I first met Roy in junior high; “middle school,” they call it other places. He was obviously retarded, but not so bad that he couldn’t get through school with extra help and understanding from his teachers. Unfortunately, his disability caused him to be the victim of a certain amount of harassment from those boys who wrongly thought that they were somehow smarter, more manly or funnier. Even then, they knew better than to go too far, since Roy was well muscled and strong as an ox. He couldn’t box, but he COULD nearly tie them in a knot and bounce then their heads off the floor a few times. I always tried to treat him well, since I figured his disability and apparent poverty gave enough him trouble to bear.
It turned out that my mom knew him, too. We stopped by the backyard shop of a local luthier one evening to get some strings for my sister’s cello, and he was in the yard when we got there. He ran inside on seeing my mom. Inside the shop, the walls were covered with violins, guitars, mandolins, balalaikas and other stringed instruments in various stages of construction and repair. Though not a musician, I was a lover of music, and felt like I was on holy ground and privileged to be in the presence of the old man. I was even more amazed as I came to realize that the old man was blind. As we walked back to the car, we noticed Roy peeking around the corner of the house from behind a bush. Neither of us said anything, since we thought it was obvious that he didn’t want to make contact.
In the car, Mom explained that Roy probably avoided us because he might have thought that he was going to get in trouble. You see, Mom worked at a grocery store in that neighborhood, and the old man (his grandfather) and his wife shopped there. Sometimes, they’d send Roy by himself to get an item or two. At those times, the store owner often had to shoo him away from the trashy magazines that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Once or twice, they were sure that he’d stolen one and tried to catch him with the evidence, but he was too fast for the owner. I suppose the curiosity and urges of a retarded boy going through puberty are little different than those of any other boy that age.
I don’t know why he was being raised by his grandparents. I know that a few parents of retarded children aren’t up to the task of raising them, and let the stress cause them to get divorced and/or abandon the children with the grandparents. Maybe that was the case with Roy, or maybe his mother was dead; I don’t know. I DO know that Roy struggled, but made it through high school with low but honest grades, not the phony, feel-good ratings they too often give kids these days. Not long afterward, I noticed that the little luthier shop had completely disappeared. I don’t know if the old man had died, or had simply retired.
Roy has spent his life working in the back rooms of fast-food joints, doing whatever he has to do to get a paycheck. He’s never been in trouble with the law, as far as I know. He’s never gotten any tattoos, or tried drugs as far as I’ve heard, either. I suspect his grandfather would be proud of him. I sometimes see him standing on a sidewalk, waiting for a bus. He always looks a little disheveled, but clean. It’s tempting to feel sorry for him, and sometimes I do, but frankly, he’s a better man than most men that I know. © 2012