My Two Grad Dates (and Other Secrets)

Truth Byte #59:

Somebody adores you, even when you can’t.”

I am on a personal retreat this week. And while I ponder the big and small choices I have made over the year since my last retreat, a lot of good “ahas” are coming up. Last year, just after coming home from my retreat, I wrote Truth Byte #14, That’s Not Really a Tiger, about how to be gentler with ourselves. Today, I want to tell you something else.  Today I want to tell you that somebody adores you, even when you don’t have the capacity to adore yourself.

Let me tell you a story. I was in twelfth grade, and it was the evening of my high school graduation party. I had two (yes two!) dream-come-true dates, a guy from my faith community that I had crushed on for two years as we went out on group excursions and attended religious education classes, and another that made my heart flutter every time I passed his desk in Chemistry class who I secretly loved for all three years of high school. I actually used to go to “the bathroom” two or three times every class I had with him just so I could pass by Bachelor Number Two, make eye contact, and get a whiff of “he’s-not-just-a-boy-he’s-a-man-because-he-wears-it” cologne.  Maybe that explains my less-than-stellar final marks in that class…

But I digress, back to the plot line.

The first guy was good friends with my cousins, and so he had been to all the birthday parties and family events and had been the old-enough driver for all our teenage shenanigans. Funny that I had two major teenage crushes on two completely different guys, but I guess even back then I was trying to keep my options open.  That plus I was too chicken to actually say anything to either of them.

I wore a custom-made parrot green and gold outfit, a Indo-fusion ball gown down to the floor with my midriff bare, ready to parade my Indian heritage publicly for the first time around my high school friends.  I even wore an Indian tiara of sorts. My hair was up in a hundred, thousand cascading curls, and my shoes were off the charts. I felt like the most beautiful girl to ever step onto the sidewalk outside my house.

So a little interlude here to explain the Indian part. 

Growing up, I had two lives: my public, Canadian life and my private, ethnic life.  Before the days of social media, it was quite simple to keep these two apart. When I was little, we often had two birthday parties, one for my school friends, and the other for my extended family, my Indo-Canadian friends and their siblings and parents, and who ever happened to be visiting any of the families that weekend, including elderly grandparents who would snooze in the corner.

The school parties would be typical, standard, what-you-see-on-TV drop-off the-kids parties with all the right mainstream decorations and food and beverages, while the Indo birthday parties would be basically a large family get-together with a big pot of something home-cooked, a cake if someone remembered, lots of bowls of cassava chips with lemon and chili, and the dozens of kids and cousins playing together in the basement until someone remembered to sing Happy Birthday.

My eighteenth birthday was a blended diva extravaganza, but we will get to that another day.

Like so many of my friends from immigrant backgrounds, I led a double life.  There was the public face and what my school friends saw, and then there was the rich, private secret reserved for the evenings and weekends with my family and my ethnic/faith community.  There was only one person, my best friend, that crossed into both the worlds, because though she was from the Caribbean, she could “pass” as Indo-Canadian, so she knew all the hidden colours and complexities of my competing loyalties and patchwork values.  She knew and respected my extended family and the nuances of our conservative-yet-modern-matriarchal-hierarchy, and that she would probably have to do chores every time she came for a sleepover and watch my mother shout at us in another language.

But she adored me, completely, so I never worried about being judged by her.

All that to explain why it was a big deal for me to wear and Indian outfit to grad!  So, back to the story.

Date Number One arrived to pick me up in a white stretch limo in my lower-middle-class neighborhood. It was the most magical moment in my teenage life. All that opulence, just for me. So all my cousins came outside and we took a picture together in front of a limo.

Oh, did I mention, not only did I have two dates, seven of my cousins and an entire table of parents, aunties, uncles, and grandparents from other cities came along on the grad date too?  We bought 22 tickets for grad.  Most other families had four people at the most. The most.

So I guess it was more like a group thing. But I like to think I had game back then, so I continue pretending I had two dates.

The limo ride was pretty amazing, as it was the first time I could ever remember being completely alone with this guy.  I had butterflies the whole way and we toasted with bottled water poured into champagne glasses (because really, I had no game and neither did he!) We arrived at the grad venue, and all the siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents were waiting for us outside in their finest, fancy evening outfits.  We collectively decided that since it was my night I should have the most bling, so my gorgeous and smashing siblings and cousins toned it down slightly just for that night.  But we were a good-looking gaggle for sure, especially my mom and aunts in their sexiest “I’m-a-mom-of-an-almost-adult-but-damn-I-still-look-good” dresses.

We all bustled into the lobby, where Date Number Two was waiting.  My girl cousins ushered me ahead, and again, that cologne made me sweetly nauseous. Or maybe it was just being beside this tall, brooding, heart throb that I had loved for three years straight. Him and I went inside, and the rest of the group followed, my cousins and friends strategically sandwiching me between my two dates.

The stories from that night are incredible and hilarious, and since what happens in high school stays in high school, I will leave the rest of the details to your imagination. Just keep in mind I was a straight-A student who loved books, taking advanced courses who never drank and had only kissed one boy – and none of that changed that night.  So not really much to imagine.  But for a goodie-goodie-over-achiever-perfectionist, it was a wild night!  The best part was the impromptu after-party that my older cousin hosted at his house that ricocheted me into the popular group for the last three weeks of high school.

So what’s the point? Why this story?

The reason I tell you that story is because that night is a touch-point for me, and I wanted you to be able to see it with the rich vividness that I still remember it, almost twenty years later.  That was the night that the people around me demonstrated how much they adored me.  They dolled up, came out, and danced until the morning. They made arrangements, flew in, and celebrated me. They showed me that I am worth celebrating in the most extravagant way. And even though I was controlling and moody and hard to manage during my teenage years, my family showed me that I was simply enough, and that they would show up when I asked them to.

And that wasn’t the only time they did that for me.

Graduating high school for me was not a huge achievement, because I was a smarty pants, and no one ever doubted that I would graduate. What the achievement was for me that night was to actually reveal my secret second life.  I was courageous enough, in an environment of broken and bitter families, to  show the world how loved I was, to not be ashamed of it or embarrassed by it, but to let that adoration be seen and noticed by my classmates and teachers. We were loud, there were a lot of us, and we loved each other to the point of no return.  My school friends finally saw it that night.

I had an important and textured life outside of school, and no longer was this a secret.

The summer before this graduation party, my older cousin, more like a sister, died in a tragic car accident. I was with her, along with other cousins and her sister. I never though our family would come back from that. We still miss her and mourn her, both together and privately. And she was my biggest fan. So when she died, I never though I would find a way to really let other people love me, to let them adore me despite my own self-doubt.

But I did that night.

And so can you.

This week, I would challenge you to look for touch-points in your own life. These are the moments that you felt truly adored and celebrated. You might look through old pictures or talk to people who knew you when you were younger. Then, on the days when you feel alone or like no one cares, bring to mind those touch-points. On days that your family is driving you bananas or when you just can’t get through another petty conflict, remember that they continue to adore you, even if they are not always showing you.  And if your family wasn’t quite like that, and you haven’t been able to work out the past with them, then perhaps it’s time to recruit members to join your tribe, so you can be that for each other.

You are worth it, and you are loved. Always.  More at