When I was student teaching in 1997, I kept a journal. Poking through it recently, I found this bit, about the experience of chaperoning a winter dance known as “Morp,” which was a sort of anti-prom, for “morp” is “prom” spelled backwards. The essay needs more editing than I’m going to give it, although it got a little. It’s both off-topic for this blog, and quite squarely on it.
I had no idea what to expect. Would I be responsible for keeping daylight between slow-dancing students? Would I be watching for beer bottles or cigarettes? Would I have to break up fights in the restroom?
I ended up helping at the concession stand. . . . Our vantage point was fairly isolated. Most of the action was taking place on the other end of the cafeteria, so I could watch like the amateur sociologist I occasionally fancy myself to be. And I noticed several things.
The idea of Morp is that students will dress strangely. Now, their everyday dress looks pretty strange to me. But when they go for strange, they go for thrift-shop chic, and as a result, Morp 1997 looked a bit like the 1977 Prom. Polyester abounded; strange 70s tones and flowing 70s fashions were seen. One of my freshman students, Shannon, wore a green polka-dot dress and was adorable. Another, Anne, whom I have referred to elsewhere as having a certain regal quality, wore a yellow-and-brown earth-tone number decked with chiffon, and in the full makeup she never wears to school, she was a vision. Boys’ hearts broke, I am certain.
As far as keeping daylight between slow dancers, there was no need. There were no slow dances. It is possible that while the under-appreciated jazz band played early in the evening, some couples might have actually come into contact with one another, but as long as the DJ was playing, it was uptempo stuff all night. This is baffling. I presume that getting body-to-body with a member of the opposite sex is still a priority, but I’m not sure how it was supposed to happen last night. It was very strange . . . . When I DJed, I always tried to send the couples out the door in a clinch.
. . . . Perhaps these kids underrate romance, or maybe they don’t really know what it is. Maybe they equate it with sweaty rappers leering lasciviously at scantily-dressed women, or with leather-clad rockers and fashion models in crowded clubs, and not as something that is created by two normal people and shared in a quiet space. It would be a shame if some of those couples went to a solitary rendezvous with Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing” ringing in their ears, and if the romantic moments that followed were driven by that particular song . . . .
I’ve been entertaining another thought, which I know to be true. These students, who through some cosmic accident find themselves here during the late 1990s, will be bound together for life in ways they can’t begin to imagine. Whether it’s your own class (my freshmen are the class of 2000), or the entire four-year cohort, you are linked by your common experience in this crucible of growing up, and you can’t escape it without profound effort. Some of your classmates will be friends for life—you will attend the weddings of their children. It is possible that you will lose and then rediscover some in future years, and become close to them in ways you were not during high school. You’ll see some at class reunions and be stunned by the way the mighty have fallen and the lowly have risen. Beautiful people grow bald or fat, or their faces lose the battle with time, while others grow into their features, lose weight, or just become a flower after a long time underground. Some might become famous—or infamous. Some with whom you swore eternal friendship will disappear from your life utterly, and you won’t even notice they’re gone. But for better or worse and forever, you will share the inescapable bond of your time and your place.
What makes my observation of this mystical bond-in-the-making more poignant for me is that my students have no idea it’s happening. They have no idea how faces will come to them unbidden in future years, for reasons they can’t understand. How people will appear in dreams. How they’ll meet somebody new and flash on that kid they knew with the same name, a kid they haven’t thought of in years.
They realize their parents have friends who date back to high school and beyond, but they have no idea of the internal dimension of the phenomenon, the way it hurts and comforts and cheers and baffles and never ends.
My freshmen are now in their early 30s. I wonder whatever happened to them.