Friday night when Richard and I went to Old Sacramento, costume-part shopping, we ended up going to dinner at a restaurant there that turned out to be much fancier than either of us was expecting. It was the sort of place where I usually end up feeling like I'm still pretending to be a grown-up. The sort with waiters who speak in soft tones and where you feel the disapproving frown of the maitre'd when you accidentally put your elbows on the table. The food was excellent though - we decided we would come back for the creme brule alone.
The reason we ended up there is because it's the restaurant at which my senior ball was held, over a decade ago. Actually, the dance was held outside in the courtyard out back. I've passed by the front door any number of times since then and wondered what it was like in there, when it wasn't cold and dark and filled with hundreds of nervous teenagers in every shade of pastel gown and rented tuxedo.
It was my 18th birthday that night, and I had asked a good friend to go with me, having learned from my Junior Prom fiasco that going to one of these things with an actual 'date' was one sure way to not end up having any fun at all. We double-dated with my best friend, and went to a restaurant more expensive than any of us had ever been to. The restaurant didn't have anything special for birthdays (much to my friends' dismay) but the waiter stuck a match in a dinner roll, lit it, and hastily sang 'Happy Birthday' with the others at my table. The guy I was with stole a fork for me, slipping it into my purse as we left. I tried several times to ditch it, but it still came home with me, somehow.
The pictures were taken up a flight of stairs and down a narrow hall. We stood in a long line of antsy teenagers in formal wear, in a stuffy, crowded hallway. We were laughing so hard that my picture looks as if I'm slightly tipsy, holding onto his shirt for support. In reality, I was trying too hard to keep from laughing long enough so the harried photographer could take the shot.
Downstairs, out in the courtyard where the dance was to be, it was dark and a bit windy. The DJ showed up two hours late and falling-down drunk. After they rather hastily dismissed him, someone, somewhere, scrounged up a band from one of the clubs in the neighborhood. They started their set with the absolute worst rendition of 'Louie, Louie' we'd ever heard, then went rapidly downhill from there. Their saving grace was at least they were sober, but that's not saying much.
We ended up collecting our souvenior wineglasses and a small crowd, and heading up to the top of a parking garage where someone turned on the radio in their car and opened all the doors and windows so we'd at least have music. We tried to dance, but no one was really in the mood by then. Even then, though, we knew that at least our Senior Ball would be more than most, and something to laugh about later. It was a night to remember. We were seniors, staring graduation in the face, trying very hard to act as if we were old enough to be considered adults.
I don't often think of high school anymore because while it was certainly a learning experience, I have never regarded those as the best years of my life; they were merely a stepping stone from which I leapt (albeit a bit ungracefully) into college, and then into real life. I still have the wineglass. It gathers dust on a shelf in the kitchen, only taken down on the rare occasions that a woman who does not drink alcohol would have a need for such a thing. The fork, and the boy who stole it for me, have both long since slipped away. But I'm still in touch with that best friend from high school. And occasionally, there are fleeting moments like Friday night when it comes rushing back to me.