There’s a trending hashtag going around the YA writing community on Twitter and it’s called #YAGoestoProm. Writers and agents share their prom picture and a quick story about their prom experience. So here’s my picture, but the story that goes along with it is rather a LONG one. (Hey, I’m a writer, what did you expect?)
My senior prom was 2004 (15 years ago?!) and I went with D, my best guy friend who also happened to be in love with me. Let’s just say our relationship was best defined by “It’s Complicated.” It was pouring rain and we took a limo with our group of friends to a hotel in Honolulu and then we were caravanned home in our parents’ minivans (yes, really).
But for you to really understand my prom story, I need to back up a bit. Meet sixteen-year-old Jordan. AP student, songwriter and poet, pianist and violinist. My weekends were spent at debate tournaments, at the beach, or binge-reading alone in my room. I struggled with body image and fitting in with my group of girl friends, so I hung around with the guys and played video games and listened to lots of emo music. Still, I loved attention from cute boys and wasn’t afraid to flirt.
I’d recently moved back to my hometown in Hawaii after two years in Switzerland. With my confident facade and overly matching outfits to mask my insecurities, I was ready to take on my sheltered world. Disclaimer: when I say sheltered, I mean it was totally normal that my group of friends and I didn’t drink, smoke, cut class, have sex, or even swear. We went to church every Sunday and an early-morning seminary class before school and weren’t supposed to date before 16.
I almost made it to 16 when I had my first boyfriend, and boy, I thought I was in love. He was tall and funny and athletic and we had absolutely nothing in common. I was a mess when he dumped me shortly after my 16th birthday because his parents “didn’t want him having a girlfriend.” He promised he’d still take me to prom (he didn’t) and he took his new girlfriend (one of my friends) instead. So much for junior prom.
(Sorry these pictures are so bad. I’m really old.)
Then summer came around and I went to a church camp with my best friend who lived out of state. It just so happened that her friend and former ex was in our group, and what can I say? I fell head over heels for R. How could I not, though? We had a lot in common. We both loved music and wrote poetry. We branded our initials onto each other’s hands with ballpoint pens and slow-danced to U2’s “With or Without You.” Then we kept in touch over the summer through AIM conversations and dedicated love poems on our online journals.
Then my senior year came around and I kissed D, my best friend who I knew had feelings for me. It was stupid. I was vulnerable from missing R and it only made things more complicated. I tried to steer myself away from guys altogether for a while, focusing on school and music. I started going to rehearsals for a state choir camp. Then lo and behold, this guy walks into the room and I almost freaked out because he was R’s doppelgänger.
It was a sign from the heavens! A second chance with a guy who looked like the guy I still loved. For weeks, I just kind of stared at him through rehearsals, secretly hoping to connect with him. Meanwhile, I’d met M, this college freshman who was fun to hang out with, but felt a little too clingy. After he came back from Christmas break, I asked him to a girls’ choice dance scheduled in February.
But state choir camp arrived in January and I finally met R 2.0 (I call him that because his name also started with R and because he seemed like a clone of the first R). We hit it off and he seemed to check all the boxes that R checked. A skater boy. Liked music. Played the guitar. We created inside jokes, performed for the camp talent show, and he serenaded me outside my hotel room. When it came time for the performance, I was in a room with R 2.0, M (the clingy guy I hadn’t technically broken up with), D (my best guy friend), and my first boyfriend. It was TENSE.
Fast forward after choir camp when I broke things off with M and started dating R 2.0, who lived an hour away and wasn’t a member of my church (a no-no in my parents’ book). When my dad caught us making out one night, I was busted and forced to end things with R 2.0. I was super bummed, especially when he started dating my friend (who knew him from choir camp).
A month passed and with zero prospects on the horizon, I focused on my friendship with D, who asked me to prom. I didn’t want to lead him on, but figured why not go to the dance? He was the guy I always turned to when I had problems. I felt like he knew me better than anyone. As I mentioned before, we went with a group of friends and things were great…until my other friend showed up with her new boyfriend, R 2.0 (who I still wasn’t over, tbh). I literally felt nauseous, but managed to avoid them for the rest of the night.
After the prom, our group went back to D’s house for the after party, and by after party, I mean playing board games, watching movies, and eating junk food until the wee hours of the morning (see aforementioned disclaimer). After prom, things between me and D kind of shifted. I was more open to giving a relationship a shot. Maybe it wouldn’t ruin our friendship. We went to a Dashboard Confessional concert (our fave band). We sat in my dark backyard and just talked. Sometimes we cuddled.
Then graduation came around and guess who got a ticket to Hawaii for his graduation present? That’s right. The original R.
And guess who quoted one of R’s poems in their valedictorian speech? Me. It was basically a declaration of love, so it’s obvious that things rekindled between us.
D was pissed off and I was twitterpated and R and I spent the summer after graduation together, but mostly apart. He took me to the homecoming dance during my freshman year of college and things ended between us shortly after that. This doesn’t even begin to cover the boy drama that ensued during my college years, including a summer when I was in love with at least three people at once. And considering I got married young (two weeks shy of turning 20), I still had my fair share of heartbreak.
So what’s the point of this drawn-out story? Adolescence is all about the highs and lows. It has ALL the feels. Laughing so hard you start crying or crying so hard your head hurts. Everything is extra (as the kids say these days), to the 10th degree.
It’s the lows: anger at parents who don’t understand, jealousy over a girl who made the show choir when you didn’t, pressure from friends, teachers, everyone. A friend stabbing you in the back, a bad grade on an essay, rumors spread around a cafeteria. When someone you thought you trusted spills your darkest secret. Making foolish mistakes, getting caught, and dealing with the fallout.
It’s also the highs: the joy from spontaneous jumps into the ocean at midnight or forbidden beach bonfires. When you work up the courage to bare your heart to your crush and the relief that follows when you realize they return your feelings. The invincibility of youth, singing to your favorite song with the volume on max, windows rolled all the way down.
Your teen years are truly the most formative, when you test the waters and push the buttons and find out who you really are. You form opinions and find your tribe and take a stance. You’re learning to be independent while being off the hook for the most part. Like an internship for adulting.
Some people wonder why I read or write YA stories. If my explanation above is not reason enough, picture this. I’m at a stoplight at a busy intersection, you know, one of those with left-turn lanes and the light is super long? On the other side of the intersection, and a girl gets out of the passenger side of a stopped car. She runs to the adjacent sidewalk where she throws herself into a teen boy’s arms for a hug, then she runs back to the car before the light turns green. And I found myself wondering what their story was, how freeing it must have felt for her to break the rules for a small moment with a friend or boyfriend. Stories like those are why I write YA.
My teenage drama happened fifteen years ago and while I’m not obsessed with those boys anymore, I still remember the volatile emotions associated with them and the events surrounding them. I’ve long moved past them and haven’t seen or talked to some of them since then. I have a husband I love, kids I adore, and goals to pursue. I’m twice the age of most YA main characters, but I still remember what it’s like to be caught in between childhood and adulthood, to find the balance between heart and mind. Maybe in another fifteen years, I’ll forget those guys’ names or details I swore I’d always remember, but I’ll still recall the ups and downs.
I’m sure being a teenager now is a lot crazier than it was fifteen years ago. In high school, I had a Nokia phone with limited texts, dial-up Internet, and zero social media accounts. But maybe current teens are going through some of the same feelings I went through, experiencing their first loves and losses. And maybe the YA romances I write will speak to them, encourage them to remember the highs and ease them past their lows.