The breeze hit my face and gave cool relief to my sunburned skin. I looked out over the ocean and felt sheer gratitude. The plan I hatched in September with my girlfriends over lunch in the senior cafeteria had come to fruition, we had skipped our prom in favor of a weekend at the beach.
I was very animated when I proposed the idea of forgoing the old fashioned idea of waiting for a guy to ask us out to what — I insisted — was an outdated celebration. What if instead, we used the money we would spend on a dress, hair and makeup and go away for a girls’ beach weekend?
My friends loved the idea of a last hurrah before leaving the safety of the suburbs for the bigger world of college. We searched for places we could get to by train. Montauk seemed like the most logical choice. It was only about a two-hour train ride, and we could book a room on the beach for a song. May is still considered off-season.
We got our first defector around March, when my friend Kathy told us she was going to the prom with a guy from one of her classes. Well, OK. There’s always one in every group.
By the time prom rolled around, our devoted group of seven strong-minded girls, soon-to-be-women of the 80s, was down to me and my friend Trish.
We were getting some pressure from our friends to forget our radical idea and just attend the darn prom. Trish was dating a guy a grade younger than us, who was more than willing to take her. Although my boyfriend lived in another state, I had a friend from another school who was more than happy to be my date. We could just give in to tradition and join the crowd.
For reasons of pride, determination and just plain stubbornness, we decided to keep to our plan.
We had a ball. For the first time in my life, I felt free. Of course it was a freedom that only a kid whose mom drove her to the train and gave her the money for the weekend could feel. But it was intoxicating.
Trish and I shopped in cute stores and had lobster dinners. We read trashy novels and most of all laid out at the beach, which, true to the brochure, was just outside the door of our motel. We baked in the sun with baby oil and sprayed lemon juice in our hair to get highlights.
We didn’t think once about wrinkles or skin cancer. We didn’t think about the horrible and painful burns we would end up getting that made us sleep on top of our sheets that last night. My dad took one look at me fresh off the train and said, what the hell did you do to yourself? No. We were invincible.
This was a new feeling for me. For most of my school years, I was a very lonely girl who never fit in. Once my dyslexia was diagnosed at the age of 14, I started to realize that there was a reason the world looked so different to me. I had changed. When I went to high school, my grades improved. I made friends and was by most accounts a happy high school student.
But the years of feeling stupid and awkward had left their mark on me. I found my place in high school, but I still felt like a fraud. For those three days, I started to see a glimpse of the Kathy I could be. It would still take a few years to get there, but I knew she existed.
Today I’m the mom of a 17-year-old. Next year he will be a senior. Tom’s busy learning to drive, taking exams, writing papers, looking at colleges, and planning for his future. He is doing so well that it’s way too easy for me to forget just how confusing these years can be. He’s on the cusp of adulthood and in the midst of a tremendous change. As exciting and fun as this time can be, it can also be very painful. It’s nice to get a little practice in before we go out completely on our own.
I will be forever grateful to my parents for allowing me to spread my wings a bit and go against the tide that one weekend. I will do my best to allow Tom the room to do the same.