Geoff was different, that was certain. The doctors couldn't decide what disease was causing it, but they did know that his mind didn't function like ours. To the teachers, he was 'special needs'. To the students, he was 'retarded'. But to me, he was my friend. Based on a true story.
"Ah-ah-ask me, whats your name?"
I looked over at him, unsure how to respond. It was the first day of my sophomore year in High School, our Homeroom teacher had just finished talking to us and we had been given some free-time for the last five minutes of class. He was a little shorter than I, rather overweight, and had a head that seemed two sizes to big. His face was pasty white, but covered in big red zits and scraggly, unshaven peach-fuzz. His eyes were rather bulgy, with large bags underneath them, and though they were a beautiful deep blue they seemed rather lackluster, almost always glazed over, and never standing still. His lips were badly chapped, and around his mouth clung what looked like pizza sauce from his lunch. I had a strong desire to lean away from him, to ignore him and pull out a book or something. But I couldn't. He may have been repulsive, but he was human nonetheless.
"Whats your name?" I responded hesitantly.
"Ah-ask, ask me, hi Geoff."
"Ask me, ask me, do you know my name, Geoff?"
What did he want from me? And why was he talking like this? Obviously there was something different about him, but I didn't want to jump to any conclusions.
"Do you know my name Geoff?"
"No, wah-what is it?"
"Chad... my name is Chad."
As the bell rang, I almost sighed in relief. I didn't understand what was wrong with this guy, why he looked so awful, why he talked so strangely. Just talking with him had made me feel completely uncomfortable. As we stood to leave the teacher motioned me over towards me.
"Thank you for being kind to Geoff."
Why was he thanking me for saying hi to this kid and telling him my name? I hadn't done anything abnormal.
"Many of the kids can't stand even being near him, much less talking to him. They take great pains to avoid him, because he's... well you know... different than they are."
Here was my chance. I wanted to understand, I wanted to know why he was the way he was.
"Different? In what ways?"
The teacher lowered his voice. "He's, well, you know... retarded."
I wish I hadn't let the shock I felt show so clearly because the teacher immediately began retracting from her statement.
"He's not severely... you know... and the doctors can't even decide what disease he really has. But they do know that he is undoubtedly different in his brain, his mind simply doesn't function like ours."
As I left the room I wondered to myself why it had shocked me so much to find out. One might have thought that I would have seen it immediately in him, or at least been able to conclude that he had some sort of mental disability from our conversation. But the truth is, before that day I had never actually met a retard, or at least anyone more retarded than my teenage friends when their crushes are nearby. And, what shocked me most of all, is that I was sincerely intrigued. I wanted to get to know him more. Therefore when I found him waiting for me outside the classroom door, I readily answered his question.
"Chad, are-are we friends?"
"Of course, Geoff."