As I sat in a plane on my way home late Saturday night all I could feel was despair. My eyes burned as the isolated silence of sitting in my solitary seat overwhelmed and tears began to flow. My heart ached as my mind failed to find any fairness in his rapid demise, for I’d known the glory of his pure heart. “This is not going to happen” I murmured to myself but I knew better. My mind drifted to his warm Angelique smile, his elegant innocence and the flow became uncontainable. It had been less than 24 hours since I was informed of this beautiful human being’s passing.
Calvin came into my life five years ago as I struggled daily to overcome the trauma of senselessly losing a son. My wife took a job at the Sunshine School in Rogers perhaps to help with her struggles also. Then one day out of the blue she brings Calvin home. She had to care for Calvin till 8 p.m. and had nowhere to go.
Ignorance is bliss, I felt awkward for I had never interacted with a person with autism. As he came toward me I backed up. Nellie laughed as Calvin stopped and lowered his head looking at me through his bushy eyebrows and sent the most perfect smile I’d ever seen my way.
I kept my distance that day as I watched him eat in his unique way and struggle to communicate with Nellie. I failed to recognize anything he said but quickly noticed Nellie could understand him. I can only guess angels have a unique way of understanding each other.
On his next visit, again I tried to keep my distance but he wouldn’t have any of that. He kept coming to my face and repeated a word over and over “spaish.” Nellie finally came and asked, “Don’t you know what he’s asking?” I didn’t reply. “He’s saying Spanish; he wants to hear Mexican music.” Nellie found Spanish music and danced with Calvin for what seemed like hours as he’d scream with joy.
It wasn’t long before I learned to understand Calvin. He was understandable if you cared to try. It wasn’t long before I was the one dancing with Calvin to the sounds of Mexican rancheras, “Los Tigres del Norte.” He loved to dance and kick soccer balls in the backyard. He carried me through the ignorance of my bigotry.
I also learned that he loved basketball and Michael Jordan. We’d spend time watching basketball games and developed a rhythm of slapping our thighs twice while stomping our feet then doing a thunderous clap till the players took a shot. If the player scored we’d both raise our arms and shout, “He scores!” This brought great pleasure to Calvin.
We grew to friendship. He loved pizza and often asked me, for I was more inclined than Nellie to get him some. If I knew he was home, I brought pizza. There were times when I’d get a confused thought watching him struggle to coordinate his mind and body and instinctively he’d look at me with forgiving eyes projecting thought as if he understood more than I could, punctuated by his angelic smile.
He quickly forced himself into all our hearts, it only took a smile. When he graduated high school, he attended his prom with probably the most beautiful date, my daughter Brianna. I was proud of her for going.
Calvin was now an adult with special care and got an apartment. I visited him several times. I gave him my laptop and made sure he had his Mexican rancheras, Michael Jordan and storm movies. He seemed happy, thank god for those special people working toward sainthood at the Sunshine School in his life.
I was away when his condition worsened leading to his untimely death. As I think of him, I know he knew and understood much more than anyone gave him credit for. His eyes told you that, his smile confirmed it. Innocence is its own virtue. He was extremely lovable. He deserved better. It’s hard to understand or accept this inexplicable reality. I hope he’s in a better place, a place where he’s the one taking the shot as we wave our arms over our heads and shout, “He Scores.”
Calvin Miguel Herrera 9/3/1993 – 1/23/14
Somewhere over the rainbow Skies are blue, And the dreams that you dare to dream Really do come true. Someday I’ll wish upon a star And wake up where the clouds are far Behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops Away above the chimney tops That’s where you’ll find me.
Somewhere over the rainbow Bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh why can’t I? If happy little bluebirds fly Beyond the rainbow Why, oh why can’t I?