Biff America column: Dave The-Jet and the compassionate co-pilot
July 15, 2016
Dave The-Jet drooled like a waterfall, had a limited vocabulary and, in the insensitive parlance of the mid-'60s, was "retarded." Point of clarification, for 2016, the correct term for Dave's condition would be "developmentally disabled."
I can only guess his age, but safe to say he was probably in his late teens when I was 8 or 9.
Dave The-Jet seldom walked, mostly ran and always flew. He would sprint around the neighborhood with his arms held out while making jet engine noises with his mouth. One of the few times that he could be found earth-bound was when he was in church with his mother. He would leave the car, taxi to the church steps, and his mother would whisper in his ear while gently pushing his arms down. Dave would comply.
Dave would usually remained grounded for most of the Mass, but often, when it came time to head up to the altar to receive communion, with his arms tight at his side, his wrists would be splayed out for lift.
'Your crazy Kid'
My friends and I were afraid of Dave The-Jet.
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Dave was large, didn't know his own strength and was emotionally unpredictable. His size kept my friends and me from making fun of him (to his face). But we also would mostly ignore him. He tried to play with us a few times, and it didn't work out when his wing clipped the nose of a little kid. Can't remember this kid's name, just that he was a younger than the rest of us, but I do remember his dad called Dave's mum and reportedly said some hurtful things like, "Keep your crazy kid away from mine."
A part of me envied Dave for his freedom to fly. I don't think Dave attended school. Sometimes I'd be sitting in the classroom, bored and academically challenged, only to look out the window to see Dave gliding around the playground. Except for the drooling, I wished I were he. He was not allowed to be on school property while students were outside, but there was little to stop him from doing an occasional mid-day fly-by.
Fits of Rage
As I mentioned, kids my age were afraid of Dave The-Jet. He was large and occasionally volatile. Mostly he would just zoom around the neighborhood. That said, we kept a wary eye on him as he passed.
Part of our fear stemmed from the fact that he would sometimes succumb to fits of rage, not violent but audible. He would just start yelling incoherently
. On the best of days, he wasn't easily understood, but when he had his "spells," he would roar and gesture wildly. You didn't want to get too close because Dave had a tendency to spit when he shrieked.
It was near the end of the school year in third or fourth grade when we headed out to recess and found Dave flying (illegally) around the playground. The principal, Mrs. Bieschell, approached him and said that while school was in session, the playground was a no-fly zone. This caused Dave to have one of his spells. He began to yell, wave his arms and cry. He dwarfed the much smaller Mrs. Bieschell.
All of the kids were ushered to the opposite side of the playground while the principal left to call Dave's mum.
My best friend at the time was a kid named Joey Correia. Though a wonderful athlete, he was sensitive and small for his age, and I considered myself his protector.
We were all sequestered at the far side of the playground and Dave was around the corner; we could still hear him yelling in the distance. That's when I noticed Joey was missing. I looked for him in the crowd to no avail and got worried when things got quiet.
You are not Alone
Fearing the worst, I ran to the far side of the school building and peeked around the corner. I saw Dave and Joey, sitting side by side, their backs against the wall; Dave's wings were down. If you were unaware of the backstory you would think that they were just two friends — one large the other small — relaxing in the sun, enjoying each other's quiet company. Though nothing was being said, Joey's mere presence seemed to have a calming effect.
Around the corner walked Mrs. Bieschell with Dave's mother. By then, Dave was tranquil but his face still had the faint scars of dried tears. While he was he slowly led away by his mum, he looked back at Joey and dipped a wing.
Sometimes the best (and only) thing we can do for a person in pain is show them they are not alone.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff's new book, "Mind, Body, Soul," is available at local shops and bookstores or shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.