One summer evening, when I was 16, I briefly dated a quiet guy who looked just like Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back Kotter. He was very kind and sweet and I couldn't come up with any valid reason why I wanted to break up with him, except that my friends were much more fun and I was bored with him. And, every moment spent with him was less time with my friends.
I was eating dinner at home with my family when I saw him drive up to pay me a surprise visit.
"Oh no!" I sighed. "Please tell him I'm not home!"
My younger brother got up to answer it. We all sat, quietly eating.
"Is Shawn home?"
"Sure!" said my brother. "Come on in."
I bolted out of my chair and with my half-eaten dinner plate and hurried outside to the back.
I ran out into the garage and then through another door into a very dark workshop filled with dust and spiders and cobwebs. I hid behind some old chairs and a sign that read: "Anyone caught stealing on these premises will be shot" that my dad actually stole.
I could hear my brother say, "Hmmm. Maybe she went into the garage. Let's have a look." I could hear them shuffling about heading toward where I hid. Surely, he wouldn't take him back into the workshop. With my dinner plate still in my hands, I crouched below the work counter completely hidden behind the "do not steal" sign. I held my breath. I was horrified they might find me.
He didn't let up on his search. "Could she be back there in that dark workshop?"
My brother turned on the light and then walked around, moving away a few chairs before lifting the sign to find me hiding. Vinnie took one look at me and told me to go to hell.
I sat there long after he left. Staring down at my shoelaces and petting my dog and feeling ashamed that I couldn't just tell him I no longer wanted to go out with him.
I saw him recently walking through a strip mall parking lot pushing a woman in a wheelchair. He was with others doing the same thing. Those in wheelchairs were handicapped in various ways. As they headed toward my direction I stopped abruptly and quickly darted into a store, unseen, and watched them through the door at them.
He and a few others pushed their way over to a small yellow bus and he began to help them board.
I stood there for the longest time, hidden from view, waiting until he boarded the bus so I could go on my way. Yet I just felt small and ashamed of myself --not only from my 16-year-old behavior but here I was, hiding from him again.
So I walked back out of the store and walked up to him. He smiled, instantly recognizing me and acted like he didn't remember me hiding in the dark workshop that night with my dinner plate. Here he was, this kind, gentle soul, taking care of those with special needs.
We only said a few words and I went on my way with a sigh of relief and a comfort in my heart that I was able to push beyond my feelings and walk up to him. I am still learning and growing. But often times, I'm still that 16-year-old girl with her own special needs... still hiding behind a stolen sign that says "do not steal".