I don’t remember your name but I can’t forget you. We were in school together, grade prep and maybe one. I remember we were best friends. We used to play together on the bars during recess. I remember other people making fun of me, and vicariously you, which made me sad. You suffer from Down syndrome, which to everyone in the school (maybe the town) made you some kind of enemy. It made me sad that no one else could see what I saw. I remember someone who always had a smile for me. I remember someone who was happy just to be together. It has always seemed like a lot of stress to me, trying to put on the pretense of making small talk, but you didn’t care. Very few people I feel comfortable around but I remember that was never a problem with you.
I remember something else. I was in the hallway at the school, and I remember parents descending like a mob. Everyone was there and watching you being taken away. Is it all a dream? I don’t know, but I remember it. I remember it because I have a clear memory of my father standing next to me. I remember asking him why they were taking you away. My dad said you were going to a special school. I never really questioned it but even at the time it seemed strange. Why had so many people arrived to make sure my friend was taken away? It still doesn’t make any sense.
This was in Mortlake, Victoria in Australia. It was some time between nineteen eighty and nineteen eighty two. It was around the time when Father Gerald Ridsdale was living at the Catholic presbytery.
When he came to that town we all rejoiced. He had a fluffy beard, he looked like Santa, and he acted like him too. He loved children. He made sure to treat us all like we were special. As it turns out, he perhaps loved them too much. He came to welcoming arms, and left behind him a hundred lifetimes of shattered memories.
I remember the corner of the school yard we would all sneak out of during lunch time. I can still remember the taste of the sour grass we used to suck, and the flowers which, when you removed their petals, looked just like an Olympic torch. And when kids snuck out of the grounds they could run a short way to visit Gerald.
He had a game: if you told him a joke he would print it in the newsletter and give you fifty cents. I don’t remember the riddle I told him, but the answer was porpoise. I can see his chest of drawers from his room even now. I don’t remember much else, but every day I wonder. Now I see it from the eyes of an adult, it was like sneaking through the lion’s den.
And I wonder too, was it Gerald who led the mob against you? I don’t know. Coincidence? Maybe. All I have is bits of memories, it was so long ago.
I’m not even sure of anything, truth be told. The only reason I even think about this is that every time I think of you I cry, and I don’t understand why. Do you have the answers?
I’ve seen photos of myself not long after that time, and I can see the fear in my eyes. Is it all just a fiction? I know they say that we can create very real memories that never happened, but this DOES seem oh so real. And then there’s the crying. And the sadness that I can’t seem to make go away. It’s there always.
Sometimes I wonder where you are, and whether you still smile every day. And sometimes I wonder do you remember me? And does it even matter?