The 47th by D. A. Houdek
It the Four-Tea-Sea-Bant-Krooo-Mooo-Zoom. That big word. Hard word. But me ‘member it. ‘Cause it the most important word. ‘Cause it why me like me is. Doctor say that word. And more words. Special. That mean stupid. And slow. Me know that.
Like a baby me is. Can’t walk. Can’t move. Pee in a diaper. Can’t think like Them. Don’t know stuff like Them. Special.
Them. Them’s the ones that not Special. They feed and diaper and wash. New place here now. Got new bed. New Them. New Specials here. Big Specials. Grown-up Specials. Maybe me grown-up now? Don’t know. Hard to ‘member things.
‘Member Mama. She don’t visit much no more. Me can’t talk. Want to. Want to tell Mama I love her. And miss her. But she don’t visit much in the new place. When she do I drool and stare. Want to hug her. Want her to hug me. I not cute anymore. I know. Not a baby. Grown-up and not cute to cuddle. Mama look at me and cry. Want to make it better but can’t. Can’t do nothing but stare and drool.
Them that take care of us is good people. They treat us good. Act real nice to us. But Them is Them and us is Special and Them just don’t see us as like Them.
Bobby, he watches TV all day. We all got names like Bobby and Jimmy and Scotty and Timmy. We don’t get good names. We don’t get called Them-type names like Brian and Alexander. Bobby don’t got the Four-Tea Seventh Kromo-Zoom. He got another big word. Bobby got Hi-Dro-Sea-Fa-Lick. Big head that means. So big he can’t lift it. Big head means little brain, I guess, because They don’t figure Bobby can do much. He just watches TV. All the time he lays on one side. So long he lays there that he’s flat. He can’t move. He can’t talk. But Bobby watches TV. They think he doesn’t know what he’s watching but the New Girl she does. She changed the channel. And then she watched Bobby. She watched his eyes. And she talked to him. She said to Bobby that she thought he wanted the other show back. So she changed the channel back for him.
She won’t stay long. The New Girl. I’ve seen ones like her. She’s like the shadow I see from my bed. It’s only there at night. When the day comes it’s gone. Ones like New Girl are like that. They’re here and before us can even blink they’re gone. New Girl wants us to be people like Them. She talks to us when she works and tells us what she’s doing and why she’s doing it just like we understood. Then when we stare and drool she gets real sad. New Girl won’t stay. Wish she would.
New Girl played a game with Scotty and she didn’t even have to. Scotty is younger. He’s still cute. And Scotty can smile and laugh. He was strapped in his wheelchair (because he can’t sit up by himself) and his hands were sticky. So she washed his hands in the sink. The New Girl and Scotty played a game with the water. He laughed. He had fun. The others give up. They do their job and do it nice but They think it’s just a job. They just don’t see us as people like Them.
I understand that, why They get to think like that. It’s hard to see as a person someone who is grown-up and sticks his hands in the poop in his diaper. Too much work for Them to do. They can’t cuddle and love like a Mama when one of us cries at night.
Timmy got fed by New Girl. Mostly They stir everything together and stuff it in quick so They can feed everyone else. New Girl kept everything separate and fed Timmy little bites. And with every bite she talked to him and asked him how it was and what he wanted a bite of next. Timmy can’t talk and he can’t smile but I knew she saw his eyes and knew Timmy was happy.
It’s lonely here at night. We can’t decide when we go to bed or when we get up. Everyday is exactly the same as every other day. If you’re not tired you still can’t stay up. They put you to bed and leave you alone in the dark. I can’t roll over or move so I stare at the shadow the window makes by a corner of the wall. The shadow never changes. Night after night I see the same shadow. I was little like Scotty when They moved me to this wing. Now I’m grown-up. How many years it was I don’t know. Years I stare alone at night at the same shadow. I guess I’ll see it forever until I’m old and die.
The Forty-Seventh Chromo-Zoom. It’s such a little thing. One less and I’d be like Brian. He’s one of Them. Brian is big and strong and has hair on his arms the same color as his suntan. The women of Them like him. Brian is beautiful. I look like a pale grasshopper, all twisted and boney. Brian is the same age as me, I think, and he can lift me into the bathtub like I was nothing. He’s good to me, too, but he talks over the top of my head to the other person who helps Brian wash us.
I dream about Brian. In my dreams I stand up one day and my arms and legs aren’t stiff. They don’t fight my commands but smoothly move me to my feet. I’m so tall. So tall and straight and when I walk I look powerful and suntanned. I dream that I am like Brian and he slaps me on the back and tells me the foolish things he tells the others of Them. They talk about girlfriends and boyfriends and movies and cars. They don’t worry about things like Chromo-Zooms and Hydrocephalics and spending their entire life staring at one shadow and drooling when Mama sees them.
The Forty-Seventh Chromosome. It’s why it has taken me a lifetime to learn what one of Them learns in a moment. There’s no way into a mind, I realize, when the body won’t let you show what you think. To Them I haven’t changed other than to grow old. It’s true we can’t all think at the same level. But as the years pass I have come to think that, perhaps, those with the worse bodies have the better minds. Or the most growth of the mind. That is the opposite of what I had been lead to believe. But, then, how is intelligence measured? I can only stare and drool and yet I found my mind remembering bigger and bigger words, and understanding what was said around me. It was slow, so slow. Where a baby might a year it has taken me decades. But even when I was young and cute and stupid I could still feel and know I was a person.
I think that if Bobby and I could find a way to communicate we would find common ground. Like the New Girl so many years ago who had seen something in Bobby’s eyes. I don’t think anyone ever saw anything in my eyes. They still stare. And for all I try I still drool.
Maybe it’s that those who can do something–even so little a thing as a smile and a laugh–try so hard to do that and more little things that they can’t dwell on their mind. Perhaps that’s better for them.
From a boy to a man and now to an old man I have gone. I learned. . . slowly. But to what avail? At night I still stare at the same shadow but now I know why I feel sad.
The forty-seventh chromosome. It’s just a little thing. Tiny. Nothing. When I look at Them it’s the forty-six that are really important. But when They look at me, it’s the forty-seventh.