Kelly Elmore gave us an interesting prompt for her Free Write Friday feature this week. It was simply a word; Empathy. As sometimes happens, I struggled with what I could write, and had just about given up, but then… well… I had an opportunity to empathize. I found out that sometimes we can empathize with someone simply by letting them be a part of our life; even if for just a little while.
By the world’s standards—yours, most likely—I’m not whole; to some—maybe you—I’m useless, and a drain on society and the economy. I’ve never worked a day in my life—at least not one I got paid for. But I helped my neighbor work in his yard this morning.
I’ve helped him a couple of times before, and it’s not really working because it’s fun. It’s fun just being there on my hands and knees, next to this old guy I don’t even know, spreading mulch in his flower beds. If I do it wrong, he shows me how to do it right, but he never yells at me like my parents used to.
I don’t know what happened to them—my parents; I remember them, but not much. They fought a lot, and somehow I knew it was usually about me. My dad left first—when I was still a little boy—then Mom went to the store one day and never came back. The people I live with say she died and went to heaven. I don’t understand dying that much, or heaven. One of the other guys—Bill—told me heaven is where Jesus is, and I get to go live with him when I die. Bill says Jesus is the best guy ever.
I asked Bill what dying was, and he said it was when you stop breathing. I tried it, but couldn’t do it for very long. I didn’t see anybody while I wasn’t breathing. Bill couldn’t explain that.
The five other men that live in the house with me are kind of like me; different ages, I think, but they’re nice. We all get along good, except when Jerry gets excited and starts yelling. We can’t figure out why he yells so much, but we try to make him stop by being nice and talking real soft to him. Sometimes it works when we do that, but sometimes one of the ladies has to give him a shot. I hate shots.
This morning, I had to change my jeans after I helped my neighbor; they were really dirty from that mulch stuff. He said he hoped I didn’t get in trouble for getting dirty. I told him I won’t.
When I was leaving, he said, “Thanks for the help, John.”
I like that a lot. It makes me feel really good.
In case you’re wondering, I used to be retarded—that’s what everybody called me—but a few years ago they told me I wasn’t retarded anymore, and started calling me mentally disabled. I don’t know what either one means; I’m John.