When I was young, I heard my relatives and parents whisper that I had Down syndrome. I didn’t understand. They said I was a cute child and smiled sweetly. I loved and hugged everyone and hung on them. They said I was affectionate.
All these niceties stopped at the elementary school because I was clumsy and slow. My classmates avoided playing with me. They teased me, calling me a moron or retard instead of David. I couldn’t do simple addition or subtraction. I had problem cleaning myself after using the toilet at school. So, my teacher made me wear a large diaper. Classmates found out and made fun. I was sad.
My parents had several meetings with the Principal and counselors and they put me in a special class for intellectually handicapped people. Now I had classmates like me and I was happy.
I liked Martha who stared at me with mesmerizing blue eyes. Often, I played hide and seek with her. She was so naïve, she hid under the same table in full view and asked me to find her. She hugged me and tried to kiss me and said she loved me. I didn’t understand her and said, “No.”
I noticed that any sudden noise bothered me and I would startle. My parents couldn’t take me to restaurants because there was always loud noise there. At school, if anyone dropped a book, or the school bell rang I shouted, “Stop it.” This became so bad the teacher moved my seat to a corner where the noise was less.
When Mother asked about it, the teacher said, “He is developmentally impaired. He won’t learn much anyway. It won’t hurt his future.”
Mother was upset.
I asked Mother, “Why am I different?”
I said, “I’m sorry.”
She hugged me and said she loved me and I would be all right.
My parents were old and couldn’t take care of my needs. They found a home for handicapped people like me. I cried. They cried, but eventually they left me under the care of Mrs. Rodriguez.
They visited me once in six months and took to me Mc Donald’s for breakfast. People looked at me, and moved away and sat at a distance. I always ate six pancakes and Mother said I’ll become chubby if I continue to do so.
Mrs. Rodriguez was caring and treated me well. After breakfast, she allowed me to wash clothes and take the garbage out. It was my job to collect the newspaper from outside and hand it over to Mrs. Rodriguez. For these services, she gave me an extra apple daily. I told you she was nice.
When I was eighteen, she got me a job with Mr. Garcia. Every Sunday, along with other handicapped people like me, I was assigned to clean the parking lots of offices. It was a back breaking job, but I didn’t complain because I felt I was useful. Mr. Garcia paid me five dollars a day. I could buy soda, candy or chewing gum. I was happy.
By and by, I made friends with Jacob. He was nice to me and I liked him. We shared snacks and gum that we bought and chatted about our care providers. Once he told me that he was sick with a kidney disease and eventually needed a new one.
“How many do you need?” I asked.
“Give me two.”
“I’ll talk to Mrs. Rodriguez. She’ll help.”
My care provider told me that I had only two kidneys but I could donate one. She helped me to register for an organ donation and for giving my body to a medical school. She admired my decision.
One day, Mr. Garcia assigned us to clean a doctor’s parking lot full of plants and flowering shrubs. At one corner, there were a couple of small plants with a few dry leaves. I cut them to pieces and threw them into the truck.
Mr. Garcia saw what I did. His face turned ripe-tomato-red. He shook. “You. Idiot, what did you do? You destroyed Cycas palm trees, each 200 dollars worth. Now, I have to pay for it. Get out of here. Don’t show me your face again.”
I covered my face with my hands and sobbed.
“All right David, stop crying. I’ll take care of it.”
I was depressed. I walked home. While crossing the road, I didn’t notice a car coming fast. It hit me. I fell down, my head cracked like an egg, and blood gushed out.
Then a funny thing happened. I came out of the body and floated up in the air. I didn’t feel pain nor was I agitated. I could clearly see and hear what was happening below.
An ambulance came, sirens blaring. A couple of paramedics got down carrying a first-aid box. One of them, the tall one, bent down and checked my pulse, breathing and other signs of life.
“Ron, I think he’s gone. Let’s start CPR,” he said.
“Tom, I know him. He is a retard. Why CPR?”
“It’s the Law. We should do this until a doctor says he is dead.”
They transferred me to the Emergency Room. I followed them floating like a helium balloon and watched silently.
Doctors surrounded me. They intubated me, gave me electrical shocks and finally announced that I was dead. I laughed silently. I knew that an hour ago.
There was a commotion when they noted that I was an organ donor. They discussed whether organs could be harvested from a retarded person. They consulted the hospital attorney who quoted a case from Kentucky which happened in 1969, Strunk v Strunk. I heard and saw enough and moved away from the emergency room.
Dear Anatomy student, when you open me up, you won’t find my heart. It is beating in a 60- year-old grandpa, who is happily playing with his grandchildren. One of my kidneys is with my friend Jacob, and the other is with a 30-year-old dance teacher who teaches Bharatnatyam to Indian children. My corneas gave vision back to an ophthalmologist who has resumed treating his patients.
People called me a retard, imbecile and assumed I was worthless. Tell me, am I not useful to them now?