it. There was excitement in the air.
Alpharetta High School was hosting its prom across the street at The Fox and attendees had conveniently chosen Livingston for dinner not only for its convenient location, but also for its marble staircases, fancy wooden doors, and tucked away alcoves for prom pictures.
Photographers were buzzing about the lobby. Flashes flashed as girls with professionally done hair and makeup strutted through the lobby in what can only be described as a cross between children playing dress up and runway models. The boys looked a little out-of-place, slightly uncomfortable, maybe a little nervous even, in their tuxedos and fancy dancing shoes. Jauntily pinned boutonnieres, copious amounts of hair product, and multi-colored socks were ubiquitous.
When we arrived at the hostess station Mama asked, “Would you be able to seat three older women without beautiful gowns, high heels or fancy flowers?” The host laughed and showed us to a seat right in the middle of the restaurant, which was perfect for eavesdropping and people watching – two of my favorite pastimes.
My steak was delicious. The red wine even better. Mama ate every bite of her trout on a bed of cheese grits and reminded us, “We didn’t have to shop for it, cook it, or clean up after it. It is glorious.” Truth, Mama.
According to its website, Alpharetta High School has 2152 students in ninth through twelfth grades. According to US News and World Report, they are ranked #7 of the top high schools in Georgia. The tickets to their prom cost $65 in the first week of sales and $150 at the door.
The majority of the prom-goers ordered steaks, but some had been adventurous and ordered mussels. Almost all drank sweet tea or Coke. Nearly everyone ordered dessert, and no one shared.
Not everyone had a date. There were groups of friends going together – odd numbers of girls and boys. Some tables were all girls or all boys. Almost everyone, with the exception of one slightly older looking boyfriend with a closely trimmed beard, was all smiles. Ginny guessed he might be a boyfriend that had already graduated from high school. I wondered if he were a friend of a friend, a blind date for prom.
Mama, Ginny and I enjoyed our supper together. Certainly observant of the children around us, we still found each other in meandering conversations about babies, weddings, books, antiques, a highly anticipated family reunion this summer in Orange Beach, Alabama.
We were tired, but relaxed – the kind of satisfied you feel after a good meal with good wine and easy conversation. We decided to forego dessert, wishing to spend some time out on the terrace with a nightcap to watch the children entering the theatre for a prom themed “A Golden Night in Paris.”
We laughed easily together out on the terrace. It was a perfect Spring evening with only a slight breeze. The lights from The Fox’s marquee sign blinked and strobed and glowed. The children from the restaurant made their way to the crosswalk and began crossing the street.
Almost all the gowns were floor length. Most were sequined. Some were form-fitting, or the mermaid style that fits tight through the hips and over the knee and then flares into vibrantly colored chiffon or tulle. There were capped sleeves, some off the shoulder and sleeveless dresses, too. Some had thin spaghetti straps. Lots of the girls wore heels, but every now and then a Converse tennis-shoe peeked out from under a layer of taffeta and satin.
Almost all the girls wore their hair down in soft, loose curls. Some wore tiaras. One had a ring of small fresh flowers on her head. Beautiful.
One girl, in particular, stood out in an ankle length pink tulle. It reminded me of something Edith Hood might design: light pink satin spaghetti straps that crisscrossed in the back, small white or iridescent sequins across a bodice that accentuated a tiny waist and then a full pink tulle skirt to her ankles. Her short, blond, wavy hair was pulled back in what looked like combs. The length of her dress made it easy for her to glide up and down the sidewalk, talking to friends and taking pictures. She had on heels, but they weren’t too tall. For a moment, I thought she had on ballet shoes. She twirled a time or two and reminded me of the ballerina’s that pop up inside a little girl’s opened jewelry box. She was happy.
Not to be outdone by the girls, boys wore the classic black tuxedo with patent leather shoes, but others had on brocade and even iridescent tuxedo jackets. Long, thin jacket lapels seem to be in vogue, especially with skinny ties, though there were decadent bow ties of all kinds of material. Some were especially fashionable and wore ankle length pants and slip on fabric shoes without socks. Confident, they walked down the sidewalk like gladiators or those young men that step off the SEC or NFL busses and walk through the catacombs of our modern coliseums before the big game. A sight to behold.
Not too late into our watching, a stretch limousine pulled up on our side of the street and let four couples bounded out. To get to The Fox, they would walk up the sidewalk to the crosswalk, cross the street and walk about a half a block to the theatre’s entrance, but for a long time, they just stood and talked and laughed together on the sidewalk just beneath the manicured green boxwoods from where we sat.
The couple about my age, maybe a little older, sitting behind me on the terrace had also been watching the children’s coming and going. I heard the man say, “We danced all night. I had on a blue tux and the DJ played that Talking Heads song ‘And She Was,’ do you remember that? I loved Talking Heads.” Knowing I had met a kindred spirit, I looked over my shoulder and said to his wife, “Youth is wasted on the young, isn’t it? I think there should be a reality show where a production company puts on a prom for grownups. Everybody in town gets a makeover and a gown, and we all get to go dance.”
She looked at me strangely for a quick second and then turned in her chair (our backs were to each other), to face me and said, “I didn’t go to my high school prom, but I’m a high school teacher now, and I recently had to chaperone. My friend and I wore gowns and thought we’d just stand in the corner, but we didn’t. We danced and danced and had the best time.”
Suddenly, I became very nostalgic. I nestled into my chair and into the hustle and bustle of traffic and car radios, and unexpected laughter from the groups on the sidewalk, I quietly relaxed into my seat and let myself remember my senior prom, over twenty-six years ago. Some things have changed a lot since I went to my senior prom in 1993. But what is that old saying? The more things change the more they stay the same.
I was eighteen and more ready to get out of high school than any human ever on the face of the earth. Although I was going to college only three hours away, my big secret was that once I got there, I would shake the dust of this one-horse, backwoods, hick town in Nowheresville, USA and never, ever, under pain of death return. So set was I on where I was going and how I was going to get there, I’d decided that my senior prom would be a celebration of a definite parting of ways.
I chose a super-simple, black, halter-top dress with a plunging neckline (for 1993) with a rhinestone button at the top of the bodice. A carwash dress, it fit tightly across my waist and hips and then at the knee, was cut into three-inch-wide strips all the way around. When standing still, it looked like a full-length black gown, but when I moved or took a step, the material below the knee shooped back and forth like the big, blue rubber washer at the car wash. I loved that dress. I bought it with babysitting money at Parisians in Dothan, Alabama. I think it cost $75. I wore plain, black slingbacks with kitten heels, perfect for dancing. I did my own hair and makeup. My nosegay was simple…white roses, I think.
The way I remember it, I danced every dance. My prom date and I didn’t just dance with each other either, we danced with other folks too – fast dances, slow dances. It didn’t matter, we just wanted to have a good time. As much as I can remember lots of tiny details from other episodes in my life, all I can bring back about that night was feeling a tidal wave of urgency to leave. Escape. Start over. Go somewhere no one knew me.
Back in Atlanta, the hubbub from passing cars on the street, folks on the sidewalk, and low-light glow from sitting in the heart of the big city were reminiscent of muffled and muted music just above the water, just above my head, hair floating all around me.
It was Ginny’s sitting up straight and on the edge of her seat that pulled me back to reality. The group of children on the other side of the boxwoods had been standing around for a while. Ginny could see them better from her vantage point, and wondered aloud, “I think something’s wrong.” Then, she noticed him. He had big hair but was a small-boned young man. Thin, lean-faced with a pencil mustache, he wore a traditional tux, with a burgundy bow tie that had come untied. His date was not quite as tall but equally thin, with long, shiny brown hair. She wore a dress the color of the wine in my half-empty glass. Her eyes were bright, but her eyebrows furrowed as she and her friend struggled to re-tie his tie.
Ginny crossed and uncrossed her legs. She was thinking and then suddenly determined, “I’m gonna help him. He can’t have it all messed up for pictures.” Ginny, who is characteristically shy and reserved, stood up and walked down to the sidewalk. Within a handful of seconds she, like a mother hen with two small chicks, was herding this couple up to the terrace. I stood, eager to get in on the fun.
“I know this is strange, but I think I can watch a YouTube video and re-tie it,” she explained. The young man walked obediently over to a wicker outdoor chair and sat down. The girl asked Ginny, “Have you done this before?” “I have. My nephew likes to wear bow ties and sometimes he asks me to tie them, but I usually stand behind him. This will be a little different,” Ginny explained, as I pulled up the video we always use for Jack. The couple was timid, but grateful, like brown eyed fledglings being put back into a nest, they thoughtfully waited for us, the grownups, to help.
Ginny was nervous. I couldn’t get the volume up high enough that she could hear the instructions. We were worried that we were holding them up from going inside, “Oh no ma’am, we were waiting on some other friends that aren’t here yet. We just appreciate you helping us,” she said. It wouldn’t tie – something about looping under. Ginny kept trying. I started looking for options. There was one other set of couples on the terrace. They’d watched Gin herding the children minutes before, so I went over and asked if anyone knew how to tie a bow tie. “Oh, I do! It’s all I wear,” said the fellow in glasses that I’d noticed earlier and fancied him a history teacher.
“You are the savior of the prom,” I declared as he, in what seemed like a wizardly whir tied the most spectacular bow tie I’ve ever seen. “There!” he said, “All done.” We all cheered.
The young man stretched out his arm in a handshake of gratitude. Simple, gentlemanly thanks to a total stranger for something so small, yet so personal. “No problem, man. Y’all have fun tonight,” said my pretend teacher. We all exchanged quick pleasantries as the young couple walked away to join their friends.
I heard him say to her as he took her hand to help her down the terrace stairs and back to their friends on the sidewalk, “Your dress really is the most perfect shade of red.” She smiled up at him, tenderly. We watched them cross the street up at the crosswalk.
They were all so young. All so beautiful. They were so much like the illustrations in a children’s book I had a long time ago of The Twelve Dancing Princesses: silks and taffetas, tulle and lace, brocade and ribbon, bright colors and muted pastels.
As our little couple walked through the big, wide entry-way to The Fox, just under my breath so only I could hear, I begged them not to wish it away.
Don’t rush through tonight, children. Savor it. Dance every dance. Laugh all the laughs. At the stroke of midnight, in a blink and a flash, it will be over. You’ll be on to new and different and fabulous things, but don’t hurry tonight. Linger in this beautiful, clumsy, awkward youth for a little while longer.
Oh, it is wasted on the young, for sure.