He was the young man I met on the bus. We were both taking Para Transit what Delaware called it’s transport system for people with disabilities. They would pick me up at my house at 2:00 and then we would go to Easter Seals and get three more passengers. They would pile in two men in a wheel chairs one who blew through a tube to get his to move just like Christopher Reeve. He was a jolly soul big and burly and had the voice of an angel. Mike and that was his real name would wheel himself in with one hand grasping a big thermal mugs for dear life, while awkwardly using his other better hand to maneuver his electric wheelchair. Another young man walked on but was very quiet and somewhat squirrelly, I say that because he listened to all of us but was rather shy and he would jump up and down a bit in his chair laughing at nothing, soon he would do this as we talked and laughed. He just laughed and nodded sometimes never said a word.
I rode the bus for 6 months and at first, I played with my new phone saying, “Hello” and not paying too much attention. This is how I was on the bus in D.C. or Minneapolis, so I didn’t notice that there should be anything different at first. This ride would become one of best rides of my life, it really put my world in perspective and I would learn that never take anything to chance, although this was a reminder of that lesson learned many times in my life. Every day that the driver would put the ramp down as it creaked slowly to pick someone up and lift them in, I would take notice in detail the struggle of the bus.
Mike and the others were well acquainted and had their conversation but mostly between Mike and the happy Burly man, I’ll call him James, I wished I remembered his name. We would be on the bus together for about 20 minutes and they would drop me off at the front door of the Stockley Center. For those of you who don’t know the Stockley Center it was what we used to call an Institution for people with Developmental Disabilities or the Mentally Retarded, it was once literally called The Colony. It began in 1920 and soon had over 700 people there. When I started as the Facility Charge on the evening shift there were about 350 some people still living there now only about 60, that is an approximate number. It was on a beautiful 100-acre campus full of trees and wildlife. It was a beautiful place. I started in May 2001 managing the facility on the 3-11 shift and I loved it. It was the ultimate challenge mixed with some of the most special people, creating memories for life.
We soon started talking and Mike would start to talk and his voice was very delayed and he struggled to say one sentence, or just a word, but he tried and managed to convey his thoughts. More times than not he was repeating himself to me, which I often felt very bad about everyone else seemed to understand and so the others helped him convey to me what he was trying to say. He began to flirt with me and I just didn’t have the heart to tell him I was gay, so I would do what any other woman would do and either give him a hard time or flirt back.
He would ask me to go on a date and I would say,” So are you driving?” we would all laugh and he would say we could take the bus. This banter between Mike and I and the rest of the bus went on for months. He would laugh when I would say something smartass like,” Ok who’s paying for this date?” He would laugh so hard it would come out like a screaming chuckle and he would say,” You’ve got the job.” This was the best time and I hated to get to work. I’d get off the bus every day, he would try to throw me a kiss and I would say something like, “Yuck that was a sloppy one.” We all laughed so hard about him trying to figure out how he was going to get me to say, “Yes to any one of the 50 propositions he gave me.”
James would say, “Mike you are a Dog.” and Mike would give him a look as if to shut him up and I finally asked what was going on. Mike was not going to tell me so the other people on the bus were happy to, including the driver. They said that he had another woman, a very kind woman who took very good care of him. So our conversation changed it became more serious but we all joked around with each other off and on. He finally said something to me one day right before I got off the bus that really hit me hard. You see Mike didn’t have his body, he was in a car accident, he was all twisted, and sitting in a wheelchair that he had to keep pushing himself up in because he would slide down. I listened and listened for days in fact it took him that long to get the whole story out. I would get off the bus and say,”More tomorrow?” and he would smile with that big beautiful smile and nod his head.
The last day of his story was almost the last day I would be taking that bus because I was getting ready to become a driver. He said he felt lucky and that he was still alive and the most important thing was, “I still have my mind!” I was just about ready to sob, as he smiled and I gave him a hug, saying to him, “Yes you do and what a beautiful mind it is.” I got off the bus with tears rolling down my face, changed forever.
I stood in front of Stockley Center on a sunny afternoon, walking off that bus on my own two legs and just stood there a moment. A revelation came to me that I had never fully thought about or really felt the emotions of and I probably never wanted to conceive of the thought; I could be in a wheel chair or be like Mike or any one of the individuals living in this Center. It gave me new a perspective and I took a deep breath and went to work. That day stands next to me all the time and Mike, well he never leaves my side either.
Many years later I was visiting my Grandmother at the Nursing home and I was just about to leave, this was many years later; I walked into the lobby and there stood over a man in a wheelchair, an older woman talking to this young man. His back was towards me and I had to get a look at him. There was Mike sitting right in front of me. I went over to him, surprised and happy to see him, looking him squarely in the eyes and he looked up and had that same ornery, handsome grin. The woman said as I introduced myself, “I have not seen him happy for months.” they had been living together and someone who was taking care of him was showering him and dropped him, he was in rehabilitation for a broken hip. He was just getting ready to leave.
I never saw him again but he certainly did leave an impression on me. You never know who you’re going to meet that will make your day or you’ll make theirs. They may get you to see life differently and that is not always a bad thing although it could be painful or it could really put things in perspective. Mike made me put my life in perspective and he taught me to be a better person for those that I assist in my work and those that I meet on the street or on the bus.