He was a small man. Slim in his build and shrunken from years of bad posture gave him the physical appearance of a fat elf. He trembled when he spoke, which wobbled the loose flesh on under his arms and chin which always reminded me of an animal trying to escape. It was only up close could I see he had the energy of a young man, but I usually didn't get close to people at the home. His eyes were that pure ocean green when the light hits the ocean floor, and you can see the water right above it, and they were always big and surprised looking, which was unusual for someone his age. I always found it ironic he was one of the most physically slow people in the retirement home, and yet the first one to pick out any problem in the making. He was forced onto the garden committee so he could sit in his wheelchair on the desk overlooking the garden and point out dangerous lurking pine cones that had a knack to cause nearly fatal injuries. It always made me smile, because whenever he sat there, flocks of others came to join him and listen to him tell stories, which didn't seem to hinder his scouting eyes in the least.
He would tell stories of all the dumb things he and his friends would do as boys, and the crowd around him would laugh in a symphony of cackling. He could weave together the emotions of a romance, the comedy of a male youth, and the wisdom of father which he always included for an extra hoot, to emphasize knowledge had to be experienced and not heard. He was a quiet speaker, had always explained events in a slow pace, and he had found the perfect audience to adore him.
I loved to watch from a window as his saggy skin seemed to expand in glowy energy, and he became not the old decrepit history teacher I'd first known him as, but a person enriched in the process of making people smile. His sea green eyes would flash, and he'd rally quite a cheer from his usually low energy peers.
As a kid I had always felt bad for him. He was the teacher who spoke slowly, and got excited about concepts students scoffed at and muttered idiot under his breath. Because he was small, he resembled a penguin flapping around whenever he was excited, and no one took his classroom policies seriously. He'd grow frustrated with the lack of student discipline. He'd rant about morals, and some kiss up would feed him back his speech, and he would return to his excited penguin dance and everyone would return to their own ways of tuning him out.
I never knew what to make of him. He was passionate, and powerless. The two didn't go hand in had. He creeped me out sometimes. I think he used the same kind of deodorant as my mom, so whenever he walked by with assessments or graded work, I felt swamped in maternal vibes. It was a bit offsetting.
I always seemed to run into him. I would be taking my sister for a bike ride, or complementing a little girl on her hopscotch accomplishments, and he would drive by and wave. I hated running into him because I always felt watched. He would give me with weird contemplative look everyone gave me that suggested a deeper source of judgement, and I intended to avoid it at all costs. I stopped taking my sister, and switched her for more socially acceptable people like a boyfriend or friends. I stopped teaching special education kids to read because the expressions people gave me when I told them what I did in my spare time made me hate myself. I was wrong for caring. That was eccentric behavior.
Even seeing him at the retirement center was sometimes still a bit bazaar, yet I had the impression he had forgotten who I was, so it wasn't too awkward. I was good at hiding in the background.
Then one day, he is mid story, and he looks over at me and smiles. He seems to lose track of where he is in his story, then changes course completely.
"Come here." He beckons.
"Why are you here?"
"To support you." I said, trying to shy away from the spotlight, but he wriggles his chair up to me, grabs my arm, and launches into a condemnation of my class with hatred I didn't know his kind eyes possessed. Then he pulls up bucket loads of occasions that make me look like a hero, and I cringe at his exaggerations, and I don't like the way everyone is smiling at me, expecting to do something fantastic.
"My friends!" He roared, clenching my arm in a death grip, "This here is a person who cares! This is a person who has always stood up for the underdog. We wouldn't be here if these people didn't exist!" Whoops erupted from anyone within ear shot.
"Listen to me! I became a teacher to teach people like you."
I tried to pull away in embarassment, and there was no escape, he was ascending into his penguin mode.
"History is my passion, and it became worth it when it alights it changes someone's life. I followed my passion, and its the only reason my heart hasn't stopped beating. Now tell me, why are you here!"
I studdered. "T-to hel-p people."
"Tell me, its that your passion? Helping old people?"
"You just said I am good at sticking up for the underdog."
He chuckled. "He here have the mindset of a stubborn mule and the hearts of a lab at the beach. We don't make fun of each other, we aren't the underdogs here."
I smiled, and he let go of my arm.
Several years later I was working for an organization that worked to bring underprivileged youth back into school. I dropped by the retirement center, and he rolled up to me, took one look into my face, and exploded into a smile.
"You are finally nourishing your soul. I'm proud to see you've harnessed the pride to do what you love. With the glow in your eyes, you could live forever."
I never saw him again, but as far as I know, we will either live forever doing our passions, or die happy.