I almost didn’t do it. The nerves in my stomach had generated an icy chill that was working its way from my gut to my heart and into my throat. On this otherwise balmy spring day, I was freezing.
It had taken several weeks to gather what little daring I had, and if I didn’t take action soon it would be too late. Besides, my courage was ready to run for the hills, and this anxiety was wearing me out. With the urgency of “now or never” pushing me forward, I did something I had never done before. I asked a guy for a date.
As the manager of the guy’s varsity basketball team for most of my high school career, I went to all of the games and hung around the gym after practice. Strong friendships had developed with many of the players. I loved it.
Jon was one of them. Although he was a junior, he was also in my sociology class, so I knew him better than most of the other players. With his sandy brown hair, easy gait, and eyes that were continually seeking the best in people, Jon looked like a younger version of Ashton Kutcher. He was humble, kind, and funny too. I was always up for a laugh, and over time, we had become good friends.
Because I routinely hung out around the gym, Jon didn’t hesitate when I asked to speak to him outside afterward. The gym opened into another outdoor basketball court that doubled as a student hangout, and that afternoon the usual teenagers were chatting, doing homework, and on their way home after club meetings, play practice, band, and volleyball.
Once we were in a quiet corner, I started the conversation. Believe me, I wasn’t the world’s best communicator in that moment. Even though I had been rehearsing my next few lines in my head for weeks, prepared “speeches” sailed out the window. Also, I remained shy and awkward and somewhat lacking in social graces, all made immeasurably worse by my icy nerves. After a gulp that could have drained a large Slurpee in a single swallow, our interaction began something like this:
“Jon, do you happen to have any plans for the third Saturday in May?” My exhale came out in a rush.
My friend did his best to hide a grin. “Gee,” he replied, “is that the date of the prom?”
“Why yes, yes it is Jon. The prom does happen to be on that day. Would you consider going with me?” It was technically a question, but in reality, it came out in a series of long squeaks.
This moment stretched into the stratosphere. I couldn’t feel anything in my arms or legs. Am I starting to float? Beam me up, Scotty! I think I might die.
Without the slightest hesitation, he responded, “I would love to go with you.” He said, “The only thing that would stop me is if I have to work. I promise to keep you posted. Then Jon knelt down beside my wheelchair and gave me one of the sweetest hugs I have ever known. “Thank you so much for asking me.”
As it turned out, Jon did have to work on prom night, so we never attended. But that is only part of the story. Several months later, I went to college. Choosing to attend a university hundreds of miles away created obstacles I hadn’t anticipated. With no familiar faces to fall back on, I was forced to make new friends, and I desperately wanted everyone to like me.
Somehow, I fell into a pattern of doing a certain kind of favor for the people I hung out with, even though it made me uncomfortable. When people I knew were attracted to each other, they would often use me as a go-between. More specifically, a guy would ask me to check in with a girl to see if she liked him. The girls would ask me to relay the message that she did or didn’t. Many a relationship started between two of my friends with me as the “middle man.”
It didn’t seem like a big deal at first. I wanted to fit in, and if I could play a role as a budding cupid, I was happy to help. For awhile. But the situation began to take its toll. As my freshman year unfolded, I was surrounded by more and more couples. I started to wonder about my own future.
Would a nice guy ever find me attractive? Would anyone be able to look beyond my disability and focus on the person inside? Would anyone want to get to know me enough to think about sharing his life with me? Would I ever be loved like that?
The random tumbling of these questions through my mind left me feeling lonely and scared. Then, after a particularly difficult day when, count them, three sets of friends asked me about each other, discouragement began to get the better of me. On a whim, I called Jon.
He was still a senior in high school, biding his time casually, it seemed, until graduation. I, on the other hand, was somewhat overwhelmed and stuck, and couldn’t move on until I got an issue clarified.
After catching up a bit, I summoned the courage to ask another question.
“Jon, did it ever bother you that a girl in a wheelchair asked you to prom?”
Without skipping a beat, he said, “Well, there was some concern that you couldn’t do the Twist.”
Once my laughter subsided, he continued.
“Seriously, though. A girl in a wheelchair didn’t ask me to prom. You asked me to prom. I never saw it any other way.”
Relief flooded across the desert of my insecurities, and I hung up the phone with new resolve and better boundaries.
I will find the right guy someday. I just have to wait. When we meet, we will talk often and get to know each other. Like Jon, over time he will be able to see all the good things that make up who I am.
We won’t even need a “middle man”.