By Sean Pearson
Some 15 years ago, a very young man walked into my life.
He was kinda short, had a crooked smile and really liked wearing his Power Ranger pajamas to bed every night.
And even though he really didn’t talk at all, it didn’t take long for us to get to know each other. He was a very trusting soul looking for a family.
Early life was hard for the boy, as parents’ skewed priorities and addictive desperation left him with an untreated illness that stole much of his hearing at a very young age. No one really noticed though. The same alcohol introduced into his brain before birth would also leave him uncared for, and passed from house to house to orphanage.
The boy’s only real friend was T.V., as he was generally left to stare at it for hours on end.
He lived in a very quiet world.
One day, a lovely family came along who said they wanted to adopt him. They already had a son a little bit older, and thought the boy would make a nice addition to the family. They weren’t really happy with some of his behaviors, but had decided to give it a shot.
Then — that new mom he was just about to get — got pregnant again. And they didn’t want the boy anymore. In fact, they even told him that directly.
I don’t know if he heard it.
The boy started an early, organized preschool program by age 3, but was still using pointing and grunting as his means of communication. Thanks to a variety of incredibly helpful and hardworking people, he was able to get help and found his new world of sound absolutely fascinating.
In preschool, he prided himself on taking care of those who might need a little extra help. He brought toys to the kids who were hiding in the corner. He loved animals and would fearlessly toddle up to any kind of furry creature if you let him. (And, while dogs aren’t always so friendly, they’re better than bears — and he still has all his fingers.)
Communication was often a struggle — and a source of ongoing frustration. Words were hard to find in his head, and even when he found them, he could rarely say them right.
But he didn’t shut up.
Connecting actions with consequences was another challenge; as was the ability to grasp abstract concepts and read social cues.
But he didn’t stop thinking.
Some of us lucky enough to watch him grow up were told he would never learn to communicate, read or write. We were told to institutionalize him.
He picked up quite a few bumps and bruises along his educational and “peer-interaction” career. Some of them were physical, a result of overzealousness, reckless abandon and other “typical boy” things. Others were more emotional — and deeper — and came at the hands of some relatively mean peers. He always did an incredible job of ignoring them.
Certainly much better than I.
Still, every weekday morning, the boy got up, boarded the bus and showed up at school.
For 16 years.
All day long, he swallowed some pretty cruel and hateful words based on youthful ignorance and fear. He struggled to learn some of those abstract concepts, refused to ever admit that he couldn’t hear something and tested a variety of teachers’ patience along the way.
He also found a few friends — and he learned some hard realities about life. Sadly, he was forced to become less trusting of people and the world. But he also came to understand what a true friend really is.
Today is Wednesday, May 19, 2010.
My son graduates tonight.
He’s not the most popular student in the school, nor will he graduate valedictorian. But he’s a pretty amazing guy.
So to all of those naysayers out there who wanted to lock him in an institution when he was 5, I say this:
He can read. He can write.
And he can understand the cruelties and compassion of people in a way you never will.
I am proud of Keith because he perseveres, he shows love in some pretty amazing ways, he respects his elders, and he almost always has a smile in his eyes.
Mostly — though — I’m just proud he calls me Dad.
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