TITLE: Slow Mo
By Perry Stearnes
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It was the first day of football practice at Jasper County High School in North Central Georgia. Mitch and his family had recently moved there from Oklahoma and he was eager to fit in.
Coach Randall was addressing the team and introduced Mitch as a newcomer. Pointing toward him, he said, “I want you all to meet Mitch Michaels. Mitch transferred to us from Oklahoma. He will be trying out for the kicker’s position. I don’t think he’ll have much problem getting it since our only other kicker has a broken leg. Besides that, I’ve heard he did a good job at his old school. Mo will be handing out jerseys to all of you after the meeting. Since most of you played last year, you will keep the same number. I hope we can improve on last year and I think we can with plenty of hard work and dedication.”
The coach finished his talk and a boy already wearing a jersey showed up and started handing the rest of the team theirs. Mitch asked one of the other boys who the kid was and why he already had on a jersey.
“That’s Mo. He’s our equipment manager and water boy. The team designated that jersey to him.”
Mitch paused then said, “That’s pretty cool. Ya’ll must really like him.”
“Well, it’s more like a joke than anything else. Take a look at the number.”
When Mo turned around, Mitch noticed the number thirteen was on the jersey. “I take it he’s accident prone?”
With a sarcastic laugh, the teammate pointed, “If you haven’t noticed, he’s retarded. He’s kind of the team joke. We call him “Slow Mo.”
Not wanting to get off on the wrong foot, Mitch kept quiet about the cruelty of the team. He had never been around someone like Mo, but knew his condition wasn’t something he wanted to make fun of.
“Here ya go!” Mo said with a smile as he handed Mitch his jersey. “Number fourteen is all yours. That’s one after mine.”
“Thanks! I’m Mitch, and I hear you’re Mo. It’s good to meet ya.”
“Actually, my name is Jeffrey; Jeffrey Morton. Everyone calls me “Mo” for short. You can call me either one.”
“Can I call you Jeff?”
“I like Jeffrey better. That’s what my momma named me.”
“Jeffrey it is then. I gotta run, but I’ll talk to ya later.”
“Okay” was the only response as Mitch jogged away.
The next day, Mitch was walking to one of his classes when he saw a bunch of kids gathered in the hall laughing. Eager for a good laugh, he went to see what was happening. When he got there, he saw what appeared to be a couple of the linemen acting like they were drunk. “Please help me! I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.” he heard one of them say. “Oh no! I spilled the water!” another one said as he “accidentally” poured a cup of water on the floor.
Mitch was laughing along with everyone else when a girl next to him said, “Isn’t this great? They act just like him!”
Mitch suddenly got a sick feeling in his stomach. He didn’t realize they were making fun of Jeffrey until that moment. He looked across the crowd and saw him standing there watching as the other kids made fun of him. Jeffrey laughed along with the others apparently not aware that he was the object of their ridicule. Mitch couldn’t watch anymore, so he walked off infuriated that people could be so cruel.
After school that same day, Mitch was driving home and saw Jeffrey walking. “Where ya headed?” he asked.
“Just going home.” He replied.
“How far do you live?”
“Not far; just a couple of miles.”
“A couple of miles? Do you walk every day?”
Without looking up Jeffrey answered, “Yeah.”
“What about when it’s cold or raining? What do you do then?”
“My momma let’s me wear her coat.”
Mitch was really starting to feel sorry for Jeffrey at this point. “I have an idea. How about you start riding with me? I could use the company.”
Jeffrey managed a smile as he kept walking. “I have to ask momma first. If she says I can, I will.”
Mitch noticed the smile on Jeffrey’s face. He wanted to be his friend and hoped his mother would approve.
The next day Jeffrey found Mitch. “Momma said I could ride home with you today.”
“Great! I’ll meet you out front after school.”
“She said she wants to meet you. Is that okay?”
Mitch put his hand on Jeffrey’s shoulder. “Sure. I’d like to meet her too.”
Again, the response was a simple, “Okay”.
After school, the two of them met out front like they agreed. Some of Mitch’s teammates saw Jeffrey getting in his car and one of them said, “Well, looky here! Slow Mo has made a friend.” Tim Reynolds was the ringleader of the group. He seemed to enjoy showing off by making fun of Jeffrey. “Momma won’t let you ride the bus, so now you got yourself a ride?”
Mitch couldn’t take it anymore. He had to speak up. “What’s your problem Tim? You got your head hit so many times that your brain has turned to mush? Or, is it because you don’t feel big and tough unless you pick on someone smaller than you?”
“Watch your mouth “kicker boy”! If you’re not careful, I’ll turn your whole body to mush! What are you doing hanging around with a retard like that anyway?”
Mitch could see Jeffrey waiting to hear his response. “He’s not a retard and he’s a friend of mine. You got a problem with that?”
Tim laughs and looks around at the others with him and asks in an insulting manner, “Your friend? Slow Mo doesn’t have any friends.”
“Well, he does now.” Mitch looked at Jeffrey and saw he was starting to get embarrassed. Arguing with Tim wasn’t making things any better, so he got in his car and they drove off.
“I’m sorry about that,” Mitch told him. “I get a little upset when people get picked on.”
Jeffrey told him, “Don’t worry about it. I’m used to them acting like that.”
“That doesn’t make it right. They should treat you like they want to be treated.”
“They pick on me because I’m “slow”. They don’t think I understand much, but that’s because they don’t understand.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what, you’re not as slow as they are. I would take a friend like you over them anytime.”
Hearing that, made Jeffrey feel good. He couldn’t help but smile at his newfound friend…his only friend.
When they arrived at Jeffrey’s house, it was obvious to Mitch the family was barely getting by. “Here we are; home sweet home.” Jeffrey’s mother was coming out onto the front porch as the two pulled into the gravel drive.
“Hey Momma! This is the friend I told you about.”
Mitch gets out of his car and walks over to introduce himself. “Hi Ms Morton. I’m Mitch Michaels.”
“Nice to meet you Mitch. Jeffrey speaks highly of you.”
“I’m sure I don’t deserve everything nice he said about me.”
“Well, you’ve been nice to him and that goes a long way with me. He hasn’t had many people take up with him like you have.”
“Being new in town, you have to pick your friends carefully. He’s about the best I’ve seen so far.”
Jeffrey goes in to put his book bag away and his mother takes the opportunity to talk with Mitch. “I’m sure you’ve noticed Jeffrey is special. That’s why I’m so careful about who he hangs around with.”
“Yes ma’am. I understand. I guess I would be the same way if I were in your place.”
“The other kids pick on him pretty much all the time. They seem to think since he has Downs Syndrome that he doesn’t have feelings. Maybe, if they saw how he cries in my arms every night, it would change their minds. It just breaks my heart.”
“I don’t think some people care. They see him as an easy target. In my opinion, it takes a pretty small person to make fun of someone’s disability.”
“I’ll tell you something. Jeffrey doesn’t see it as a disability. The way he sees it is God made everyone different. He knows as long as he keeps his relationship with Him, what other people think isn’t important.”
“It sounds like it’s everyone else who has the disability. I’ve been raised in a Christian home and I guess that’s why he and I hit it off so quickly. I don’t see him as being “slow”. He’s just different from me. But, at the same time, he could say I’m different from him.”
Ms Morton gives Mitch a warm smile. “Your parents have done a good job of raising you. I wish there were more people like you Jeffrey could be friends with.”
Mitch was starting to blush. “Oh, I’m no saint. My parents will tell you that quick.”
“Well then, you’re a good boy. I can tell that.”
Realizing the need to get home before his parents start wondering where he is, he says, “Thank you. I guess I better get home or my folks will let me know I’m not so good.” Mitch yells toward the house, “See ya in the morning Jeffrey! I’ll come by around seven-thirty to pick you up!”
Jeffrey sticks his head out the door and gives the predictable, “Okay”.
Shortly after the two got to school the next day, Mitch got an uneasy feeling from some of his classmates. Later, while waiting for football practice to begin, he was confronted by Tim.
“You want to say some of that stuff to my face now?” The other players gathered around anticipating a fight.
Realizing this is a mismatch, but not wanting to back away from his principles, Mitch says, “Why don’t you give it a rest? You’re just mad because someone stood up to you. You didn’t have any right to say those things to Jeffrey.”
“Jeffrey? Who’s Jeffrey? Oh! You mean Slow Mo.” The other players were starting to snicker at the insults Tim was bellowing.
“I guess I shouldn’t expect anything more than ignorance from someone like you.”
After hearing that, Tim moved closer and shoved Mitch. “Come on kicker boy! You can talk big; now let’s see you back it up!”
Mitch stood his ground, but knew Tim could probably pound him into an early grave. “You’re not worth the trouble” he told him hoping it would prevent what was an unfair fight.
Without warning, Tim connected his right fist with Mitch’s jaw. “Maybe that’ll shut that big mouth of yours. Don’t think you can come in here and save the world.”
Out of nowhere, a loud voice yelled, “Leave him alone!” It was Jeffrey and he ran straight at Tim and tackled him.
It didn’t take Tim long to regain his senses. “You’ll pay for that one!” he yelled. But, before he could get his hands on Jeffrey, he heard the coach.
“Tim! You touch him and we’ll see if you’re tough enough to do squats for a couple of hours. Now, since everyone seems to have so much energy, let’s run some wind sprints.”
The whole team started grumbling. Tim looked at Mitch and said, “You and your retard friend are gonna pay for this.”
After practice, Mitch and Jeffrey were riding home when Jeffrey started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” asked Mitch.
“You, after you got off the ground when Tim hit you.”
“And what was so funny about that?”
Still chuckling, Jeffrey said, “You looked like you had been eating dirt.”
“I’m glad you saw the humor in it. I was too busy trying to figure out where I was to worry about my looks. I thought he crushed my face in.”
“He almost did” he said, still giggling. “Linemen are pretty strong.”
Mitch rubbed his jaw. “Yeah, I noticed.”
Jeffrey turned and looked at Mitch. “You didn’t have to take up for me, but thank you anyway. No one’s ever done that before.”
“If you’ll remember your Bible, Jesus was always there for the helpless and the outcasts.”
“I think He would like what you did. He probably would have laughed at your dirt face too.”
“You’re probably right. In fact, He…
All of a sudden, a log truck slammed into the car as they were going through an intersection. It was a deafening sound of tires screeching, metal crumbling and glass breaking.
Jeffrey woke up to find himself in a hospital bed. His mother was standing next to him crying. “You’re okay son. You just got some bad bruises and cuts. They’re going to let you go home in the morning. How are you feeling?”
He places his hand on his right leg. “I’m hurting in my leg Momma. It hurts real bad.”
“You’ll be sore for a few days, but it will get better. God must have had an angel in the car. By the looks of the wreck, you should be a lot worse off.”
Jeffrey could see the tears coming from his mother’s eyes and it made him cry too. “I’ll be okay Momma. Mitch and I will be back at football practice soon.”
He noticed when he said that, his mother’s crying got worse. “Where’s Mitch? Is he hurt as bad as me? I sure hope not. I hope he doesn’t feel bad about getting in a wreck. It wasn’t his fault.”
His mother worked up the courage to tell him the bad news. “He’s gone to be with The Lord, Jeffrey. He had some bad damage to his head.”
Jeffrey started crying harder himself. “Why Momma? He was nice to me!”
“The Lord didn’t want him to suffer, Jeffrey, so He took him home to be with Him.”
“But, I want him here with me!” Jeffrey said with a quivering voice.
“I think he is Jeffrey. And, I don’t think he wants you to be sad for him. He’s much better off now. He is in the best hands he could ever be.”
The two of them held each other tight. It would take the strength of both of them to get through the ordeal.
Three days had passed and the time had come for Mitch’s funeral. His parents asked if Jeffrey would like to do the eulogy. Uncertain of what that involved, he asked what he’s supposed to do. Mrs. Michaels told him, “Just say what’s in your heart.”
The church was filled with mostly students, including many from the football team, and the preacher had finished quoting some scripture from the Bible. “In closing, one of Mitch’s friends would like to say something.”
The preacher motioned for Jeffrey to come to the pulpit for his words, but he stopped at the casket where Mitch was laying. People looked at each other wondering what he was doing. He stood there looking down at him for a moment then turned to the audience and with tears in his eyes and simply said, “He was my friend.” He then started walking back to where his mother was sitting.
Mitch’s parents and Ms Morton met him halfway and held him as they all cried aloud. There weren’t many dry eyes in the church either. “Slow Mo” touched more lives with those four words than any sermon they had ever heard. His mother was right. There was an angel in that car that day, and they call him Jeffrey.
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