Purple, baby.

Purple, baby.

So here’s my prom picture, this would have been the spring of 1988, which means I had just turned 17 years old. That’s more than half a lifetime ago now. Ouch, did I just say that?! As I approach my 20th high school reunion, I’ve been trying to scrape out the crumbs that are left in those vaults to see if I can come up with some good memories. Oh, I have a few doozies. But proms are not one of them. In fact, this particular picture wasn’t even for prom at my own school. My girlfriend at the time attended a different school and that’s where I was headed that evening. I cropped her out of the photo. Not sure it’s cool to spray the internet with pictures of a person you haven’t talked to in 20 years. See? I’m not a bad guy.

Anyway, I have no memory whatsoever of that prom.  I do have very specific memories of my own school’s prom, though, because that night was a night that tested my mettle and was one of the events that may have played a role in turning my life around. High school for me was a series of life tests. Some of those tests I failed in spectacular and stunning fashion. Other tests, particularly in the latter half of my high school years, went a little better, though it didn’t feel like it at the time.

Take, for instance, prom night (again, picture here is from a different night, but it was the only prom picture I could find). Some friends and I had rented a limo for the whole day. We were pretty excited to roll around in style that day, liberated from school and feeling older than we were. I hopped in the limo and things started well, we were joking around and feeling positively unstoppable – like normal 17 year old boys do – and in general having a good time. Then out of nowhere one of my friends unleashes a bag of cocaine and I’m sitting there utterly  shocked as they dove into their new discovery. The offer came my way and I declined and asked the limo driver to take me home. I felt prudish. Stunned. Numb. I mean, I’m not stupid – I knew there were more things than pot going around the school, but I didn’t know my own very close friends wanted to take the next step. But there it was, out of nowhere, sitting right in front of me. Prom that night was horrible. I remember very little except being numb to what had happened that afternoon. I don’t think we stayed more than an hour or two before bailing. It was a low point.

After being such close and good friends with them, everything changed that day. Everything. It was one of those rites of passage, I guess. I didn’t participate and I was never in their circle anymore. Oh, they were friendly to me and we got together a bit after that, but I faded away. Part of me didn’t want to be in that circle, but man, it hurt. It hurt that because I didn’t do it I was seen as not fun or whatever. It hurt that I didn’t have that bond with my friends anymore. It wasn’t like I was going to turn them into the cops or something. And at the time, I just shrugged and figured “hey, they’re just sowing wild oats.” I wasn’t some guy who was gonna preach to them about the danger of drugs. They were big boys and they made their own decisions. I was ready to still be their friend. I could still hang out and I could still have fun (and I would have), but clearly it wasn’t in their cards or mine.

With that, I had to take some left turns. I started to really focus on school. Schoolastically, I had a nice recovery underway from my horrific freshman year, but my senior year I really applied myself. I did not get accepted to some schools I really wanted to get into. These were schools that I was unquestionably smart enough to get into, but because of that freshman year and some of sophomore year, I got rejected. But not discouraged. I got into a couple of other good schools and very much looked forward to getting off to college to start a different life. Which is another story in itself.

Socially, it was a very fun year. There were plenty of other friends to enjoy good times with. Lots of fun parties, an incredibly enjoyable hockey season, a diploma and of course, that party that topped it all off. The end of that year was marked by horrible, senseless tragedy, but I don’t need to go there. Bottom line is that even though some decisions I made were hard to accept at the time, they were the right ones for me. Only very few people knew how I was feeling and I still thank them today in my thoughts for being there.