Pity was something that Jedidiah Kelita could never ignore. He knew it followed him like a devoted puppy. He often thought that if he were allowed to have a pet, he would definitely name it Pity. Pity would be at his heels as he walked through the mall, nipping at his ankles in the crowded fast food restaurants, resting almost contently on his lap as he waited in yet another doctor’s silent white waiting room. It might be fun to see people’s faces as he called out things like, “Come on, Pity, follow me,” or “Watch out for Pity,” or “Don’t worry, Pity doesn’t bite.” But, of course, that wasn’t true; pity did bite. It bit him when he heard the whispered sympathies, it gnawed at him when heads quickly turned away and it sank its sharp teeth into his heart when he couldn’t avoid the curious stares.
Maybe you pitied him once.
Or maybe you bullied him.
Were you one of the kids who called him cruel names, finally settling on the one that stuck? Dragonfoot. Did you know he liked it? He couldn’t let you know that. He smiled at all the other taunts because his father taught him early to ignore words like gimp and cripple and clubfoot. Too soon in his young life he bravely earned heroic nicknames like Captain Courageous and Little Braveheart and Trooper. Those were nicknames that were laid on his head by pretty nurses as if they were gently placing golden crowns on his short blond hair, not hurling names at his hunched back, hissing and scoffing the insults like playground toughies.
It was on that wide playground as he headed toward the buried tractor tire, his shelter, his dragging foot scoring a trail in the dirt as he limped, that he heard for the first time that special name. Was it you who yelled it first? “He’s draggin’ his foot like a zombie. Hey! Draggin’ foot!” Or were you one of the others who took up the chant: “Dragonfoot! Dragonfoot!” You didn’t know this, but he had to think of something really sad to make himself look so pathetic. Of course, that made you yell some more: “Dragonfoot!” He liked it, so he acted all mad and angry and you used the nickname every day after that. There were fewer handicap jokes, fewer sneers and snickers, less mocking. Dragonfoot.
That was not a name his mother would have liked if she had lived long enough to give him a name, choosing between the two that she and her husband had finally settled on. She didn’t get to hold the precious red and squirming bundle that the nurse solemnly whisked away, hurriedly wrapping all but the tiny malformed foot. The small appendage waved like a tattered war-torn flag, a harbinger of a future war that would be fought first on the playground and later in your unkind world. What a desperate war it was as Jedidiah fought for victory over pity. All he really wanted was to be accepted.
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