Orphan Survival Stories Index |
I walked into the Huddle House Restaurant in Brunswick, Georgia and sat down at the counter, as all of the booths were full. I picked up a menu and looked at the various items trying to decide if I wanted to order breakfast or just go ahead and eat lunch.
"Excuse me," said someone as she touched me on the shoulder.
I looked up and turned to the side to see a rather nice looking woman standing before me.
"Is your name Roger, by any chance?" she asked.
“Yes,” I responded looking rather confused, as I had never seen the woman before.
"My name is Barbara and my husband is Tony."
She pointed to a distant table near the door leading into the bathrooms. I looked in that direction, but did not recognize the man sitting in the booth.
"I'm sorry. I am, ah. I am ah, confused. I do not think I know you people. However, my name is Roger. Roger Kiser."
"Tony Claxton from Landon High School in Jacksonville, Florida?" she questioned.
"I'm really sorry. The name doesn't ring a bell."
She told me she was sorry for bothering me, turned, walked back to her table and sat down. She and her husband immediately began talking. Occasionally, I would see her turn in her seat and look directly at me. I finally decided to order breakfast and a cup of decaffeinated coffee. I sat there continually racking my brain trying to remember who this Tony fellow was.
"I must know him," I thought. "He recognizes me for some reason."
I picked up my coffee and took a sip. All of a sudden, it came to me like a flash of lighting.
"Tony, TONY THE BULL," I mumbled as I swung myself around on my stool and faced in his direction.
"The bully of my seventh grade geography class!"
How many times had that sorry bastard made fun of my big ears in front of the girls in my class? How many times had this sorry son-of-a-bitch laughed at me, because I had no parents and mocked me, because I had to live in an orphanage? How many times had this big bully slammed me up against the lockers in the hallway, just to look like a big man in front of all the other students?
He raised his hand and waved at me. I smiled and half-hardly returned his wave. Then I gritted my teeth, turned back around and began to eat my breakfast.
"Jesus, he is so thin now. He is not the big, burley fellow I remember from back in 1957," I thought.
All of a sudden, I heard the sound of dishes breaking. I spun around in my stool to see what had happened. Tony had accidentally hit several plates and knocked them off the table, as he was trying to get into his wheelchair. It had been in the bathroom hallway while they ate. The waitress ran over and began picking up the broken dishes. I sat there listening as Tony and his wife tried to apologize.
Then as Tony rolled passed me, pushed along by his wife, I looked up and smiled.
"Roger," he said nodding his head forward.
"Tony," I responded as I nodded my head in return.
I watched with gritted teeth as they went out of the door and slowly made their way to a van. It was a large vehicle, which had a wheelchair loader located in the side door. I sat and watched as his wife tried over and over to get the ramp down. However, it just would not work. Finally I got up, paid for my meal and walked up to the van.
"What's the problem?" I asked.
"Darn thing sticks once in a while," said Tony.
"Could you help me get him in the van?" asked his wife.
"I think I can do that."
I grabbed the wheelchair, rolled Tony over to the passenger door, opened it and locked the brakes on the wheelchair.
"Okay. Arms around the neck, Dude."
I reached down, grabbed him around the waist and carefully raised him into the passenger seat of the van. As Tony let go of my neck I reached over and swung his limp, lifeless legs, one at a time, into the van so they would be stationed directly in front of him.
"You remember, don't you?" he said looking directly into my eyes.
"I remember, Tony."
"I guess you’re thinking what goes around comes around?" he said softly.
"I would never think like that, Tony," I said with a stern look on my face.
He reached over, grabbed both of my hands and squeezed them tightly.
"Is how I feel in this wheelchair, how you felt way back when you lived in the orphan home?" he asked.
"Almost, Tony. You are very lucky. You have someone to push you around and who loves you. I didn't have anybody."
“What do you do now, Roger?” asked his wife.
“I write books about growing up as an orphan and about bullies.”
“Maybe I should read one?” responded Tony lowering his head.
I patted him on the leg. When he looked back up at me, I could see the words “I’m truly sorry” written all over his face. I reached in my pocket and pulled out one of my cards. It had my home telephone number written on it and I handed it to him.
"Give me a call sometime. We'll do lunch," I told him.
“That would be great,” he replied.
We both laughed.
I stood there watching as they drove toward the interstate and finally disappeared onto the southbound ramp. I hope he calls me sometime. He will be the only friend I have from my high school days.
NOTE: It was a long time before I heard from Tony again. He sent me a Christmas card two years later. Inside the card, he wrote me a very personal, rather lengthy letter. He apologized for what he did and told me that it hurt him when he had to face me in the restaurant. I have never heard from him again.