From Susan Parker: A Harrowing Adventure On the Way to the Head Royce School Prom

Tuesday June 08, 2004

Last year Ralph and I were invited to a pre-prom party at the Berkeley home of our friends, Laurie, Milton and Sarah. It was a small soiree. We were the only guests. 

Because there are steps to their front and back doors, Ralph and his wheelchair could not get inside the house. Undaunted, Laurie and Milton held the party on their front walkway. They set trays of food on their porch steps: sushi and strawberries, tiny egg rolls, pickles and chocolate cookies. We drank champagne and waited for their daughter, Sarah, who was going to the Head Royce Junior Senior Prom, to come outside and model for us. But Sarah had other plans. We forgot that a 15-year-old doesn’t necessarily want to stand on her front porch in a formal dress waiting for her date, while her parents’ friends gawk at her. But we hung around, hoping that she would give us a sneak preview before her escort arrived. 

No such luck. 

I went upstairs to her bedroom and saw the size 4 prom dress hanging in her closet, waiting until the last moment to be slipped on. Laurie tried to talk Sarah into modeling it for Ralph, but it was of no use. Sarah, an exceedingly good-natured young woman, had definite ideas on how she would make her entrance and those plans did not include a quick preview. We finished off the champagne and made plans to go home. Ralph turned his wheelchair around on the front walkway and wheeled toward the sidewalk, but he miscalculated the angle of the street and began to slide downhill, out of control. 

“Help,” he screamed, just as Sarah appeared on the front porch and her date arrived in his mother’s Volvo station wagon. Ralph sailed past the nervous teenager, who was dressed in a tuxedo and was carrying a corsage box under his arm. 

“Hello,” said the young man. 

“Look out!” shouted Laurie as she ran by him in an effort to catch Ralph. Milton and I followed in a panic. Sarah stood on the porch watching as we sprinted out of sight. There was no way she was going to be of help to us in tiny sling back heels and a strapless ball gown slit up to her thigh. Her date hadn’t seemed to notice us as we ran past him. He was staring in awe at Sarah. 

Laurie, Milton and I managed to halt the wheelchair and push Ralph back up the hill. 

“I think we’ll go now,” I said to Laurie as we reached the front walkway. 

“No offense or anything,” she panted, “but that might be a good idea.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead and tried to compose herself before meeting her daughter’s escort. 

I looked back at the young man and Sarah. She looked beautiful and sophisticated and he looked like a scrawny kid in a suit that was two sizes too big for him. I waved good-bye, pulled Ralph into the van and drove home. 

“I don’t think we’ll be invited to Sarah’s prom next year,” I said to Ralph as I pushed him up the wheelchair ramp. 

“I think you’re probably right,” he answered. 

This year we weren’t asked to send Sarah off to the prom. But Sarah, always a trendsetter, has taken up boxing. So we are going to a boxing match instead of a pre-prom party. Boxing ringsides are far more wheelchair-accessible than narrow sidewalks on steep Berkeley streets. Sarah in boxing gloves and a mouthguard doesn’t look like the Sarah in a floor-length silk Jessica McClintock dress, pointy high heels and plaited hair. But she is just as impressive, determined and poised in the boxing ring as she is on her way to the prom. 

And if Ralph’s wheelchair goes out of control or gets stuck in high gear while he’s watching her at ringside, Sarah will be dressed appropriately for the occasion. She’ll come to his rescue.