The coming and going of prom
Moonlight glimmers over the Lake of the Forest. It's Saturday night and car tires crunch along the gravel drive while promgoers head toward the wide veranda of the lake house. Inside, the floors vibrate to the musical rhythms and the tread of dancing feet.
The guys in their tuxes and suits and the girls in long dresses and strappy high-heeled sandals look more like Hollywood partygoers on Oscar night than teen-agers out for Tonganoxie's prom in Bonner Springs.
Are these the same kids, I wonder, that we have been chronicling throughout the school year? The ones we picture on the sports pages, breathless and fighting for the ball? Are these the same kids we saw as debaters, actors, math champs, college bound students, and just plain teens?
Are these the same kids that have been swarming through high school halls in their baggy jeans and big shirts? Yelling the cheers? Marching in the homecoming parade? Leading the band? Singing the school song?
Of course they are; and even I, a relative newcomer back to town after several years' absence, feel a poignant wish that I could have known them sooner, known their names not only for yesterday and today, but also for tomorrow.
They leave us so quickly, these children dressed in their gowns and suits. Prom ends. High school ends and they go off on their way.
But for now, it's a great group of beautiful kids dressed in suits, satin and glitter ready to step out into the world.
And then later ... the after-prom party.
The bobby pins fall out and the long hair spills over rhinestone necklaces. Baggy cotton plaid pants, long T-shirts and short shorts and halter tops replace the black ties, suspenders, corsages, laces and sequins. Now they are teen-agers again. They play children's games. They wear hats made of balloons. They hug. They kiss. And as teens always do, they eat. And eat. And eat.
"I had three hamburgers and two hotdogs," one young man said. "I guess I'll be OK until tomorrow."
Finally, at 3 in the morning the party's over, and the teens head out the door. They look much younger now than when they arrived at the dance.
Has time moved backward in these few short hours? Are they, and we, back to where we started? They left the house looking like movie stars and we saw a flash of who they might someday be after they're gone from our nests. We saw the look of the future in their eyes. And perhaps they saw it too in themselves and in each other.
And perhaps if they did, they would realize that beneath all the fun of dressing up, of looking older and of acting older, they still had the safety net of youth to fall back on.
For there is no hurry. Often, for them as well as for us, it is only in time and by our own measured steps we grow into the age we will someday be. And perhaps it's true that the more time taken in getting there, the more laughter and childlike play along the way, the better it will be. For after all, youth is a part of the journey, a journey we all make throughout all our lives.
And so, as they leave the after-prom party looking like the unpretentious teens that, when the glitter and glitz is put aside, they are, we regale in their youth and we are grateful that tonight's leave into adulthood was temporary. The time for the next step will come soon enough.