The Bard - Robert
Every year, the graduating class of C*****n Elementary School would walk down the street to the R*** Ranch for barbecue and western dancing. We were chatting cheerfully as we walked past my family’s ranch and the S****’s farm on the way to the party. Most of my classmates were just excited to hang out together outside of school; others were anxious to meet the other children who were going to be there. It was a tradition for the sixth grade class to spend a day with local developmentally disabled children. Very few of us had experience with ‘slow’ people, so we did not know what to expect. I was paired up with a mildly autistic boy.
His name was Robert. His five foot four frame, though lanky, showed signs of the strong man he would become. Like me, he was twelve years old. We wandered the ranch together, looking at all the animals and talked about random twelve-year-old stuff. I do not recall much about that day, but the impressions still linger. After lunch, the music was turned up and everyone started dancing. Garth Brooks was singing his heart out, when Robert asked me to dance. We did western dances, the steps of which have long left my memory. At one point, he had his arms around me from behind with his face next to mine. I could feel his warm breath upon my cheek and my heart pounded in my chest. I was confused and excited. I had ‘crushes’ before, but never had I felt anything like that. I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to lock the feeling in my heart forever. It was like falling with your feet still on the ground. Today, if I shut my eyes tight enough, I can still bring back that sweet, innocent feeling.
The day ended, as all wonderful things tend to do, and I hugged Robert goodbye. At the time, I thought I would see him again, in fact, my heart could not wait for that moment, but my sense of reality was not fully developed yet. I knew nothing about the boy and I never saw him again.
My family moved to this small agricultural town when I was 7 years old. I was the new kid; the different kid. I listened to metal and liked bubble gum ice cream. I was alienated, teased, and mentally torn apart. My self-esteem was trampled down like a well-trod path. Those children that spared me from abuse, tended to ignore me. So, I morphed myself to fit the mold that I thought they wanted me to fit. I became the clown to hide my pain; the people-pleaser to prove my worth, and an ice queen to shield myself. I believed that everyone was a source of pain, until I met Robert. There was no malice in his words and he genuinely wanted to know me. He touched me because he wanted a connection, not because he wanted to hurt me. Perhaps this is why his memory still lingers today. My self-esteem took a long time to recover from my formative years, but when I think of that day I spent with Robert, it’s a golden memory in an otherwise traumatic time. I believe it was he who gave me the strength to separate myself from the toxic relationships I had developed in C*****n. Without saying a word, he told me that I deserved better.