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To The Library MAG
Inside the windows of the YMCA were wet-haired ten-year-olds waiting for their mothers to finish comparing laundry tips. The boys pushed each other, ran and squealed. The girls stood in the corners giggling and stroking their braids. I passed the window and turned up Dale Avenue towards the library. The air was getting bluer by the minute and every time I decided to acknowledge the sky, it was darker. I saw the wheelchair man, the one who was always in Lanterna sub shop, leaning back in his fixed chair, talking to the workers. He rolled up the driveway of the temple and turned onto the sidewalk, also heading toward the library. Two girls were sitting on the granite wall, giggling and pulling their fingers through the strands of gel and hairspray resting on their shoulders. The wheelchair man stopped in front of them, lifted up his arm and made an unintelligible sound. The girls grabbed their hair, jumped off the wall and ran off screaming and giggling. I walked past the wheelchair man not quite understanding what I had just seen. As I passed, I turned my head and said hello to him.
"Hi, see that?" I turned my body now and faced him to return his reaction.
"Yeah, I did," I said, for I had in fact seen what I didn't understand. His right eye was facing his right arm even when he looked straight at me, so I looked in his left eye assuming it was the only one with vision.
"Some people, you know, just don't take a joke. I was being Swamp Thing, they were in my way ... ignorant."
"Yeah, I guess that's what it is, ignorance, I mean."
"They run off like that, but I guess I'm used to it, I mean it's, you know, normal that someone is scared, even when I'm not being Swamp Thing. You know, but they're kids, you can't really blame them. It's the parents you should blame, you know, it's the ones who teach, like the parents you know, you know?" I looked at him but only nodded my agreement, not sure, like a kid, what to say to him.
"Gloucester is like that though, with people not understanding. It's too small of a city, you know. In Boston, when I go to Boston, no one looks, or if they do, they don't, you know, ask or scream. When a little kid asks me what's wrong, they need to know something, but, you know, I'm not going to explain cerebral palsy to them. I say I broke my leg, you know, whatever they are capable of understanding at that point, you know, that's what matters in the end, you know."
"If it helps them understand you, you're right," I meant to make sense and hoped he understood.
I was trying to rationalize whether I was being more patient and polite because of his eyes and his wheelchair and the half way that he held his arm than I would have been to someone else? Of course it was because of his wheelchair that I talked to him. But is it wrong not to treat him like I would treat another man who walked up to two girls and played Swamp Thing, then stopped to talk to me? If it were some other man, I would have walked my fastest to the library. But there was a difference. His fluorescent pink and bright blue California t-shirt was the only thing that still had color in the darkness that was falling.
"You going to the library?"
"I'm going to find a couple American history books," I said. The library would close in ten minutes and although I would feel rude walking away from someone desperate for conversation, I needed my books.
"Oh, American history. Do you want to be a teacher, you know, are you going to go to college or anything, but I mean, you know, how old are you anyway?"
"Oh, you have a ways far ahead of you, you know, way, you know, yeah. Do you want to go to a good college and get a Master's degree and all that, like, you know, do your parents have the kind of money to send you to a big college, they're expensive now."
"No, they don't have that kind of money, but there are scholarships and loans."
"Oh, so you're a brain, you know, scholarships?"
"No, I'm not a brain. I'm smart, but I'm a person, not a brain."
"I just meant extra-specially smart, and intelligent, you know?"
"Yeah. Um, I have to go to the library now before it closes, so it was nice talking to you ... see you."
I turned and walked to the library listening to the hum of his electric wheelchair not far behind me, but I didn't turn back. It was dark and the street lights were on. I went into the building, looking quickly over my shoulder to see that I was safe from the wheelchair man, like the pathetic giggling girls. n