Epitaph for Bill

There was a little boy that lived under the stairs of the Old Church east of the river of St. Peter. He enjoyed dancing and running to the shores to play with the debris that would wash up from the coal-fired mills up the river a ways. We thought his name was Bill, but when we talked to his mother – the homeless woman that walked around town digging through dumpsters – she told us all along he’d been fooling us and that his real name was Bill. We knew she was under the influence and underwater in her mind so we smiled and kept walking with Bill, listening to his stories of imaginary friends and fantastic places that he visited in the park day after day: a dragon named Carly, a friendly ox named Joseph, and even a little girl named Rita. He told us of adventures we wished we could participate in again, of places we’d visited before but couldn’t anymore. We were adults and adults couldn’t play games, only politics.

My husband and I found Bill one day laying down in the grass near the swings at Arden Park, in his usual spot. A little girl with a dirty face and a dirtier, faded dress stood over him smiling and laughing while he told story after story. A great writer he’d grow up to be, we knew. Bill was the son we’d never have, in his simple innocence. He didn’t go to school and the state really didn’t care, he was just some homeless boy with autism. Nobody cared but us.

Last winter when we were walking home from our underpaid teaching jobs at Morrill High School we saw Bill standing by the riverside holding scraps of cloth around his body, shivering. The icy waters had nearly frozen but kept flowing, resisting the change of winter, the death of motion. Bill passed a final smile to us and jumped into the waters, yelling of adventures Sir Galahad and Lancelot were leading him on, into the great depths below where imagination roamed free and death never bothered. Bill floated still and silent in waiting, into his greatest adventure.

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