Jeff Jardine

This autistic teen, his prom date and a local costume store combined for a magical night

Marshall McComb, 16, hugs his mother Shannon as Dana Walters, owner of Daydreams and Nightmares Costume shop, left, looks over the Beauty and the Beast costume in Modesto, Calif., on Friday, May 12, 2017.
Marshall McComb, 16, hugs his mother Shannon as Dana Walters, owner of Daydreams and Nightmares Costume shop, left, looks over the Beauty and the Beast costume in Modesto, Calif., on Friday, May 12, 2017. aalfaro@modbee.com

This one comes with a fairytale feel: two teens going to a high school prom together wearing “Beauty and the Beast” costumes.

And at a time when so many people are polarized by politics, worried about their access to healthcare, wondering whether a nutcase in North Korea will start a nuclear war, or even fretting over the Giants’ horrible start to the season, I suspect some folks might appreciate this momentary escape.

Dana Walters certainly does. She owns the Daydreams and Nightmares Costume Shop in downtown Modesto, and considers the teens’ story one of those “restores your faith in humanity” moments on multiple fronts. She experienced it firsthand when Haley Miller, a student at Delta Charter High School in Tracy, came last week in search of a “Belle” costume to wear to Friday night’s prom in Stockton. Miller’s prom date, 16-year-old Marshall McComb, then did the same, renting a white suit as did the prince before he was cursed into The Beast by the wicked fairy.

But it wasn’t just their fascination with the Disney classic that Walters and others found so compelling. It’s that Miller asked McComb – who is autistic – to the dance. She did this May 1 on campus by holding a sign that read “Marshall Will You Be My Guest At The Prom?” with the Disney song playing in the background and the entire school watching. It’s that Miller displays a maturity you don’t often see in teens, period. It’s because it drew kindness from total strangers in a town 30 miles away. And it’s that her “proposal” became a life-changing moment for Marshall and his family, his father, Jon, told me.

“Most don’t understand the world of autism,” Jon McComb said. “We’ve always mainstreamed him so that he could reach his maximum potential.”

After the family first learned Marshall is autistic, mom Shannon determined to give him her full attention. She took a leave from teaching. As Marshall neared school age, she began working with him hours at a time at the kitchen table. She learned about dietary changes and sensory reprogramming to prepare him for kindergarten. But the social part is often the most trying. Marshall, his dad said, is intelligent enough to know he is different than other kids, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want the same as they do.

“He likes girls, and he makes no bones about it,” Jon McComb said. But Marshall lacked the confidence to do the asking. “(Those with autism) want to have feelings of acceptance, which is normal of all teams. ‘Am I accepted?’ ‘Am I liked?’ ”

Miller accepts him. Miller likes him. And from the moment Miller asked him to the prom, they saw him transform.

“He’ll always respond, but he rarely would initiate,” Jon McComb said. “Just in this short time, we’ve seen him become more confident.”

Marshall began asking her to eat lunch with him. He invited her to see a movie – the new “Beauty and the Beast,” of course.

“That story is right in his wheelhouse,” dad Jon said. “He gets it. He relates to it. The Beast is inadequate on the outside, but on the inside he’s very deep.”

The McCombs credits Miller with giving him that confidence boost.

“Everything about her is selfless and kind,” Shannon McComb said. “She gave her junior prom to our son and when we asked why, she said that she’d seen Marshall and that he is nice and sweet and deserving to go. It made me cry.”

But Miller, raised by her grandparents since her mom died when she was four, said there’s more to the friendship. She and Marshall have much in common.

“Some people think it’s a pity thing, but it’s not,” the 17 year old junior said. “I’ve had anxiety issues, too. I can’t be in the center of the crowd. Neither can he. He knows everybody at school, but he hadn’t made a connection – a close friend – until me. I felt he would never get invited to the prom. And I knew I’d have way more fun with him than I would anyone else.”

Which brought them, at different times, to Walters’ costume store in Modesto. She had two Belle costumes: one that was too small and another that would fit but needed the zipper repaired. But when Walter retrieved it, the zipper suddenly worked just fine and Haley had her gown. She told Marshall’s parents about the store, and that Walters had the white suit he wanted. When the McCombs arrived to see it, Walters also had the Disney music playing and treated him, well, royally during the visit.

Miller sent Walters a video of the her prom proposal, which Walters shared on her Facebook page. It compelled several people to want to make their prom night even better.

“The ADT guy putting in our security cameras gave me $25 and said, ‘I want to help them.’ ” Walters said. “A co-worker gave $20 and another lady dropped in $50. And a woman who’d grown up in foster homes and had lived in some really bad situations bought the flowers (corsage and boutonniere).”

Walters gave them sizable discounts on the costume rentals, and then handed them about $140 in donated cash some of which, Miller said, will go to an autism group.

“They don’t realize how much of impact it could have not just on one person, but an entire family,” Jon McComb said. “It shows how much goodness there is in people. We appreciate it so much that people care. This story touched them.”

Indeed, it has.

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