Friday, January 27, 2012
Ted was kind of your classic Special Ed kid.
Always smiling, always hugging, often drooling.
He wore a special cuff on his wrist that he was supposed to use to wipe the drool off of his chin.
I don't want to gross you out; that has never been my intention.
Let me just say that Ted's cuff was frequently heavy with moisture, and did not smell like goodness or truth.
Ted loved to show people his room.
His mom had paid a lot of money to make sure Ted had his own room at the group home, and she had decorated it with great love and obsessiveness.
Ted's mom, Lauren:
Lauren looked like she was hewn from some stone perched eternal on the desolate cliffs of Denmark.
A life spent squinting at the dark in fear of Grendel had left her with a massive brow that longed to crush the softer bits of the rest of her face.
She always distrusted me because she popped in one time for a surprise visit, and I had not cleaned Ted's room to her exacting standards.
Then things got worse.
I was young; I was nervous; I gave Ted someone else's medication.
Nothing a little trip to the hospital couldn't fix.
I didn't know Ted was allergic to bees.
What a good sport he was.
Even when I accidentally knocked him off a stage.
We were up there practicing our Christmas play, and I backed up without looking behind me.
There was the sensation of pushing against a slightly denser patch of air, and then nothing.
How do you fall off a stage?
Do you flail about in an effort to halt your descent, hoping to get it together enough to brace for impact?
Do you take ukemi and come up throwing ninja stars?
Ted falls off a stage like this:
I think there is something to be learned from watching how Ted falls off a stage.
Don't fight what life brings you; let it come.
Let it come up to meet you, like a gym floor, and do nothing to soften the impact.
Permit the waves of concussion to wash over you, own them.
They are yours.
As we all hunkered down for the long winter, things just kept getting better.
And then, time slowed.
Bodies began to slip and contort as if in some underwater dance of clumsiness and transformation.
And none danced higher or more beautifully than Ted.
I ran to help him, my heart in my throat.
But he bounced right up without complaint.
After dinner, I told Ted to put his chair on the table like always.
Yes, on his journey through the snow, Ted had broken his arm.
I had no answer.
When the warm weather returned, you can see why I felt confident enough to take thirteen developmentally disabled boys to the zoo, by myself.
What lunacy compelled me, what captive animal so desperate was I too see, that all sense, all reason, from my mind deserted?
Dumbly then, did tweedle twee.
To the crowded Reptile House we came, and from the other side emerged, with a Ted-shaped hole in our procession.
I turned and did a headcount, only to see I was one short.
For love of all that is holy.
I had just lost Ted at the zoo.
I imagined Lauren's granite fists closing on my throat.
They pressed me to the floor, and in her eyes, nothing but soulless fury.
"Hate you forever" she spits, and crushes down till my candle is extinguished.
A shroud of panic descended on me.
"Ok, everyone sit down. Now." The twelve remaining boys sat on the grass beside the reptile house.
I had to go back in and see if Ted was there.
That meant leaving the boys unattended, something I absolutely did not want to do.
We are not talking about nice little poster children for Special Olympics, or candidates for one of those Impaired and Adorable calendars.
We're talking about a guy who stabbed his roommate in the head with a fork and ran off into the sunset, buck naked, proclaiming himself to be J-J-Jesus.
We're talking about a nice little fellow who would manually remove his teeth when angry, or consume his feces when nervous.
The two minutes it took me to scour that Reptile House were heavy with the dread of what I might see when I re-emerged.
Thankfully, nothing had happened.
But no Ted, either.
I flagged down a passing zoo employee, and we proceeded to fail utterly to facilitate successful communication.
I am not exaggerating.
This conversation went on and on.
This man, this noble keeper of caged wildlife, was incapable of understanding what Ted looked like.
He just could not get it right.
And behind me, the other boys had begun to deteriorate.
I felt the situation slipping away from me.
It could not be reeled back in; Ted was gone, Lauren would make sure I went to prison, and my life would be only smashing big rocks into little rocks while singing gospel songs in beautiful harmony with my fellow prisoners.
An old-timer named Preacher would offer me words of comfort, his weird gnarled fingers poking his Bible and then poking me in the chest.
I could feel that poke in the terrible thudding of my panicked heart.
But hope does not always abandon the bald, the fat, the stupid.
Almost an hour later, a little green Zoo jeep roared up with Ted in the passenger seat.
Have you ever been so relieved to see a special ed kid that you impulsively hugged him tight, felt his drool cuff gush gush into the small of your back, and whispered in his ear, "Don't tell your mom?"