Life Stories: Matt & Sam’s Informal Winter Formal

The beginning of my senior year of high school was a mixed bag. I discovered I had a knack for acting, which was funny because I only enrolled in drama to chase a girl to begin with. I was making new friends, getting reacquainted with old ones, and bullshitting on stage while making people laugh. Things seemed to be turning around for this boy who was often told he’d never graduate high school.

Then there was the school aspect of things. I was still enrolled in special education classes, stuck doing elementary level coursework with students who were consistently truant, had learning disabilities, or a pretty combination of the two. Protesting did me no good, and I was determined to graduate, so I continued to play the game and humor these assholes. Fortunately, most of my teachers let me chill out and listen to my headphones because I’d finish my assignments within minutes. Good ol’ music, always there, always reliable.

Of course, there were a few exceptions. I had PE, which is where my late friend Brandi and I became pretty close. Then there was the restaurant class, with Meagan always dropping obvious hints of being attracted to me but I was always too fucking aloof to ever notice. I also got to be a teacher’s assistant to my drama teacher, Mr Barnes, in his world history class. Because I had been so starved for knowledge, it became my favorite class of the day. I’d participate in class and ask questions, on top of doing my normal stuff like grading or running stupid errands for Barnes.

It’s also where I met Sam.

Sometimes before class, I’d see her sitting on the wall of the theater building where Barnes taught both history and drama. She’d chat with me for a few, then we’d head inside. Our chats became more frequent, until she eventually asked me to hang out with her outside of class. We met up at the mall, because that’s what teenagers do. She’d brought her younger sister, but that didn’t bother me. Anyway, I can’t recall too much of the day except that we kissed on top of the parking structure because, again, that’s what teenagers do. At that moment, I was pretty sure that Sam was going to be my girlfriend.

Sam, with her grunge aesthetic and great taste in music. Sam, with lyrics to Glycerine written across her Converse: “We live in a wheel where everyone steals, but when we rise it’s like Strawberry Fields.” Sam, with her baby blues, her catlike grin, and her street smarts. She was everything at that point in my life, and I wanted to show her off to everyone I knew at the upcoming winter formal. The only problem was, Sam wasn’t allowed to attend due to a curfew she had to adhere to. Shit happens, right?

I proposed an alternative: let’s play hooky for the day and go downtown. If we couldn’t attend winter formal, we’d have a winter informal the same day. She was on board, and with her mom’s permission, we made it happen.

On the day of our big event, we were able to catch a ride to the trolley station from her neighbor Terry. He was a laid-back guy who would later become one of my regulars when I worked at 7-Eleven. From there we hopped on the trolley and headed downtown. Sam wanted coffee and suggested we go to Starbuck’s. When I told her I’d never been, she looked like she’d just been slapped across the face.

“What!? We’re going!”

We both got Frappuccino’s or whatever the hell they’re called, basically a coffee Slurpee. The perfect breakfast when 18 is just around the corner. We spent time downtown exploring, holding hands and feeling free. At least, I felt free. All I had really wanted out of life was for somebody to love me like I loved them, and for 3 brief months I had found that person. We ate lunch, and then I suggested a movie at the Pacific theater.

“Hey, let’s see Punch-Drunk Love,” I suggested. Sam went along with my bullshit and watched that cinematic train wreck of a film with me.

“That was the worst fucking movie I’ve ever seen! I can’t believe I sat through that!”

Sam liked comedies, but ones that actually try and make you laugh. Punch-Drunk Love was a far cry from the comedic timings of shit like Death to Smoochy or The Ref, but I still thought it was great. C’est la vie.

We were starting to lose daylight, so it was time to head back to East County. Before we got back to her place, we went to the store and got a pint of her favorite ice cream: Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked. The day had officially come to an end.

We may not have gotten to dance under the hot lights of our school’s gym, but my heart swayed back and forth to the tune of Sam’s love the entire day. High school dances can go piss up a rope.

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