Once upon a time . . .

Don’t you love stories that start like this?

Once upon a time . . .

You’ve got to be really old to start a true story like this.

OK, here is my true story:

Once upon a time I lived in a small apartment in a large, 3 story, old, brick house. The house sat behind a tall, grey, stone wall. I had to drive through an opening in the wall and follow the winding drive around the house to the back where I parked. Then I walked back to the house and entered my apartment from a side door. At night it was pitch dark. The place was surrounded by large trees and mature shrubbery.

The lady who owned the house lived in the main house with her son. He was in his thirties and severely retarded. He had the mind of a 3 year old, but he was over six feet tall and he shaved. A local group worked with this man. He could dress himself and he had a job. He worked only a few days a week for a few hours only. His job was provided by a local, downtown grocer.  He walked to the corner, caught a bus downtown to his job and rode the bus back home. He was proud and his mother was proud. He was actually a pretty cool person.

He was paid in cash. He was allowed to do whatever he wanted with his money. He even got robbed once by some really mean kids. They were caught and got a lecture from the grocer’s wife. They did not want any more of that. Billy’s mother said, “Whatever happens he has a life. He has a chance to be happy, sad, excited, afraid, whatever.” Wow, what a great mom.

Every weekday afternoon, after work, I would drive in and around to the back, park my car and walk to my apartment door. This guy, let’s call him Billy, would meet me in the driveway. We exchanged smiles and hellos, then went our own way.

One day I stayed out late drinking with friends. I am not proud of that, but it was what it was. I came in very late that evening. I walked quietly back up the drive, through the trees and shrubberies. Billy was hiding in the shrubbery. He jumped out and grabbed me really hard. He was sort of jumping up and down and making some very weird noises.

OK, that was my Near Death Experience (NDE). I nearly died from fright right there, in the dark, in the shrubs, in the grip of a wild man. There was no out of body experience, just plain old Alfred Hitchcock fear.

Once I figured out that I did not die I realized that Billy was excited and wanted me to follow him. He led me back to the garage, went into the garage, and emerged holding a rooster. He was loving and petting this chicken. He gave it to me to hold. I petted it too. Chickens, apparently, aren’t really fond of being petted, but I managed not to let it get away.

Now Billy wanted to tell me something. It was like charades. He was very good at it. He pointed to his eyes, crouched down and moved his head around like he was searching for something, Then he appeared to see something and grab it. Then he pointed to his chicken and smiled. He took his chicken back. I said, “So, Billy. You caught this chicken?” He smiled, beamed actually, and shook his head up and down.

I congratulated him on his chicken. Petted it on the head and we each went our own way.

The next day his mother came to me and thanked me for the way I handled the situation. She was secretly watching. She said that he waited for me to come home every day. She said that exchanging greetings with me was one of the high points of his day. He had waited all afternoon and evening for me to come home.

I was too stupid to know that on my own. This experience is like a magic flashlight in my memory. Whenever I think about this I am reminded of every hurtful thing I have done to people who loved me. I was so unbelievably stupid most of my life. I probably still am, but I am better.