In my high school, as with many schools across the nation, there was local participation in the Prom Promise program. It shows up during the week before the prom, and its purpose is to encourage high school students not to drink and drive during the prom season and the rest of the year as well.
I think I was a junior (maybe a senior) the year that one of the Prom Promise events was an essay contest. I don’t recall any of the specific parameters of the contest; I think it was just a prompt to write something about Prom Promise.
Rather than an essay on the ills of drinking and driving, I decided to do a fictional account of a girl who learned the hard way. I wrote the essay quickly and turned it in, and it was one of those rare times that I was fully confident of my writing.
I won. It was a contest with the winning essay being published in the local newspaper, and I won. I still have the yellowed clipping that prefaces my story by saying that it was fiction. There were still a couple of people (those who don’t read introductions and who skip right to the meat of the story) who asked if it had really happened. I suppose that says something.
Again, I look back and find the flaws. The title is lame. There are contradictions and clichés. It was preachy in spots. Still, I see a couple of spots that show promise. A cleverly turned phrase or two that make me nod my head with a hesitant appreciation of potential talent.
Then, I remember that I’m reading my own writing and feel embarrassed to have thought highly of myself at all. I’m not programmed to be much more than humble and modest.
Rather than post the essay in its entirety, here are two paragraphs. The first one bothers me for its immaturity, its lack of realism and reliance on all that is trite and mundane. The second one I like better for the stark imagery, though I still wish I could go back and improve it…
The pouring rain made the entire cemetery look dark and almost sad. (Almost sad? What does it take to make it wholly sad?) Water streamed off the tombstones and gathered in small puddles around the discarded flowers of grieving relatives and friends. The minister’s voice seemed to drone on and on, only being drowned (funny since it’s raining) out by the distant thunder and someone’s sobs. I was later told that I had been the one sobbing uncontrollably. I didn’t even notice; I was too numb. (I say I didn’t notice but I must have. And really? How numb can one be if one is sobbing uncontrollably?)…
…Carl had been driving too fast, and he didn’t notice the sign warning us that the bridge was out. The car flew into the river and started to sink. I must have been able to swim out because the paramedics found me wandering the river bank, screaming for Carl. They found Carl in the car, still wearing his seatbelt…
Promising. Not genius. Not great. But maybe a little bit promising? Perhaps I’m too close to the matter to be an objective judge.