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“Your going to see a few things today.” Dad said with bright eyes and an excited smile. He reminded me of a small boy, basking in youth and in ignorance. Today was the big race. And somehow I accepted the invitation to join him.
“I can’t wait to see your face when you first feel the engines start.” He continued, almost squealing with delight. I only nodded and smiled when necessary.
We were on our way to Gary’s , one of my dads close friends, to pick up him and his grandson, Willie. Dad didn’t tell me much about Willie. Only that he was two years younger than me and he had some sort of disability. I didn’t think much of it; I didn’t go for younger guys anyway.
When we pulled into Gary’s driveway I caught a glimpse of Willie. He had jet black hair and glasses that rode down to the tip of his nose. He walked funny. His arms were bent in all the wrong directions and his posture was inhuman and ugly. I instantly turned nervous. Do I have to be near this guy? Do I have to speak to him? What would I say? Willie made his way to the car with a definite limp while Gary assisted him gently.
“Dad?” I whispered, still staring at the boy who inched his way closer towards me.
“Willie is only physically disabled.; he has no mental disabilities.” Dad said quickly and quietly, “Treat him as you would anyone else.”
They reached the car and before Gary could get in, he had to help Willie lower into the back seat next to me. I was afraid of him. Just being in his presence gave me the creeps. Willie was silent the entire trip to the speedway which I was grateful for. I didn’t have to fake any smiles or laughs in his direction. I didn’t even have to look in his direction for that matter.
Finally, we reach our destination but we still have to walk a mile to the gates. It wasn’t literally a mile, but in these shoes, it might as well have been. The parking lot was full of cars stacked next to one another, outlined with RV’s and campers. The atmosphere was active and exciting. Radios were blaring a little of this and a little of that. The hoots and hollers of drunken fans and the sizzle of meat on a grill filled my ears with a perfect harmony.
We handed our tickets to the workers at the front gate. They scanned the bar code and waved us off with a fake smile and a mechanical, “I hope you enjoy the race.”
After looking around at the merchandise, we took our seats.
And guess who I had to sit by.
It took forever to get it started but finally the cars lined up on the track and their engines kicked on, rattling my entire frame with the noise. I smiled and looked to Dad who mouthed the words cool, huh? I nodded with a smile and a laugh that I couldn’t hear over the hollering engines. I guess it didn’t help that I had an orange plug in each ear. Willie is the one who supplied them. He didn’t say a word. He just held out his hand and waited for me to take them. I was scared and a little reluctant but I finally snatched them from his hand... My dad said this kind of stuff could possibly effect your hearing.
The racecars were gradually gathering speed, zooming around the track in no time. I was all smiles. This was so unbelievably cool to me.
I turned to my right with a giggle. Bad idea. I had unintentionally turned to Willie and he had turned to me in response to my ignorance. I was stuck staring into the eyes of a retard.
But then he smiled.
And when he smiled his entire face shifted, transforming into someone else. He had perfectly straight, white teeth and beautifully sculpted cheekbones. His eyes shone and around his lips were dimples.
Dimples like mine.
Suddenly everything was silent. I tore my eyes away from his and looked back to the track. A car had crashed. I placed my hands over my mouth in horror.
“No worries.” I could hardly hear Willie say. His voice was normal. How could that be so?
I turned to him and he was laughing at me. Laughing. “A racer get’s severely injured very seldom. Don’t have a panic attack.”
I was in shock for two reasons. One: Willie talked. He talked normally. Two: He was making fun of me. Him making fun of me.
“I wasn’t panicking.” I said stubbornly while crossing my arms.
He laughed softly this time. “You were.”
I wanted to have a good come back, but what would I say? I could offend him easily but… I don’t know if I have the heart to do such a thing.
“Go ahead.” He said. “Call me a retard if it will make you feel better.”
Horror spread through me. Along with grief and guilt. “I… I wasn’t’ going to call you that.” I lied.
He brought his face closer to mine and very aggressively he said, “You were.” And he turned around, plugged his ears and watched the tracks as the racers started once more.
I was struck with every negative chemical that embodies itself within me. I felt like crying. I felt like apologizing. I felt like I was the retard.
Willie was not a retard. Nor was he scary or frightening. He had feelings just like me. And I shot them down, just like everyone else who assumes and never knows.
I spent the rest of the race planning apologies in my head. I didn’t say a word to Willie. But, of course, he couldn’t have heard me above the engines anyhow.
We left right before the race was over, trying to beat traffic. My dad is a get to, get gone kind of person so he walked fast. And I walked right behind him, somewhat avoiding Willie. Not because I was scared or greedy or … whatever..
It was because I was scare he would make me see how big of a jerk I am.
Willie walked terribly slow. He couldn’t help it, his leg didn’t function as it should. Gary stayed with him, keeping his slow and steady pace. I was just trying to get to the car as soon as possible. I had to get out of here and away from Willie. He was so.. Honest. So bright. He was so much better than me.
I heard several horns from behind me and drunken voices calling out, “Move it, retard! Get out of the way!” I turn to find Gary and Willie trying to make their way across the road.
“Run, Forest! Run!” The yelling continued. I stopped where I stood.
I looked at Willie then. His head was up high, his shoulders were rolled back as far as they would go. But he grasped the hand of his father for literal support.
I watched with quick breath and teary eyes when I thought of my dad’s words:
“You’re going to see a few things today.” He had said.
San Jose, California
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"Life is like a bowl of spaghetti. Every once in a while, you get a meatball." - Sharon Creech