D was not what anyone would call a morning person. Sometimes I’d have to go up and pound on the door to find any signs of life, which usually meant I’d be taking his sister to school, too. Most of the time, he’d make it to my car within five minutes of my honking horn, stumbling out and pulling on a coat or a shoe as he came. He’d climb into the car, slump down in the seat and close his eyes until we stopped at school, only muttering, “Thank you for the ride” as he got out the door after I’d said, “Thank you for the ride” loudly to remind him.
Back then, I was also taking my son to preschool just up the road from D’s high school. C was the opposite of D in the morning. C woke up at five, sometimes earlier, and was raring to go right away. He called himself a “chatty box” because he liked to talk so much. When we turned onto Polk Boulevard near the high school, C would often shout, “THE BOULEVARD!” just because he liked the word so much.
Almost every day, C begged for a story on the way to school. He was especially fascinated by fairy tales, and preferred those in which children were abandoned, there were witches or evil queens, or someone was transformed into an animal by a spell. His favorite was a version of Rapunzel with a witch, magic stones, and an ogre queen who wants to eat her own grandchildren. I wondered sometimes what D thought about it all.
Then one day, I asked C what story he wanted to hear, and he said, “I want D to choose today.” C’s class had been talking about sharing and, here he was, trying to share with D, who seemed to barely be awake and definitely did not look like he was thinking about fairy tales. After a long pause, D said, “I want the one with the ogre.” “Oh, that’s a good one, D!” C chirped. And off we went with Rapunzel.
D worked hard to fly under everyone’s radar. It seemed like everyone expected him to mess up, and he often did. He wasn’t used to getting positive attention for good behavior, and it made him kind of uncomfortable when it did happen. But he cared about his family, and he always looked out for his friends, sisters, brothers, and cousins. In his own way, he tried to talk other kids into doing the right thing. More than once, I saw him stop someone from bullying a kid he didn’t even like, something which none of the school staff who knew him at the time would ever have believed.
And he was good with C, who would chatter away at him almost every day when D might have liked some peace and quiet. He knew C liked him, and he was kind back, calling him, “Little Dude” and sometimes giving him a high five or a fist bump. That morning in the car, he picked the Rapunzel story with the ogre because he knew it was C’s favorite, and even though I hadn’t realized it, D had been listening the whole time.
The note at the top of this post is from D. One day while we were hanging out in the office after school, and I was working on a report of some kind, my co-worker started talking about gratitude with D and some of the other kids. As I remember it, most of the boys were kind of dismissive, but eventually D’s note appeared. I still keep it on the wall behind my desk at home, almost ten years later. It’s not so bad to be reminded of the ogre queen once in a while.