The eighth grade formal, the last dance of the year, was a big deal to me because it was my last chance to create some sort of memory before your mother and I left Beijing for new cities. Those are stakes that even my prepubescent self could understand. I didn’t think I would get this opportunity again.
In the weeks leading up to the dance, rumors swirled about who would go with who, and as boys and girls started pairing off, those that remained became targets for others to ask, as no one wanted to go alone. I hadn’t found the courage to ask your mother to the dance in that initial wave, and I’m not sure what waiting would have done. It was only when I heard through the grapevine that Freddy had asked your mother to the dance that I found the necessary urgency.
I don’t know if he really asked her or if she had turned him down (I’ve never thought to ask her, but I will after this letter), but word in the hallways was that she was still looking for a date. I made plans to ask her that coming Friday when both of us would be hanging out at a mutual friend’s house.
But of course, on Thursday night, I received a call from another girl asking whether I wanted to go to the dance with her.
“Umm, I don’t know. I am actually planning to ask someone else,” I remember saying. It was no secret your mother and I would go together, particularly since this girl was also in the same social circle. We were only missing the formalities.
I don’t recall the rest of the conversation. I only remember the girl subsequently crying, me not knowing what to say, and then an awkward hang up while she was still crying. Maybe the lesson here (for her) is “Don’t get in love’s way.”
The next night, around dusk, while we were all at the playground, I approached your mom and asked, “Can I talk to you in private?”
As we walked away a short distance from the others, I could hear everyone snickering behind us that it was “finally happening” and it was “about damn time”.
I then got down on one knee, plucked a yellow flower from the ground, and raised it to her as I said, “Christina, will you please go to the formal with me?”
The smile was all I needed, as she asked, “You do know that’s a weed, right?” It’s the type of response that would come to define your mom even to this day. Any girl could’ve said yes or no, but I’ve always thought she’s the only one that would say what she said.
I fiercely kept my date to the dance a secret from my own mom because I was embarrassed about sharing anything girl-related with her. I conducted secret trips to the florist and convenience store, and ended up with a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates rather than a more event-appropriate corsage like everyone else. She never minded even when others laughed. After all, I did make a girl cry in her honor. Who says chivalry is dead?