by Hank Lacher on Jun 19th, 2012
As a child, Ray was quite abnormal. Sure, he played with the other kids in the neighborhood and had an active imagination, but unlike his rambunctious and unaware classmates, he was quite nice, well adjusted and always deep in thought. He seemed like the dazed Ritalin kids in the fact that he could sit for hours in calm contentedness, only Ray was not on stand-by mode. He just stood.
One day in the third grade, Miss Villianco was taking the roll call. Like usual, Donny Abraham was present and all too excited to answer his name first and then look around smugly to all of those who followed his alphabetically superior surname. Reyla Gracie, niece of the jujitsu superstar answered quietly when called. Ignacious Ignacious belched his response more in order to distress the otherwise calm and sweet teacher than to get a rise out of the class, which he received anyhow. When Miss V. came to Ray Lebehart, however, she received only silence and a slow rustling of bodies- the students turning to face the far-left corner of the room. Little eight year old Ray was present, of course, but hadn’t even realized that roll call was in effect, much less that his name had been called.
“Ray, are you here today?” Miss V. asked knowingly. “Ray?” she repeated. The teacher didn’t see whom, but one of the children threw a pencil that arced perfectly and brained Ray. He snapped to attention and to his surprise, every face in the class was loaded and pointed at him ready to fire questions.
“Ray Lebehart?” repeated Villianco.
“Here?” asked Ray.
Later that day, Ray was called from the playground to the school counselor’s office. They were on a first name basis. Mr. Wentz or Jim as Ray called him, was a tall man of thirty two who wore Hawaiian shirts every day in an effort to meet the school’s faculty dress code by the skin of how palm treed teeth.
“Hi Jim,” Ray said cordially while trying to mask his resentment for the disruption of his handball game. Ray was the school-wide handball hall-of-famer. He once played ninety-nine games in an hour-long lunch period and lost only one due to a cheap shot to the nuts by one of his opponent’s cronies.
“Hey, Ray. We’ll make this quick. I’m sure you want to get out there and play some ball.” Ray was glad Jim understood. “Miss Villianco told me that you had no idea that roll was being called this morning and that this isn’t the first time that it has happened this week. She worries that you are having problems at school or home. Is this the case?”
Mr. Wentz was asking this as a formality because he knew about Ray’s home and school life to the extent that he had come over to Ray’s house for dinner and visited his classrooms since kindergarten. Ray’s parents loved him very much and were quite normal, if a little on the eccentric socialite side. He did well in class and had friends on the playground. In psychological terms, he was A-OK.
“No, Jim. You’d be the first to know if I was having troubles, of course. I’ve just been thinking of my cells.” He looked down at his hands, his scraped knees and his feet.
“Your cells? Why think bout them? They have been fine so far on their own and how do you even know what cells are?” Mr. Wentz inquired; full of curiosity like usual when another layer of Ray’s onion-brain revealed itself.
“Well, I think I heard about them when I was young but it never crossed my mind that there was a whole world inside of me until I saw pictures on the Discovery Channel,” Ray said, all the time observing his dirty fingers. “And it bums me out that I’ll never get to go there.”
While ray continued to try and achieve a microscopic level of vision, Mr. Wentz sat stunned. He had never considered his own cells because, let’s face it, who would? He looked down at his own hands for a split second and looked up to his eighty-three pound study to say something that would change little Ray’s course of discovery from inside to outside. Only the very best and the very worst adults can have this large of an effect on children. Thank you, Mr. Wentz, for being one of the good and decent people.
“ Ray, you can never be that small. It must be a defect we humans have. You can, however, become much larger than yourself by making the world smaller- by squeezing one end of the map to meet the opposite and stepping from one continent to the next like you are playing the lava game you kids do.” Mr. Wentz paused to breathe and then, “You can become a tiny giant instead of a big microbe.”
Ray looked up from his hands and smiled a smile so cheesy that they smelled it in France and said, “That’s why I like you, Jim. You are a tiny giant. But can’t I be both?”