Melvin was a childhood friend who was severely mentally handicapped.
Back in the day we called people like this retarded. Melvin made a bunch of noises and we never knew what he was saying. He was loud and our parents never wanted him in the house because of it. But he was our boy and he was part of a group of eight to 10 of us 12-14 year olds who played tag, baseball, football and basketball.
I’m not proud of this today but we called him Melvin Monkey and I even used my creative writing skills to create the Melvin Monkey song. It was a harsh nickname but it came with our friendship and protection from other neighborhood kids that picked on him because of his limitations.
No one else was allowed to pick on him around us.
One day Melvin was playing in the alley between Vancouver and Oregon Streets when two bullies confronted him. They pushed him and called him “retard.” I told the boys to stop and they immediately turned their attacks on me.
“You friends with this animal?”
“You must be retarded too.”
I said I was if that meant being his friend. I told them one more time to leave Melvin alone.
By now Melvin was in a highly agitated state. He was yelling and jumping up and down.
Meanwhile one of my girls stopped by to see what was going on.
“This fool is defending this retard,” one of the boys said. “We should kick his ass.”
The girl was part of my crew.
“Well I guess you got to kick my ass too,” she said.
We both stood between the boys and Melvin until they finally backed down and left.
Melvin screamed “thank you.”
It was one of the few times that I understood what he said.
It was the only time I understood him.