“Did…did you know…that it is dangerous to jump in front of a truck?”
“You’re asking whether I know that it’s dangerous to jump in front of truck?”
“Um, yeah, I guess I did know that. Why do you ask?”
I was giving Derrick a ride somewhere, as I often did. Derrick is, how do you say, special. He is about my age—mid-twenties—but appears to be, mentally, about the same as a 5- or 6-year-old. He can’t drive, which is one of the reasons I was chauffeuring him around. The most obvious reason. The other reasons require a bit more explanation.
Derrick was a regular attendee at my church, Watermark, in northeast Dallas. We both started going to the church at roughly the same time, and met rather quickly. It was not hard to pick Derrick out of the crowd; he was everything that an average Watermark member was not. Though welcoming to all, Watermark had a bit of a reputation as the church of the “pretty people”. It primarily attracted college-educated, white, upper-middle-class professionals to its highly cerebral services. Derrick was none of these things. He was black, poor, weighed somewhere north of 300 pounds and could not talk without a heavy stutter. He was, however, the most cheerful, friendly guy in the room. The first time I met him, he gave me a hug. He gave everyone hugs.
One Sunday after church, he asked if I would give him a ride to lunch. When we got to the restaurant, it turned out that Derrick had no money. In the spirit of giving, I paid for his lunch, and later gave him a ride home. This became a bit of a pattern as the weeks went by; different people would take Derrick to lunch after church, but it was often my task simply because my Chevy pickup was big enough to carry Derrick around in. Most smaller cars did not have a big enough passenger seat. Even in my truck, the seatbelt was not quite long enough to buckle him in correctly.
It has always remained a mystery to me how or why Derrick ended up at Watermark. The first time I took him home, I learned that he lived with his grandmother in west Dallas—the poorest part of town, and a full 17 miles from the church. For someone without a car, that amounts to quite a journey on public transportation each Sunday. And, Watermark was such a new church that it did not have a sanctuary, and instead met in a high school auditorium. In other words, you don’t just wander in to the church, or learn about it by driving by the building. You have to know what you are looking for. It was not a church that someone like Derrick would simply stumble upon.
Someone once suggested that fact is simply proof that God had a purpose for Derrick to be there.
“Are…are you afraid of…tigers?”
“Am I afraid of tigers?”
“Do you mean, do I sit around and worry about tigers, or am I afraid of tigers in general? Because I’m not afraid that a tiger would, say, show up on my front porch. But if one did show up on my front porch, then yeah, I’d be afraid of it.”
“Why…would you be afraid?”
“Well, because tigers are wild animals!”
A long pause.
“Wild? Well, it means it’s…wild. It’s not tame. Do you know what ‘tame’ means?”
“Well, a pet dog or cat, they’re tame. You can pet them, they’re nice to you, and they’re generally not going to bite your head off. A tiger, on the other hand, is wild, which means it really might actually bite your head off.”
“Why do you ask, Derrick?”
“There can’t be ‘no reason’, Derrick. Were you at the zoo recently? Did you see a tiger on TV?”
“I…I was just wondering.”
We drove on in silence for a few blocks.
“Well…giraffes are wild, but I wouldn’t be afraid of them because they are vegetarians. They only eat plants. So, a giraffe wouldn’t bite your head off.”
“Oh. What…what about…monkeys?”
“Look, Derrick—I don’t know. Some monkeys are tame, I guess. Most are wild. I don’t know if they’d bite you or not.”
“Oh. What about…cows?”
“Cows? Well, that’s one I can answer. I have experience dealing with cows, unfortunately. Most of them are wild, but they are nothing to be afraid of. Usually, cows are afraid of you.”
We arrived at his house, and Derrick slowly, reluctantly opened the door. “So, Kevin…I will see you on Sunday?”
“Sure, see you on Sunday.”
A fist bump, and then Derrick climbed out of the cab and turned, as if to close the door. Instead, he stopped and just stood there in the darkness, his face illuminated by the dome light. I waited, impatiently.
“What….what about bears?”
“Bears are bad news, Derrick. Stay away from the bears.”
“Good night, Derrick.”
Derrick became somewhat famous for his questions.
“Which way is Houston?”
“Do you know Tiffany-Amber Thiessen?”
Most of the time, the questions seemed to come out of nowhere. They had no logical relation to what was going on around him. Occasionally, it was hard to figure out how his questions could have any relation to anything, period. When asked, though, he would always claim that there was “no reason” for his questioning.
As Derrick’s main chauffeur, I was subjected to more than my fair share of Derrick questions. I’m fairly good at Trivial Pursuit, but Derrick posed a different kind of game entirely, as I tried to put answers in terms he would understand. I gained a new respect for Webster when Derrick called me at work one day to ask the definitions of the words “capitalism”, “negotiation”, and “international”. Try explaining those words without using any other words that might need to be defined.
Once, while driving Derrick on a sunny summer afternoon, he opened up the conversation by asking me why we sometimes have leap years. I happened to have read an article about calculating leap years, and how a day gets added every four years because the Earth takes 365.25 days to make one circuit around the sun. Except it’s not exactly 365.25 days; it’s a bit closer to 365.24 days, so once every hundred years we skip a leap day (we go 8 years between leap years). Except it’s not exactly 365.24 days either; it’s closer to 365.2425 days, so every 400 years we don’t skip the leap day that we otherwise would have skipped that century. I explained all of this, in detail, to Derrick. There is no way he will comprehend that, I thought, and maybe that will finally shut him up. Derrick’s response: a satisfied “Oh,” as if it all made perfect sense to him.