I know this is a Christmas story…but I wanted to see how many people would cry…
Don’t forget to comment and tell me if you did!!
“CAUSE PAPA WANTED HIM HOME”
“Papa wants you home.”
I don’t know when she came in or how, without me knowing, but there she was standing over me, face solemnly gazing at me.
Problem was that I was right in the middle of a really good game of Candy Land. “Candy Land! (you’d exclaim.) “Aren’t you a little old for that ?”
Well yes, in a manner of speaking Candy Land is a bit of an odd game for a sixteen year old but, Dennis was an exception. You see he had Down Syndrome.
No one else in the neighborhood would play with him. They should of though- everyone should have gotten a chance to get to know Dennis. He was something special.
“He’s weird!” They’d exclaim. “What do you see in him?”
It was a good question. What did I see in him? A good friend with a childlike innocence I wished I had the pleasure of keeping? What did I see in Dennis? Something special.
I stood up reluctantly.
“I have to go Dennis.”
His words where a jumble of protests and questions.
“Why? So soon? We ha’bn’t finished Candy Land!”
“I know Dennis. You know I’ll come back.”
His lip stuck out in a pout, his most famous form of disapproval, and one that always made me feel bad. Then, as if something just struck him, he nodded three times fast and blinked.
“Oh! Me know! That Papa guy want’s you home!!!”
My sister giggled behind me, and his eyes widened. He pointed at her.
Why she laugh? Me is funny?”
She laughed again, louder this time.
“Of course you are Dennis, your always funny.”
I always loved the expression he’d get on his face. Then he’d pat his chest.
“Me is funny.” He’d say with glee. “Carton say so.”
My real name was Carson, but somehow around Dennis I became something that held eggs. I didn’t mind, I actually liked it.
He’d follow us to the door, watching us leave. His voice would follow us-
“Byyyeeeee Carton! Byyeeee Candy!! Come back really soon!”
He loved visitors.
Candice would walk back with me her arm through mine.
“You always make him so happy- how do you do it?” She’d ask.
I’d shrug. What made a child happy? Love? Time? Both?
Dad was in the car, the motor running.
“Hurry up son, we’ve got to go get our Christmas tree- it’s getting dark fast.”
Candice and I hopped in. Mom turned around in her seat.
“Disappointed I had to leave, called Dad; “that Papa guy again” .”
Dad and Mom laughed, tears shining in Mom’s eyes.
Candice spoke up bouncing in the back seat as she spoke. She was four years younger then me, the same age as Dennis.
“I think that Dennis thinks that’s your name, I always call you Papa and he always calls you that too, it’s your name to him. Maybe-” She said with a laugh, ” I should call you something different next time just to shake things up.”
Dad shook his head. “Oh, to have a heart like his.”
In my mind I wholeheartedly agreed.
It was two weeks before I was able to get back over to Dennis. He was unhappy with me- for all he knew I’d been gone for a month.
“You make Dennis sad.”
I stopped, raised my eyebrow.
“I told you to come back really soon!” He accused. I exclaimed,
“I tried to Dennis, I was busy!”
“Too busy for Dennis?” He half accused, half questioned me, as if that was something entirely ludicrous.
“I came back Dennis.” I answered instead.
“Only after a billon year’ses.”
“Really? How much is a billon years Dennis?”
“What have I told you, a billon years is an-“
” ‘Zaggeration, me know now, Dennis smart.”
“O-kay,” I nodded. “Just don’t forget.”
Then I reached toward my pocket. He squealed.
“Ah! My eyes are closed Carton!!”
He knew everytime, I never came to visit without bringing him something.
I held out my hand, he groped for it.
“No peeking!” I admonished. “You guess what it is.”
His hands studied it closely- eyes tightly shut.
“That’s the shape Dennis.”
“Hmm… circles don’t have strings Carton!” He accused once he felt an attatchment on the side.
“Maybe-” I teased him “It has a tail.”
I tried to stay serouis.
His eyes popped open and I quickly shut my hand.
“Circles can’t have tails mister.”
My eyes widened in feigned suprise.
“Why can’t they? Maybe just once they can.”
His lip stuck out again.
“You making fun of Dennis, Dennis don’t like it.”
My eyes twinkled. “Okay Dennis, try again.”
“Hmm…” He drew out the sound. His eyeballs popped open again.
“I’m done, my brain’s tired.”
I smothered a laugh.
“Okay you want me to tell you?”
“Do me eyes have to stay closed?”
“They’re already opened Dennis.”
He frowned. “I know’s that already.”
“Then don’t ask me that silly question, silly.”
“It’s funny Carton, you told’ed me I is funny.”
“Funny boy.” I agreed.
He held out his hand.
“Now tell Dennis.”
I opened my hand.
“What!” He exclaimed. “The circle does have tail!”
“It’s a yo-yo Dennis.”
“Cool! How it work?”
“Do you want me to show you or are we going to play Candy Land?”
He contemplated that one.
“Show me yo-yo, we’s played Candy Land a billon times.”
“What that?” I asked in a tone I used to correct him.
“Those dumb zaggerations. Now show Dennis.”
He was thrilled with the toy. It didn’t take him long to figure it out either, he was one smart cookie. Even though a couple of times he was conviced that;
“It’s broke, and Carton needs to take it back.”
The months turned into years, and still Candice had to come and get me every time, because I’d get so wrapped up being with Dennis. She’d say that familiar line of hers “Papa wants you home.” It never got any easier for Dennis, he always disapproved of;
“That Papa guy who wants my Carton home.”
There was no explaining to him either, but trust me it was hard for both of us. I dreaded the thought of the last time I would do this with him. Dennis wouldn’t understand if I got married and moved away.
When I started college, boy that was hard for us both. I promised him I’d write, and his mother promised to read them to him.
“He’s not the only one who’s going to miss you.” She whispered to me on the one visit I made with him before I was to leave. It was then that I realized how much my visits meant to them all. In a neighborhood where nobody would play with Dennis, I was a rare gem.
College was tough, but I had one goal in mind, study to be a teacher and then have a whole roomful of Dennis’s. For Dennis had taught me an important lesson, nobody was too stupid to learn.
Every break I’d get I would rush home. Dennis was ageless- time never changed him, even at eighteen now, he just stayed the same.
This time I allowed a slight mustace and beard to grow. Dennis was suprised and certainly not impressed.
“No Carton, No! ” He exclaimed covering his eyes and refusing to look at me. “My Carton can’t grow hair on his face!”
He wouldn’t leave it alone either. I finally complied. How could you say no?
He was happy once I shaved, I had my travel kit with me and decided to give him the pleasure of watching me. He was so pleased, he was literally hopping with joy.
“Good!” He clapped his hands. “Bad hair go down sink. Forever bye-bye!!”
I laughed, who wouldn’t?
Then it was back to school and more grueling hours studying and more studying. Somehow in the midst of all that, though I always had time to write to Dennis. That Dennis boy- he was something special.
One year I wasn’t sure I’d make it home for Christmas. My folks were disappointed when I wrote:
“I’ll try to make it back, but exams are pretty soon after, and I plan to study up.”
Then they were bumped forward a couple of weeks, too many complaints I guess. I didn’t tell my family the change of plans but decided to surprise them.
I got home Sunday night around 5, and saw Dennis out in the front yard. He’d been watching my car pull up and as soon as he saw me, his eyes lit up. I saw my name on his lips,
“Carton!” He whispered, then he screamed, “Carton!!!”
He ran toward me, as I opened my arms in welcome. Our houses were across the street from each other anyway, he didn’t have far to run. Arms spread wide and flailing, screaming his joy, he ran.
I saw the car too late, someone in too much of a hurry on Christmas Eve. My legs turned to jelly and I screamed a warning;
“No Dennis! GO BACK!!”
He stopped. I had never told him no before, and just as quick he decided I was teasing him. I would have never forbade him to come to me. Fear in my voice I forgot all kindness.
” Dennis NO! DON’T come see me. GO BACK!”
To this day I haven’t forgotten that scene. In my nightmares I can still hear the squeal of brakes, the sickening thud.
“No! ” I remember screaming, sobbing as I ran forward. Candice came out of the house and I vaguely remember her crying behind me, while I sobbed out in anguish,
“Oh God! Please don’t let him be dead!!”
Dennis’s death weighed heavily on me. I came home just in time to witness my friend’s death. Caused it no less, on Christmas too.
“Why?” I asked God. “Why did you let that happen? Why did Dennis have to go “forever bye-bye” ?”
It took me awhile to get it, but in the end it was my sister’s favorite phrase she had used to arrest my attention in times past. I could even see it played out, Dennis up in heaven saying with confidence, that it was:
“Cause Papa wanted him home.”
© 2015 by The Johnson Team