Photo by Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Watch the balloons sway in the center of the slick dance floor. You are here and you are not here, swaying yourself on too-thin heels and much too much mixed drink. Tie your hair back. You’re hopped up on hoping the ending of your night will deliver what the beginning has promised since you fished your junior prom dress out of the dorm closet you’re sure has moths.

“Want to make the rotation?” Hannah asks and you’re skittering, blinking in front of too many cameras. The shoes your mother sent you in the mail are just tight enough to be too tight, but you recycled the return receipt so they’re the best you can do. Watch the gym cast blooming skirts and crooked, damp legs in red relief, lights low and warm like the inside of a gourd. There is a band but you’re too far from the front to see it. See instead the tall, quiet man from your precept and nod hello, see him eye you from ankle up and blush. In the light, you flush deep orange. Tuck your skirt back.

Say hello to your roommates and their other friends, stand still as they walk, great flamingo flocks. See lines of football men with thick necks wrapped in pastel neckties, spot people you’ve said hello to once but you’re sure don’t recognize you in your dress and your hair and your acrylic eye makeup but nod nonetheless. Notice a sophomore with your shoes. Grab three mini hot dogs, carry them in a folded napkin and wipe the flakes on your thighs. Watch dough catch in the sequins of your junior prom dress.

“Hi-hiiiiiii! Ohhmigodd your dress looks so good,” you say and really do mean it, can’t stop your vowels from vowelling in this strange gourd-light. The food is good and so you stay in line for too long, lurch over to the dance floor with Hannah and Walker and boogie in place. Release your hair. For the first few seconds you feel sharp, beautiful and frantic and vogue. You’re all dancing too fast, dervished with your own feverish ferocities, and you don’t know what your face is doing, arms splayed out and up and up and up when suddenly you’re seized with debilitating déjà vu. It happens mid-spin, enough time to let the lights kaleidoscope and blur.

It’s only been a few months since your high school prom. It flickers like a figure from a flipbook: your dress, silver and scratchy and too tight over your calves, group pictures in the cold outside Michael Berger’s balcony, plastered tans and too many teachers, Jacob Brody retrieving his pack of 24 cigars, laughing as you cough with your first inhale—

There are no corsages here, and there is no one but your roommates waiting for you at home, your mother and her Jewish guilt are a plane ride away, you know this. Still, you’ll sidestep the same intoxicated baseball bros, pretend you’re having more fun here than at the pre-games with the good food and quiet pitch and the scorch of flat-ironed hair. You’ll dance too loudly with Hannah and Sophie and Jessica and Walker, dance too much with someone you know doesn’t want to dance with you and will go home with a girl who isn’t you. You’ll watch the high school couples promenading to slowed-down Miley Cyrus songs, regret your shoe choice and braid back your lion hair.

You’re dancing with Sophie now, whose eyes loom large in the din.

“You seem sad,” she shouts over some bastardized, big band interpretation of “Satisfaction.” You’re too spun to speak it out, and you can’t quite put your finger on it either.

You see more shadows in the dim light, somehow. Dancers in black dresses laugh too large, lips stretching their mouths wide over strong tooth bones. Their shoulders poke sharply through their dresses, smiles quick and leering in the crowd. Watch them slip their hands behind their skirts, twine their hands behind strange men’s necks.

You didn’t hate your high school prom, only assumed you’d be moving on to better things, the promise of prom mulled with the promise of university as unknown and unformed, all promising, prospective, promised. Instead you’re back in high school again, nauseous with the knowledge that for all that’s changed you’re still no different than you were. You try to tell Sophie that the floor’s too slick, that you feel things should be much more solid than they are right now but you don’t think they will be. College hasn’t changed you nearly as much as you think it has. You feel like exploding, a metamorphosis in orange light.

Decide to run.

Sprint out of the gym, past the orange banners and lovers leading lovers by their collars, leave your coat on its Pokémon hanger on the top floor of the gym. Race past Dillon and Wilson and Butler in the sharp chill of the October night, feel your shoes splinter and crack as they hit the asphalt of the lamppost path and leave them strewn on the street like an offering keep running and you’re sure your aorta is headed toward certain rupture breathing in oxygen through a pneumonic straw, you’re breathless and ageless and running too fast to think about your strange melancholy and how time doesn’t absolve you from your high school self, run until you’re weaving through chain-link fences, moonlight sifting shadows like Switzerlands of moon space, hands numb and you’re through and sprinting through the golf course, your dress whips behind you like a cape and you’re distilled to the dawn, streaming incandescent through shrub grass and emerging atop the still surface of the pond. Look up. The sky yawns open, maw glinting with sharp specks of star surfaces. Levitate. Let the wind blow you back past Forbes and past Wilson, hover over the spiretops of Whitman and sigh. The ceiling of Dillon creaks open and you sift down, spiraling above the awkward two-steps and imitation vogueing. See Sophie and Hannah and Walker and Jessica point. Drift down beside them and collect your coats. You grab a mini hot dog to go, decide to maybe end your night at Murray Dodge. See yourself as if the floor were made of mirrors.

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