Today, I saw a retarded man pulling along one of those wire wheeled carts that you use to tote your groceries home. He clutched a huge umbrella in his hand, and was casting long looks at the ominous looking sky. I went to school with Earl, a long time ago. He was picked on terribly by a group of boys back in those days, and once I happened upon the scene in the middle of one of those torments. A group of boys pushed him back and forth between them, mocking his stutters and calling him names. Earl was crying. Even then, I couldn't bear to watch stuff like that, and I broke into the circle, slapping every face I could reach, screaming my head off. The only reason that I got away with it, I think, is because in those days, boys didn't hit girls. Alerted by the screaming, a teacher came flying around the edge of the lockers. I was mad, and I was crying, and I was screaming epithets. The teacher did not quite know what to do with the situation, since I was one of the quiet nerds, not the kind that gets sent to the principal's office. He simply sent us all to class.
Today, all these years later, I looked at Earl and remembered that day. He grinned cheerfully, although I'm sure he had no idea who I was. "I'm not getting rained on!" he said, waving his umbrella. "Well, Earl, I think that you're the wise one today. It looks like it's going to rain any minute." Happy to be called by name, he chattered on and shopped with me, muttering again and again, "I'm the wise one today, alright." It made me grin, big.
Driving home I wondered about those boys. The ring leader is still an idiot all these years later. I know that one died, a long while back, in a car crash. I wonder about the rest of them, where they are, what kind of people they turned out to be. I wonder if any of them think about that day, and I hope that Earl doesn't.