Chapter 12 “SHOT HAPPENS”
Part of my response to life included dealing with my maturing feelings for the opposite sex. With my physical challenges and my reduction in height (from five foot, ten inches standing to four foot, three inches sitting), one might suggest that I wasn’t the greatest catch in our high school. But somehow I didn’t know that.
I began to date—a lot. It must have been my powerful, electrifying handshake with my calloused, rubber-burned hands that made me especially attractive. I also did wheelies in my chair, which certainly made me the catch of the day.
The fact is, I didn’t meet any girls who made it a practice to follow vans with handicapped license plates home in order to date wheelchair-bound guys. But how I saw myself was much more important to my social acceptance than how others saw me; how I saw myself affected how they would see me—and treat me.
This realization wasn’t automatic; it came with experience.
I was hesitant to ask a girl to dance. Why would you ask a girl to dance when you can’t dance? You wouldn’t. You would sit there at a dance, in a corner, feeling stupid, awkward and uncomfortable until some sweet thing took pity on you and asked you to dance—at least that’s what I did.
I didn’t really want to go to the big dance at Orem High School. But I was home—just sitting there—and that’s not where I wanted to be on a Friday night. So I decided to go to the dance anyway. Maybe I’d run into some of my buddies.
The guys were glad to see me—for one second. Then they were off like any other normal teenagers looking for girls. I soon found myself in a dark corner of the gymnasium, leaning back against the cold brick wall. I remember reaching behind me, noticing the slick paint on cinder block and wondering to myself, Why do they paint brick? To keep it from rusting?
Then I noticed—or sensed—someone approaching me. I quickly looked down, taking great interest in my shoes. I could see out of the corner of my eye a pair of attractive legs walking purposely towards me. I looked away, then back—and up—and there stood Wendy Castle.
Oh boy, what do I do now?
“Mike, I want to dance.”
“Go for it” I thought, “I’d love to watch!”
“Mike, I want to dance with you. Okay?”
I looked up and I was a goner. There was nothing I could do except dance with her or run over her. So I mumbled something unintelligible and wheeled out onto the floor, looking for enough space in which to dance. I was feeling stupid, awkward and uncomfortable. “This isn’t very much fun. Why did my friend shoot me? I’m having a bad day.”
Well, the music was energetic, so I popped a wheelie and started spinning in circles. I twisted and turned to the rhythm of the music and anxiously waited for the song to end. It finally did.
I thanked Wendy for the dance and turned to head back to my safe corner when she caught me completely off-guard with six words I will never forget: “Mike, I want one more dance.”
I guess I can do this, I thought. “Okay, sure,” I said.
Then the music started and my heart stopped. It was a slow dance. I was stuck and I knew it. Waiting to see what her next move would be, I just sat there—as if I had a choice. Wendy was nervous. I didn’t know what to do, and I was sweating bullets (pun intended).
Neither of us knew what to do. She came closer and found herself looking down at me. That wasn’t working, so she knelt next to my chair (I was already praying). Other couples danced around us, wondering what we were going to do. Now the pressure was really on. I began patting Wendy on the top of her head to the beat of the music.
That felt pretty stupid. “This isn’t working very well and I’m messing up your hair.” Then I got a brilliant idea. “Wendy, why don’t you sit on my lap?”
She plopped down sideways on my lap and wrapped her arms around me. Momma didn’t raise no fool. Suddenly I was no longer embarrassed. I was floating on clouds and discovering a great advantage to being in a wheelchair.
Soon I was back in my corner, leaning against the wall—only this time with a cocky grin on my face.
This was a lot of fun. I was having a good day—and I was the envy of all of my friends.
I had learned first-hand that Woody Allen is right: “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”
I was grateful and happy that I showed up. But I was even more grateful and happy that a wise, considerate, sixteen-year-old girl named Wendy, understood what really makes this world go ‘round. It isn’t chocolates or flowers or prom dates or movies or new dresses and new shoes, or fancy tuxedos—it is caring and compassion. Wendy could have danced with Roger or Phil or Lance; but she took a chance to dance with me.