That Time I wore a Blazer to the 4th Grade Dance — Cheryl Strayed Prompt

The following is a response to one of Cheryl Strayed’s writing prompts in Tools of Titans.

The Prompt: Write about a time you were inappropriately dressed for the occasion…

The Rules:

  • Two pages. Longhand.
  • Don’t stop to edit. Keep the pen moving.
  • As Strayed put it, the point is to “generate without judging.”

4th grade, I was starting at a new public school after failing to apply myself at an unthinkably snotty private one.

It was the night of the back-to-school dance. I wore a blazer. Because that’s what you wore on special occasions (and schooldays) where I came from.

I was getting a ride from my new friend, who we’ll call C-3PO for his voice and body language that resembled the Star Wars robot. It goes without saying that neither of us were “going with” anybody.

C-3PO was not socially situated to have any fucking idea what people wear to a school dance. His parents — both scientists or some “only in Boston” profession— were equally clueless.

I didn’t know much, but I knew not to take fashion cues from C-3PO. He wore his usual outfit: a long-sleeve GAP t-shirt, convertible pants that unzip into shorts at the knee, and hiking boots.

Looking back, I guess that’s the sad thing about self-esteem. Mine was low enough in those days that I didn’t think much of anyone who would be friends with someone like me. That dance was the moment I realized that I was just cool enough to appreciate how uncool I was.

Unfortunately, I took my instinct that his outfit sucked as an endorsement of mine. I think his mom said I looked “handsome” with my hair slicked back with gel ’til it shined and my jacket featuring the crest of my old school. I looked like one of the non-heroic minor characters in Harry Potter.

In the end, it was our uncoolness that spared me the teasefest. We arrived before anybody else was there.

C-3PO got on the dance floor solo, moving exactly like his droid alias — maybe even more robotic. I got complimented on my outfit by the chaperone who was setting up the soda and pretzels. That was a bad sign.

Standing in the gym in that jacket and those boat shoes, with all that goop in my hair, gave me the gut feeling that I had fucked up in a way that I might not ever live down. The rumor that had started on first day, that I read the dictionary, would nothing compared to what was about to go down.

I found a payphone and called home with the change from my breast pocket that had been to call for a ride home. I asked my mum to bring a change of clothes and some more quarters so I could call when we needed to be picked up. I went to the bathroom, washed the gel out of my hair, and hid there until help was probably waiting outside.

The best she could do was a rugby shirt.

Valencia 2017