The boy who sat next to me


I’m in a large hotel lobby. There are hundreds of people here. I’m people-watching.

Many of the hotel guests are young. Several use wheelchairs, or walking canes. Some are communicating in American Sign Language.

A boy sits next to me. A teenager. He’s got hearing aids in both ears and thick glasses.

“IS THIS SEAT TAKEN?” he asks.

“No sir,” I say.

“GOOD! I’M WAITING FOR MY MOM!”

Congratulations.

It doesn’t take long for him to learn my name. And soon, every other word he uses is my name.

Talking come easy for this kid. He has the personality of an azalea blossom and the smile of a professional conversationalist.

He’s here attending a conference for people with disabilities. This is his first year, and he’s excited. Not only about the conference, but about his hotel room, located on the top floors.

“I CAN SEE EVERYTHING FROM MY ROOM, SEAN!” he points out. “EVEN BIRDS AND CLOUDS!”

My, my.

“ARE YOU WAITING FOR YOUR MOM, TOO, SEAN?”

“No,” I point out. “And you don’t have to keep using my name.”

While we talk, he removes a notepad from his pocket and takes notes. He asks me about myself. He reminds me to talk slow while he scribbles.

“You a writer?” I ask.

“YES,” he says. “MY MOM TOLD ME TO ALWAYS WRITE STUFF DOWN SO I DON’T FORGET, SEAN!”

Smart lady.

He flips through pages and and shares some of his previous notes. His whole life is in that notebook. He writes about insulin-pump maintenance, doctor-appointments, birthday parties, cleaning his bedroom, meetings with speech therapists, driving lessons, lunch with his daddy.

“THIS MONDAY IS LUNCH WITH MY DAD!”

I ask about his father. And from what I learn, his daddy left home when he discovered his son had struggles.

The kid just got reintroduced to his father for the first time last year.

“I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW I HAD A DAD!” he said. “I THOUGHT MY MOM GOT PREGNANT ALL BY HERSELF. BUT THAT CAN’T HAPPEN, YOU KNOW, BECAUSE GIRLS NEED BOYS TO GET PREGNANT.”

I seem to recall hearing that somewhere.

His father has cancelled their last two lunch dates. A thirty-minute midday meal with his son has been nigh impossible to work into his busy schedule.

Either way, it doesn’t seem to make my friend sad. During our short time together, I’ve come to believe this child is not capable of sadness.

He’s a dedicated author. He takes notes on most everything I say. And he uses my Christian name more than my mother.

Speaking of mothers. His mother arrives. She’s a nice-looking woman with a tired face.

He stands. I notice a thin tube running beneath his T-shirt to his backpack. We shake hands.

His mother says, “I guess he wrote about you in his notes. He only does that with people he REALLY likes. I hope you don’t mind. He just doesn’t wanna forget you.”

Not at all, ma’am.

I hope your son doesn’t mind if I return the favor.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist from Alabama known for his commentary on life in the American South. He can be reached through his website at www.seandietrich.com.

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