I have an important friend named Trey. He is exactly 10 years older than I am, yet he lives his life as if he were 10 years younger. He is mentally handicapped. Our day together is Saturday. We go to the library, pet stores, or for walks in the park. I mainly work with him on socialization. I met Trey 10 years ago when we attended the same church.
This 200-pound man likes to shake people’s hands. He can be a fairly daunting sight as he gallops up to someone, with an ear-to-ear grin, and sticks his large hand in the person’s face. I try to teach him this is inappropriate.
“Stand next to me and don’t go up to people,” I say. “No one likes it.”
“Ochay,” he says obediently.
I taught Trey to ride a bike, but not before running off curbs and toppling over about a dozen times first.
“Dust off and try again!” I told him every time he fell. I assumed I was the one doing all the teaching. Things changed, however.
I play in the city softball league. During a game, while sliding into third base my cleat caught and pulled my foot to the right and backward as my body fell forward. My parents, who sat in the stands, heard two pops.
I was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. X rays revealed a broken leg and a foot that was totally twisted from the ankle. Emergency surgery followed. A pin was put in place to hold my foot to my ankle and screws were inserted in the broken leg.
In the early morning, with groggy eyes, I awoke to see my father, my mother and, of course, Trey, at my bedside.
“Hi!” He grinned as he shoved his hand in my face.
“Hi, Trey.” I weakly shook his hand.
“Dust off. Try again,” he told me.
“I can’t right now.”
“Ochay,” he sweetly said, and galloped out of my hospital room in search of a hand to shake.
“Trey, don’t shake hands. No one likes it,” I whispered after him.
Before I left the hospital the orthopedic surgeon said I would never have the same mobility. Not allowed to put weight on my leg for eight weeks, I wobbled about on crutches. Trey soon became impatient with me, for he wanted to go places that I couldn’t manage. He sat with his arms crossed on his large belly, with a pouty face.
We read a lot of children’s books and drew pictures, but it was plain to see he was bored. He wanted to go to the pet store to see the mice and birds. He wanted to go to the library to count all the books. He wanted to go to the park to have me push him on the swing. I couldn’t do any of this for a while.
Meanwhile, I was plagued with questions. Would I be finished with my physical therapy in time to run track? Would I run at my capacity again? Would I do well in the 300 meter hurdles, the race I had lettered in the previous season? Would it still be my event? Or would the doctor’s prediction be correct?
I worked hard at my physical therapy. Afterward I packed my foot in ice. Sometimes Trey came along to watch me work out and he laughed and laughed when he tried out the stationary bike. “Don’t need to dust off!” he said.
When I finally got off my crutches, I pushed myself to regain my former mobility. Trey ran laps with me around the black tar track at my high school. He ran slightly askew. Sometimes he’d trip over his own feet and fall down hard.
“Dust off!” he’d tell himself with confidence.
After many months I felt ready for track. I qualified for the 300-meter hurdles. Mom, Dad and Trey sat in the stands to cheer me on the day of the race.
“Stay focused,” I told myself as I mentally prepared to run well.
The starting-gun shot split the air. As I ran I could feel the tautness in my legs. My feet hit the hard track one after the other, quickly, in rhythm. My breathing was even. I could feel the other runners around me, next to me, passing me, then in front of me. I ignored the rising pain in my foot and ankle. On the other side of the track I ran into a wall of cheers. No time to react, no time to think, just time to run and run hard.
A runner passed me, then another and another. Over the hurdles they flew.
“Look at that new girl Tiffany move!” I heard someone shout. Last year it was my name they called.
Once, I had sailed over the hurdles. Now it was as if I were pulling myself up and over. Finally I came across the finish line, dead last in an event in which I had set the record.
I finished the season. I did improve, but never placed first, nor set another school record.
I continue to play softball and run track. I am no longer the fastest, but I play. “Dust off and try again” is an important lesson. I wasn’t great or brave when I was the top player. It was easy then. Courage comes when it’s hard to go on, when others pass you regardless of how hard you work. Trey knows that. I think of his courage in going up to shake the hands of complete strangers, risking laughter from scornful faces.
Now when someone stares at us I pull on Trey’s sleeve. “Go shake his hand, Trey,” I encourage him.
“Ochay,” he happily says.
The person is always caught off guard when Trey offers his hand in friendship. But who can resist this person who brims with confidence and personality, who has the love of Christ?
My crutches gather cobwebs in a musty corner of the garage while Trey’s handicap remains as fresh as the day he was born. Proudly I say he is the friend of my springtime.
I no longer look at what I am teaching Trey; instead, I search for what he is teaching me -“Dust off and try again.”
Kimberly Ann Shope, Flower Mound, Texas