It’s late. I’m driving to Palatka, Florida. I am listening to Willie Nelson’s greatest hits. I’m two hours in. Three left to go.
The trees just outside Tallahassee are weighted with Spanish moss. The highway is almost empty. Willie sings about a good-hearted woman.
I’m thinking about a boy I just met. A boy who told me to “have a good day.”
Yeah, I know. Big deal. Everyone says that. Even clinically depressed employees at Walmart tell you to have a good day.
Not like this.
It was a Dairy Queen. I stopped to get something to-go for lunch. There, I saw a child in a wheelchair, sitting in the dining room. He had no arms, no legs.
His mother was feeding him. His younger sister was wiping his mouth between bites. He wore a smile that stretched to both sideburns.
He tried to speak with his mouth full. Ice cream fell onto his shirt. His sister wiped it. He laughed. His mother laughed. His sister laughed.
I decided to eat in the dining room. I talked to the boy. He said he’d
had a nice day. He’d just seen a movie with his “girls” a few hours earlier.
I finished my meal. I bid him goodbye. He wheeled his chair to me, using what I will refer to as his arms.
He held out his right arm. And even though he has no hand, I recognized the look on his face. He wanted to shake.
“Have a good day, sir,” he says.
The universe got smaller. The air got warm. And I saw sunlight flood a Dairy Queen in North Florida.
I’m back in my truck. Willie is singing. And I’m thinking about a kid.
I was twelve when my father engineered his own death. That was not a good day.
Later that same week, my friend Jason and his mother took me to a…