Oh me… Oh my… there we were… the King and I.
Just a couple of regular guys we were having the time of our lives.
That’s my line. I should be singing that lyric. I’m at the front of the room, playing the
guitar. I’m the one with the amplifier and the microphone. But… it’s Timmy Deane
singing, from the third row. Timmy Deane is singing loudly and frankly I find myself
unable to sing just this second, relieved that Timmy can carry the entire chorus.
You probably don’t know Timmy Deane. Timmy Deane is twenty-couple years old. Dark hair, thin face… hell, he’s thin all over. He wouldn’t be so thin and he would stand pretty tall if he could ever get out of that wheelchair. But he’s strapped in.
Timmy Deane is quadriplegic. He’s developmentally disabled, and I’ve never heard him
say a thing, but I know he can make sounds. He laughs, and I know he likes music and
loves Elvis. The King and I is a song about seeing Elvis at the airport and the laundromat
and the bowling alley, and it’s Timmy’s favorite song from my repertoire.
It’s not popular, not a song you’d ever hear on the radio. I’ve never met anyone that has
heard it prior to hearing me play it, which I’ve done here once a month, for the last three
months. This is exactly the fourth time Timmy Deane has ever heard this song, and here he is singing the chorus fully through as loudly and clearly as a lead singer. His enunciation is impressive, his timing flawless.
I should be singing the second verse now, only I can’t recall the words so I continue
strumming the C-minor chord where Timmy left me hanging. Timmy Deane has knocked
me for a loop; snatched the rug fully out from under a host of notions about people and
music, ability and disability and life itself.
It’s air conditioned here but I find myself heat-stricken by an adrenalin near-overdose. It
feels great in an uneasy way – in that way that things feel great when they are great but
you’re not sure that you are really entitled to feel this great. Like driving a Porsche
undetected at triple digit speeds down the Blue Ridge Parkway, or winning the lottery.
Like an inmate set free.
I notice now that about half of Timmy’s friends in the audience are looking at him, some
turned fully around in their chairs. Most of the staff members present are also staring at
Timmy, and then I notice Christine, the director, is smiling at me. I notice it peripherally,
for I’m not about to make eye contact with anyone just yet. I will cry if I do.
…and I draw a long, slow breath of this rarified air deep into my lungs. It
works. I recall the line and pick up where Timmy Deane left off.
I saw Elvis Presley… and John Belushi..