It was impossible to guess how old he was, particularly because I was eight, and anyone with a deep voice and a legitimate need to shave was simply an adult. He was an adult and I was a kid, but it wasn’t that simple because he was, as we said back then, retarded.

He was probably somewhere between sixteen and twenty-six, but he attended the same rural kindergarten through eighth-grade school as me. He was an outcast because he was retarded, and I was an outcast because I wasn’t a local. So we hung out. It was convenient, but it was not out of pity on my part. I found him interesting. Initially I was merely curious about the degree of his handicap, but I found that his perspective on things was often very interesting. Interesting, at least, to an eight year old boy.

I realized years later that some of the eighth grade girls sometimes experimented on him. He was, in retrospect, good looking, and might have passed for normal at first glance — except for the fact that the front of his shirt was perpetually wet from his chronic slobbering. One day he and I were walking around the school yard during recess, and three girls approached us, giggling. One of them stuck a single finger out toward Wilfred, and said, “Wilfred, remember this?” She then slowly let her finger droop. He was clearly embarrassed. Even at the time, I knew he’d lost an erection in her company.

Wilfred lived with his mom. I never met her but heard enough about her to feel like I had. She sounded loving and patient, but not prone to spoil him. Wilfred was well behaved, well dressed, and well cared for. Wilfred would often describe, in detail, the meals she made for him. During these re-countings, he slobbered more than usual.

One day we were talking about our favorite things: favorite colors, favorite animals, favorite holidays and so on. The conversation turned to favorite times of the day. His eyes watered up, and he told me that his favorite time was walking home after school. He described walking to the foot of hill where his house was, and looking up to see if he could see his mom in the kitchen, making dinner. He wiped away tears as he spoke. I was moved, and thought about my own mother, and how much I took her for granted. Nevertheless, I wondered why he bothered wiping tears away, but not drool.

There were bullies, and we were both targets. Sometimes they’d make fun of me for associating with him. I didn’t care about that, but I hated it when they teased him. He was fully aware that he was retarded, no doubt having been told so thousands of times, and I couldn’t understand why they had to keep telling him. He didn’t seem to mind it; it was just a fact to him, but they found other ways to get to him. Often this meant accusing him of liking some girl, which would make him blush, and often run away to cry. In retrospect it was ridiculous, as he could have pummeled those boys, but we all knew that he wasn’t capable of violence.

Years later I learned that Wilfred was dead. Inevitibly, some local scumbags had introduced him to drinking. It became routine, and then it became a habit. He walked in front of a car or something like that. I thought of his mother, and all the care she’d put into him.

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