When I was in high school, I went to prom twice. Senior year, I went with my hilarious, charismatic Big Crush. He chose a moment to ask me when I happened to be standing under a blossoming cherry tree, in a drift of floating pink petals. Junior year, I went with the last person on earth I would have chosen.
At the small private school I attended, you were required to say “yes” to any boy who asked you, so for a month before the prom, we secretly observed “Avoid the Geeks Weeks” to escape unwanted dates. But my technique was a little flawed that first year, so I got caught out on campus by Kevin. He had a yellow rose in his hand, cut from his father’s garden, and he asked me formally, like someone in a Jane Austen movie, or someone who had been taught his lines beforehand.
According to rumor, Kevin was either developmentally delayed or had sustained a severe head injury as a little boy. He looked normal, but he was still a little boy, caught in an increasingly adult body, running eagerly after a world that was leaving him behind a little more every day. When he asked me to go to the prom with him, I felt awful. I wanted a “real” date. I was shy, and I knew I didn’t have the social credits to carry off such a disasterous prom partner. But I could see his eyes, peering hopefully at me through thick lenses, and I could sense the barely suppressed excitement in him. Rule or no rule, I couldn’t have refused. I dreaded prom night from that moment.
At the time, I didn’t know anything about the Holy Spirit, and I thought grace was the right way to execute a dance step. But I had enough humanity to recognize, on the night of the prom, that something special was happening.
Kevin arrived at my dormitory in a black tux, and we walked across campus to the building where the prom was taking place. We walked in bright moonlight, talking a little shyly to each other. He offered me his arm, like a man in an old black-and-white movie, and I held up my long, rustling skirt with my other hand.
Just before we reached our destination, we passed a little grove of lilac bushes. He paused to let me breathe in their scent, and as I stood there, surrounded by moonlight and sweet flowers, holding the arm of a little boy who would never fully achieve the manhood he wanted so desperately, my embarrassment disappeared, and I saw the moment as a gift. It was a chance to celebrate his innocent delight in the person he believed me to be, the beautiful girl on the beautiful night, the girl of his dreams. It was a chance to feel a little shame at the discrepancy between my view of him as a partner and his view of me.
Kevin died young of an illness contracted at the school where he worked as a janitor. When I heard of his death, I remembered him standing proudly by the lilacs in the moonlight, looking forward happily to a life that most of us would dread. I wonder how it turned out for him. I hope that he never lost his deep faith in the kindness of God.
-Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash