David and Cyndy

by Ruth Z Deming


He knew something was wrong with him. He couldn't look people in the eye. His head was slightly bigger than other grown ups. He felt uncomfortable around every single person, his father especially. His mother was okay, just okay, but she never stopped telling him what to do. He closeted himself in his bedroom to get away from his family.

He saw a famous back doctor who gave him exercises for curvature of the spine. "Scoliosis" was the name he remembered. The whole family could hear him exercising on the floor or against the wall. David always did what he was told. He did not know the term "free will" and had none.

After his bar mitzvah at Kineseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, he was told by Rabbi Ginsburg, "David you are now a man. 'Although you do not keep pace with your companions, you roll to a different drummer.'"

The rabbi, dressed in black, with a knit kippah on his head, explained the quote was from a man named Thoreau.

The rabbi looked at the assembled members in the wood-paneled auditorium.

"This young man can sing!" he said, gesturing to the small audience, which included David's divorced mother and his two sisters, Rita and Lynette.

"And," he continued, "I have it on good authority he can play a mean piano."

The audience applauded.

David stood with bowed head, wearing a black kippah that his mother pinned to his thick brown hair with bobby pins.

Ushers appeared at the top row to lead the congregants downstairs to the spread of brunch foods. The aroma of hot coffee wound up the stairway and into the auditorium.

Wonder if I'll see Cyndy.

David walked haltingly with his bad back. His physical therapist, Mrs. T, as they called her, had attended the bar mitzvah. There she was, dressed like an artist, in her khaki pants and blue shawl, hugging his mother.

He took the steps one at a time. All he could think about was going home to their condo and locking himself in his bedroom with that beautiful oriental rug on the floor. His late grandmother's sewing machine was against the window and beyond that green grass and a huge weeping willow tree.

He would turn on his CD Player and put on his favorite song. "I Am the Walrus," which he played over and over again.

His thoughts were interrupted.

"David, you look so handsome," said his Aunt Elaine, who held a cup of steaming coffee in one hand and an apricot croissant in the other.

He managed a lopsided smile.

Aunt Elaine led him over to one of the food tables.

"What would you like to eat?" she asked and pointed to a bagel.

He found bagels hard to chew. He picked up one anyway and spread cream cheese on it and a long piece of lox.

Now the hard part. Opening my mouth and chewing it forever.

His mother waved to him across the room. He pretended not to see her. He found a paper napkin and spit out most of the bagel and lox and put the napkin in the pocket of his suit.

Mom had hired a limousine for the occasion, like when his old Aunt Selma had died at 102 and they buried her at King David Cemetery, where Deborah Spungen was buried. He knew her story quite well since he listened constantly to the radio and even fell asleep to it.

Deborah Spungen was the girlfriend of Sid Vicious, who was in the rock band Sex Pistols. He stabbed her to death and they buried her right here at King David's. Vicious, himself, died from a heroin overdose.

David knew about heroin.

"Everything looks so beautiful," she had said in the kitchen.

Before they moved to the tiny condo, the family lived in a big stone house in fancy Rydal, PA. His Aunt Elaine and her boyfriend Phil were outside in the back yard. Phil had a needle, like a doctor used, and injected her in the arm with heroin. After that, Phil injected himself, in, of all places, the neck.

He shivered while he watched. No one ever knew.

But now that he was a man who rolled to a different drummer, he would change his life.

Maybe he would find Cyndy and beg her for a kiss. A different type of kiss than a greeting on the cheek.

He began talking to his mother.

"Look me in the eyes!" she chided.

He cocked his head and saw an attractive woman with dyed brown hair, gold bracelets around her wrist and a watch a friend brought her from Switzerland.

"I wanna visit Cyndy," he whispered.

"Figures!" his mother said.

She said she would take him to the bus station in a day or two and buy him a ticket to Schwenksville, PA.

His mother walked him onto the bus. David pointed to a window seat. His mother gave him a doggie bag of chicken thighs, a box of Good and Plenty, and Snyder's pretzels.

Now that I'm a grownup I can do what I want.

As he looked out the window he began nibbling the pretzels, dropping a few crumbs onto his green and white striped shirt.

David had no idea that had he lived a century ago, he may have been committed to "The Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epilectic." Built in 1903, Eastern State finally closed down in 1987.

NBC News had broken the story. Horrifying film clips showed the dreadful conditions at Pennhurst, as it was now called. Medication for the mentally ill had not yet been invented.

David closed his eyes, as the bus bumped along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and imagined the last few times he met Cyndy. She had thick brown eyebrows and a red mouth with lipstick on it. The lipstick smelled good. He imagined rubbing cheeks with her. At night he would even dream of her.

In the dream, she had a big belly, as if she were pregnant.

He munched his pretzels and then fell asleep.

As silent a man as he was, his snores roared like a tornado.

Someone sitting behind him, poked his seat and said, "Shut up!"

David shuddered and came to his senses.

He was headed for "The Quadrangle," a group of buildings specially made for the mentally challenged.

Activities were held, including jewelry-making, knitting, baking, flower arranging, game-playing like dominoes, Sorry, and Monopoly. Medicare or Medicaid paid for all or some of the tuition.

The bus slowed down.

"Everyone off for 'The Quadrangle,'" said the bus driver in his blue uniform and cap as he stood up and wiggled his legs.

Half the people in the bus got off.

David got off last, bringing his doggie bag with him. The salt from the pretzels dropped onto the floor.

Now what do I do?

A social worker in a calf-length blue dress stood at the door of the facility.

"Cyndy," he told her.

"Cyndy?" she answered. "You mean Cyndy Baumgart?"

He nodded.

She told him to wait where he was and someone would escort him to her building.

He ran his fingers through his dark brown hair and began to shiver with excitement.

One of the residents approached him.

"David?" she said. "Please come with me."

He followed her down the carpeted hallway. It was a long walk. David enjoyed it since he was a man now and could do as he pleased.

"The Fox Cub Building," said the young lady, "is one of our co-ed dorms. It's part of a new pirate program," she said, meaning "pilot program."

He stood up straighter. Some folks with his back pain used canes or walkers. His program allowed him to walk under his own power.

Wish I'd brought a wedding ring.

On the door that read "Cyndy Baumgart" was a small shelf with a fresh bouquet of flowers. He bent down, smelled it, and gave a great sneeze.


"Bless you, David," said the resident and knocked on the door.

Cyndy herself opened the door.

How lovely she looks and is not pregnant.

With one arm, she ushered David inside.

"Do sit down, please, David," she said. "Your mother phoned and said you were on your way."

The small room was furnished with two red-checkered love seats with a glass coffee table between them. Two windows were wide open and fresh breezes poured inside. What must be a bedroom with bath was in the next room.

"Bathroom, please?" he asked.

She pointed and he found his way to the toilet, sat down, and peed.

Then he looked around at her bedroom.

Family photos included a huge outdoor photo taken at her former home in Huntingdon Valley, with everyone on the front lawn, including a little white pooch.

David pointed. "What is his name?"

"Oh, that is little MacDuff."

There was the bar mitzvah photo with David in it.

Someone - Cyndy? - had put a crown on his head with red crayon.

They sat at the glass table and David brought out his chicken.

"Mom made this. For us," he said, his voice getting firmer.

"Mmm," she said. "Wish I could cook like your mom."

"You will," he said. "You will learn, Cyndy Baumgart, after we get married."

She put her head in her hands and began to cry.

He took her hand and kissed it.

"Soon," said David. "Why wait?"

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