I dropped Matthew off at his Homecoming dance this weekend. Whoever coined the phrase "mixed emotions" probably didn't realize how true it is for me in situations like this. After unloading Matthew from our van and leading him through the line of students to get to the accessible door I stood and looked at all the young people crowded inside. I shuddered wondering how would they all get out in an emergency, but also knew Matthew would be with great friends and have a fun evening.

Alice made certain Matthew was freshly showered that morning and picked out the clothes that met his approval. After dinner I helped him put on a sharp white shirt, his favorite red tie and my dark blue suit jacket that matched his pants. He looked like quite the young professional. Matthew asked Alice if he could borrow her digital camera and I placed this and his cell phone strategically on his lap. His reach is limited, so things must be convenient if he is to use them. We gave him final instructions about calling if he became tired and who would pick him up. As I was running early the next morning Alice had that "privilege".

Matthew's upper body strength is limited and he wears a harness to secure him tightly to his wheelchair so he is not battered about as he is driven anywhere. Although we weren't going far I fastened his harness which looked like a vest against his blue jacket. We next drove the few miles to the high school listening to the radio. As I pulled into the parking area I noticed the young students dressed their best scurrying to line up and meet friends. They seem so young! Matthew had a date last year, yet waited too long this year and all the girls he asked were already going with another boy. Undeterred Matthew decided to go stag. When I was a sophomore I didn't have the nerve to ask girls out and would have been horrified to go to a formal dance alone. I truly admire his persistence and nerve. A few kids watched as I put down the lift and got Matthew out of the van. Most are accustomed to seeing him around school and don't give us a second glance.

The school policeman made his way to the gym just ahead of us and we followed his lead as the students part like the Red Sea as he approached. I can hear the music as the doors are propped open to let students in, yet we have to pass this entrance to get to the door that has a ramp leading to it. The policeman sees us and opens the door commenting he hopes we can squeeze by. Looking inside I see what he means. Students clog the vestibule cramming their way into the gym. I hear several boys and girls say hello to Matthew as he maneuvers through the door and into the small space I manage to clear. One of his male friends comes forward and offers to get Matthew into the gym. Again, I get that feeling that I am abandoning him, yet realize I need to leave him with his friends. I know he will be fine. I ask him once more if he needs anything to which he answers almost impatiently that he is O.K. He gives me that "look" as if to say I can handle this Dad, so I leave.

On the way home I reminisce about my high school days trying to get the nerve to ask a girl to dance and think how different it is for Matthew. If he wants to dance he'll ask a girl and if she says "yes", they will. Once home I let Alice know he is fine and who I saw at the school. I am glad to not have to drive back later to pick Matthew up as I am not much of a late night person. My evening consists of working on the computer and getting to bed. Alice will pick Matthew up around 11:00PM and she gets him to bed without incident.

The next morning after my run, as I get Matthew dressed and out of bed we talked about the previous night. The DJ didn't play the music he liked, but it wasn't too loud. Alice shows me the pictures on her camera from last nights dance. There are ten or more pictures of Matthew and individual girls. In each picture Matthew is smiling broadly and so are his girl friends. He tells us who they are and I ask how often he danced. He said he didn't and that he didn't feel like dancing. He spent the night socializing with his friends and having fun which isn't a bad time for any high school student let alone a student who uses a wheelchair and has DMD. In spite of all the hurdles Matthew is doing what he wants and most times it is his way.

Brian Denger

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