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The Retard

by Larkin

Danny had a sandy voice and darting green eyes. They would catch your gaze and then would quickly look away. It was whispered around school that Danny was retarded but if he was, It was only noticeable after you tried to communicate with him. There was talk of Danny having to repeat the 6th grade and there was even talk of a special school.

His silliness covered up the fact that he might not be all there. I was about the same age and size but I was bookish and a weakling. We might be similar because neither of us were part of a group or a clique. I, because I was more introspective and Danny because he was excluded outright for being too weird.

Aside from being cute, there was something fascinating about Danny but I couldn't figure out what it was. I stared at him during class and watched him fidget and move around in his seat. It was plain to see that he was in another world. The teacher had given up. So as long as he was quiet and not disruptive she let him alone.

It was on this day that he caught my gaze but this time he didn't look away. He began carrying on a conversation with me silently using his mouth and enigmatic and expressive facial gestures. Periodically he'd cover his face with his hands to repress giggles. I had to look away but when I looked back, he was still doing it. It was making me feel uncomfortable and I made an effort to end it. I showed displeasure and cautiously pointed at the teacher so that he would cool down.

The draw towards him was stronger than I ever imagined and I vowed to try to get away from him. I tried to look elsewhere for the rest of the day, but I don't think that stopped him.

After the last bell rang and we all headed out to get our things to go home, Danny was on me. He was smiling and carrying on an indecipherable chatter with me as if we were the best of friends. The crowd moving towards the door gave him an excuse to get right close to me press his whole body to mine. It was warm but slightly uncomfortable. His hand touched and seemed to rub my belly when we heard the teacher's harsh voice that gave us both a start.

"Danny! What have you been told about touching other people?!"

He recoiled in horror and backed away from me. When he did, he gave me a pleading look before reporting to the teacher, old Miss Hamilton.

I waited patiently out front for my school bus when I saw Danny approaching. I was a bit worried but I knew that he took a different bus. Danny had a concerned look on his face which was unusual for him.

He came up to me and said, "I'm sorry, please, I'm sorry..."

He was just too pitiful to hurt so I said, "Sorry for what? Miss Hamilton is an old bitch crow."

Danny was caught off guard. He said, "Really?"

He was up close to me again so that our bodies were touching but no more than that.

He said, "Do you like me? I like you."

I didn't know if I liked him or if I should stay far away from him but I couldn't be cruel so I told him I thought he was ok.

He giggled and suddenly ran off to get on his bus.

The very next morning, he was on me from the start. Although Danny was good humored he was also physically close and pushy and It made me nervous as if the situation could suddenly fly out of control.

I said firmly, "Danny, I like you..."

A thrill seemed to pass visibly through his body.

I went on. "But you have to be cool and stop getting everyone attention because it looks... uncool and you don't want that because then we can't be friends."

He looked a little downtrodden and said, "Ok, I will."

The bell rang and just before everyone headed in, Danny pulled me aside and whispered in my ear. "I really like you, honest."

Maybe I was being charitable but I was just trying to be nice to him. I was trying not to be like everyone else and treat him badly,...but when he whispered in my ear it was something different.

His warm urgent breath in my ear did something to me.

I spent the day thinking about it and if I could stay friends with Danny without it destroying my modest reputation or worse, getting into trouble I would try to be relaxed.. I don't know why I didn't tell him to get away from me and end it but he had a strange pull on me and there was no way that I could understand what it was.

At the end of the day he came up to me where I waited for the bus.

He was excited. "Saturday, no school tomorrow! Will you come over and play with me at my house, Please, please, please!

I couldn't think of an excuse or a lie quick enough...

Danny said, "Please, please!

Thinking that it was probably a mistake, I said, "Ok."

Danny ran to get on his bus. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the girl that lives next door to me. She was giving me a quizzical but very critical look. Then she turned to whisper to her friend. They both looked at me but said nothing.

Something powerful, even dangerous was happening but I didn't know what it was. On the surface it was just two boys making friends but under the surface there were undefined roiling motives on both of our parts. I lay in bed, awake, thinking about it. If Danny was the retarded one why did I feel like the little lamb?

My mother threw open the drapes and tidied up my room in an effort to get me out of bed. "Danny's mother called this morning and she says that you two are going to play today. I told her that I would drive you over so get dressed honey."

She picked up a pair of my dirty underpants and held them in her hand as if they were nothing unusual then tossed them into the laundry bag. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go but It appears as if I am being railroaded.

The tall lady at the door said, "You must be Thomas!"

I was quickly pulled into the house by an excited Danny and the two Mothers started an impromptu conversation at the front door. Wasting no time, Danny dragged me upstairs to his room. I barely had time to look around when Danny softly pushed me down on his bunk bed and then climbed on top of me. He put his arms around me that held me in place and Danny snuggled and cooed. His body was warm and moved vaguely up and down. We lay cheek to cheek and he talked softly into my ear.

He said softly, "Do you like me?"

I could hear the Mothers chatting below and then my Mother getting into her car. "Ok, I'll be back around 6 to pick him up."

Danny lifted his head so that he was looking into my face only an inch away. "I like you, please like me."

Just then the bedroom flew open and his Mother marched in. Completely embarrassed, I struggled to get out from under Danny but there could be no doubt as to what was going on.

However, she seemed oblivious. Like my Mother she started tidying Danny's room. I managed to get into a sitting position and tried to smooth my messy hair.

Without looking at us she said, "Rough-house all you want, just don't break-up the furniture. She picked up a pair of Danny's dirty underpants and held them in her hand as if they were nothing unusual then tossed them into the laundry bag.. Then she left in a flurry.

Danny started to climb back on top of me but I resisted. "I don't want to do that, it's too weird."

He stopped and then said, "Ok, then you lay on top of me and I won't do anything."

In the end I must blame myself for what happened because I complied. I got on top of Danny and lay there.

It was peaceful and calming just to lay on top of him. For a moment I thought I really did like him.

He said, "Hug me please,"

When I did he sort of moaned and then hugged me so that we were locked together. We turned on our side and he slipped one leg between both mine. Two boys Just laying on top of each other had turned into an animated and sensuous embrace.

He whispered into my ear, "I like you so much"

I felt him bite softly down on my ear and then I felt his tongue. The sensation sent chills throughout my entire body.

I will spare you the specific details of what this evolved over the course of the day except to say that it was good natured, exploratory and experimental. It awoke in me the concept of youthful lust.

His Mother's voice was strangely musical. "Thomas, I just spoke with your mother and she says that it is ok for you to spend the night and I'll take you home in the morning."

In my heighten state I didn't think to protest but somewhere in the back of my suspicious mind I imagined an orchestrated plan. More than likely Danny's mother was worried about her son's social ineptness and she was going to do her best manipulating any potential friendship for him. Maybe she considered me a God-send or a guinea pig, I don't really know.

Dinner was macaroni and cheese and chocolate milk. This was topped off with stale cookies.

A lawn chair matt was brought up to serve as a makeshift bed next to Danny's little bunk and we were provided with a large bottle of soda and more stale cookies in case we got hungry in the middle of the night. I was already under a blanket on the matt next to Danny's bed when his Mother came in to inspect.

She held a drink in her hand and wavered slightly on her high heels. "Now! I am having my first highball of the evening by the time I get my second, I'm not going to want to be bothered so you two boys be good."

She wasn't fooling anyone. The woman was already drunk. This vain woman and two 11 year old boys were at opposite ends of the universe from each other.

Danny was already naked when he threw the blanket aside and hoped up and turned off the light so that we could play in the dark.

Boys are inventive and subversive by design so hiding the facts of life from them as if ignorance would thwart discovery is idiotic bordering on pathological. During the course of the night and into the wee hours we discovered everything that was possible and some things that even adults shy away from. To this day I owe a debt to Danny for freeing me from dreary convention. Two boys, naked, under the cover, together, discovering the forbidden. Aside from being sexual and physical he was erotic, emotional, sensitive and affectionate. He was also fragile and defenseless. As I got older and my feelings for others matured, it was these last qualities that caused me to worry for Danny. The bond between us that started out as purely sexual had gradually become fraternal and enduring.

A few days after my sleep over, my Mother came to me and said, "I don't think it's a good idea for you to play with Danny anymore. You know Katelyn from next door, her Mother said that Danny might be retarded and to be honest, his Mother is a little strange too. Thom, do me a favor and look for someone else to associate with.

I had no intention disconnecting myself from Danny and it made me more determined to see him regardless of the circumstances. I was not usually a bike rider but I started. Sometimes I would lie and say I was going to see a movie. The prohibition only made things more desperate and more urgent.

Danny never came back from the holiday break.

I asked the teacher what happened to him. "Thomas, Danny wasn't doing very well here and he's gone to a school for children with learning disabilities."

I rode my bike 5 miles to his house. His Mother opened the door but kept the screen door shut between us. "Oh Thomas, Danny has gone, he boards at the Chalmers institute. He'll be home for a week in June. She shut the door.I didn't know why but a few blocks away, I stopped my bike, sat out on the grass and cried.

Later in life, things got even more difficult for him. I tried to stand by him but his life was unmanageable. Not everyone was as receptive to his sexual advances as I was and he suffered serious consequences. For him, the world had become void of human touch or genuine emotion. His Mother was insufficient to the task and drank more and more. Periodic tantrums and fits set him farther apart from fellow humans. Finally, there was a series of events that left social workers and care givers little choice and Danny had to be committed.

Now in our late twenties I would visit. We talked vaguely about things but there was no spark. The nurse came by with a tray of little white cups. She handed one to Danny and stood there passively and watched while he downed the half dozen different colored and different shaped pills. Unprompted, he opened his mouth and showed the nurse his tongue. When she was sure that he had swallowed them, she moved on.

Danny was still good-natured, he was still sweet but he was so empty and distant.

Something inside of him, something beautiful had been willfully murdered.

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