Geri Mariano :: Inspirational Speaker
Classroom Speaker



I will be posting various articles/essays I have written over the years but have never tried sending them out for publication. After taking numerous writing workshops I have always been encouraged to send them out and/or compile them into a book. At last — this is my first attempt at self-publication and perhaps the start of a book down the road... what do you think? Feedback would be greatly appreciated:

There can be moments in our lives that stay with us not because something monumental happened but because a brief encounter touched our souls. From December, 1992, I still remember a young boy with understanding and non judgment and a willingness to look beyond what he first saw. The memory of this encounter still gives me hope today.

by Geri Mariano

Still adjusting myself in the spacious accommodations, I shifted back and forth, trying to get comfortable.

'I love first class,' said the child seated next to me.

I nodded, heartily agreeing with his declaration.

'I do it every time I fly,' he continued. 'Do you?'

I wish. I had only gotten this seat assignment five minutes before. Still weary from worry, not to mention a left-over wedding hang-over, I wiped away a stray tear. Having braced myself for a showdown with the boarding agents and supervisor, the tear ducts had been opened, ready to spring as either an emotional response or a strategic strike. A few tears did escape though, in grateful relief and amazement over finally being able to relax on the second leg of the flight home, after a 3½ day whirlwind trip.

Shaking my head no, I responded, 'Hardly, but when I do, I like it very much.'

'My mom works for the airline,' he revealed, 'so we get whichever seats are left open after everyone has boarded.'

That explained the last minute scurry I witnessed a few minutes earlier when that woman, apparently his mother, shoved him over me into his seat next to the window.

He looked at me expectantly, ostensibly awaiting an explanation as to why I was privileged to be in the airplane's front cabin. 'Usually, whenever the airlines mess up my seat assignment,' I began, trying to make it sound simple, 'they end up moving me to first class. It doesn't happen very often though.'

Satisfied for the moment, he went on. 'We travel a lot. My parents are divorced. I'm an only child, you know, so my mother takes me to a lot of places! And we always go first class. I guess I'm pretty spoiled.' He stated this so matter-of-factly, as if it were the most common state of being for a child.

How does one respond to such a proclamation? And what was this kid going to be like the whole two hour flight to LaGuardia? And what did 'pretty spoiled' refer to? I shifted around to look at my neighbor more closely. He certainly dressed well — Lands End shirt, khaki baggy pants and a World War II type leather flight jacket. He immediately reminded me of 'Spanky' from 'Our Gang' — small, round face and body frame, pinchable cheeks and cropped brown hair. A GQ Spanky for the nineties.

Before I could gather my still fuzzy wits for a response, he was already fidgeting with a hand-held Nintendo computer game, complete with different game cartridges and a re-charger apparatus. He then turned back to me and focused on my 'legs' over which he had climbed earlier, much to his mother's annoyance (that I couldn't move them out of the way).

'They're prosthetics,' I started. 'They cover my own legs, so I can walk. They don't bend at the knees, so I need to sit in the first row, the bulk-head, so my legs will fit sticking straight out.'

'Oh.' Like most kids, he looked as if questions were bursting out of him.

The flight attendant then came with my complimentary pre-take-off drink. I was going to take full advantage of these perks. Taking hold of my orange juice with vodka, I hoped it would push me into sleep, something I had lacked over the past few days.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my neighbor watch as I juggled the drink, a purse and four fast wilting roses. Spotting my flower predicament, the flight attendant promised to come back with wet napkins after we were airborne.

'Just came from a wedding and plucked these from my bouquet to bring home,' I offered, attempting to direct the course of conversation.

He nodded understandingly. 'Whose wedding?' His interest was piqued.

'A friend from college,' I replied enthusiastically, happy for an opportunity to talk of the grand wedding of two days ago, my first as a bridesmaid.

He eyed me suspiciously following that last answer. 'How old are you?'

'25. And how old are you?' Why not make this a two-way exchange?

'9. You don't look that old,' he pressed.

And neither did he look so young. I guessed him to be about 11 or 12 based on his size.

He was right, though. Even sitting down, I still looked shorter, younger and I sounded younger (short vocal chords equal higher pitched voice — a Physics phenomenon I learned in High School). And my arms were also shorter than normal. In medical terms, a Diastrophic Dwarf, but to kids, an odd looking package. I didn't blame him for wondering, for staring. And he wasn't rude about it like the kids who pester their parents with 'Mommy, look at that girl.' Parents could be the worst offenders though, when they shame their kids into silence, thus perpetuating the 'different equals freak' credo.

'Well, I know I don't look it,' I admitted. 'Trust me, it's true.'

Being nine, the boy's interest immediately changed to a more urgent matter, to why the flight attendant hadn't asked his meal choice yet. On her next walk-by I flagged her down and explained the young boy's concern. Once he finally gave his selection, he turned to me with a new look.

'Hey, thanks for getting her attention.'

'No problem,' I said, taking pleasure from my all too infrequent role as helper as opposed to help-ee. I suddenly felt very protective of the lad and wanted to know his name. 'By the way, my name is Geri.'

'I'm Freddie.' He held out his hand to shake my offered hand, like a well-mannered boy. Most grown-ups are usually much more tentative during an introduction.

For a self-proclaimed spoiled kid, he was turning out alright.

The flight attendant returned with the promised wet napkins and Freddie asked about the wedding once again. I gave a brief summary while he listened intently.

'Are you going to get married?'

He certainly was direct. A very good question though, one that had swirled in my head a lot over the past weekend. Some people didn't think so, my mother especially. 'Hope so, but you know, I'll need to have a boyfriend first. Right now I don't have one. But how about you? Do you have a girlfriend?'

He smiled shyly then took me into his confidence about his girl back home.

Later I asked Freddie about his travel plans.

'We're going to New York for New Year's. I have cousins on Long Island and we're going skating at Rockefeller Center,' he bubbled with anticipation. This was something he had looked forward to. 'My mother didn't want to come, though,' he added knowingly.

Above the clouds, Freddie and I dined together. When lunch came, Freddie was the perfect gentleman, offering to open all the plastic wrappers. The packages I could open with my stub-like fingers I did. The ones that were more difficult, I turned over to his eager hands.

From that point on we covered a range of topics: the Braves losing the World Series; the Olympics; the presidential election; and my possible graduate school plans. Freddie assured me that if I ever chose Emory University, he'd fill me in on all the hot spots to go in his hometown of Atlanta. We didn't talk the whole time though. He played some more Nintendo and even offered me a turn which I graciously refused. Once, while he dozed for a few minutes, his mother came forward, leaned over me and checked on him. Smiling, I said, 'Your son has been very friendly and helpful. I've enjoyed talking with him.'

No smile, no nod of agreement. Nothing. Was I invisible? All I could think was 'Bitch.'

In due time, we arrived in the air space over LaGuardia only to circle for an hour. The whole eastern seaboard had been fogged in for over 24 hours and the delays were endless. After a while the captain announced that the fog was still very heavy, that some planes were being sent to other airports. We had enough fuel for one landing attempt and for flight to Boston if need be.

Feeling uneasy, I turned to Freddie and grinned, to reassure him, just in case he might have been worried. He just nodded and then we both braced ourselves.

The plane started its descent but then the pilot pulled it up suddenly. 'Sorry folks for that last jolt. I tried to land, but I couldn't see the runway down there,' the captain apologized over the intercom. Smart man, that pilot. I like a guy who knows when to pull up. 'We're off to Boston. We won't know for a while whether we'll stay over there or try to come back here again later,' he explained further.

Freddie still appeared nervous, even after we were safely above the dense clouds. He went back to talk to his mother and returned dejected. 'She won't go to New York now,' he reported.

After finally landing at Boston's Logan's Airport to a round of applause, the captain came on with more apologies and advised us to wait for instructions. Clearly vexed over this detour and with apparently no patience to await word of our fate, Freddie's mother came forward and hauled him out of his seat. He had accurately predicted that they'd be headed back on the next available flight to Atlanta. In whatever class seats were open I figured. No skating at Rockefeller Center this time.

Freddie loaded his belongings into his backpack and climbed over me for the last time. Shrugging his shoulders, he looked forlorn, and even apologetic. Before disappearing into the jet way, he glanced back, his eyes a bit brighter. 'I hope you get married someday, Geri. I think you're a nice lady.'

Maybe, someday. If there are more like you, Freddie.

Written 1993 at the Bennington College Writers' Workshop

Disabilities Speaker "Just Call Me Geri" © 2012 Geri Mariano, Inspirational Speaker. All rights reserved.