Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Little ditty 'bout Bob and Jo Ann

Friday September 7th was not my finest day. Started the morning by getting a traffic ticket and getting cited for the condition of my tires as well. Got home from that and started mowing the lawn, but quit halfway through when the pressures of raising my children coupled with the events of the morning just kicked me in the gut. I sat in my favorite chair and watched old Cheers episodes until my children came home from school. By then my state of mind had improved somewhat. Sitcoms that my adult nieces were barely alive for will do that to you.

And then I read the news. Oh boy.

Parents sue Olympic gold medalist Tianna Madison for defamation

The parents of Olympic gold medalist Tianna Madison have filed a libel, slander and defamation lawsuit against their athlete daughter claiming she has defamed them with false statements and allegations.

Jo Ann and Robert Madison, Elyria natives who flew to London to watch their daughter win a gold medal as a part of the women’s relay team in the 4 x 100 meter event, filed the lawsuit Thursday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

The complaint naming Tianna Madison and her husband, John Bartoletta, as defendants states that since March of this year the couple has repeatedly published false and defamatory statements about the Madisons to various third parties, including media outlets.

The lawsuit details allegations that Tianna Madison has falsely said that her parents mismanaged her finances and that they knowingly allowed a boy who had molested the athlete in the past to enter their home in her presence.

Tianna Madison and John Bartoletta reside in Florida and returned there after winning in London.

It started with out local paper, but then it mushroomed. Other Cleveland news outlets got wind of it. Other news sites throughout the state picked it up. published it. Twitter ran with it. By the next day sites throughout the world were telling the story of the ultimate sports parents who followed their child to the pinnacle of her profession and then wanted to get themselves a piece of the pie.

My heart broke.

In October of 1985 I met a man at the community college named Olvin who liked to talk about the Bible. We talked at Bible study, we talked over coffee, we talked on the phone. He had a charismatic personality, one of those people you just want to be around, one of those people you just like.

Olvin invited me to a meeting of his church, which was simply called The Church In Cleveland. No other name but the city in which they reside. It was an interesting meeting. Something drew me in- again, one of those qualities that attracts you but you aren't sure why. The people were friendly, and I could certainly use as many friends as I could get.

As the months passed I made myself a part of the Church In Cleveland scene. In the process I met a young couple, Bobby and Jo Ann. They had two toddler-aged children, Christina and Tianna. Bobby always had a good word for me, no matter what I might have been going through at the time. Sometimes a verse, sometimes a passage from a book he had been reading, but always a smile.

The years rolled by, and I drifted away from the Church In Cleveland. But they didn't drift away from me. Occasionally I would see Homer, or Olvin, or Jim in the supermarket, and they would give me an invitation to a meeting, or a picnic, or some such event that brought people together for Bible and food. They knew how to get me. And the food was good. A lot of good southern-style cooking that I wasn't used to but took seconds of anyway.

Bobby was there, now going by Bob, along with Jo Ann, Christina and Tianna. Tianna, the older of the two, was beginning to make a name for herself in the local track scene, and the teenage boys always wanted to show off and challenge Tianna to a race. She smoked them, every time.

She smoked her competition, too. In high school she won state championships, and colleges were knocking her door down. I wasn't able to see much of Bob and Jo Ann during these years. Every time I stopped by they either weren't there, being on the road for a college visit; or they were there, and a recruiter was making the case as to why Tianna would excel at their school. I was disappointed that I didn't get to see my friends, but I understood. This was an important time for their family, and I was excited for them. But on the rare occasions that I got to spend time with them, Bob and Jo Ann always opened their home to me, always had a smile, always had something encouraging to say.

There aren't many people outside of your family that you can truly say that you love, but I love Bob and Jo Ann.

Which is why seeing someone call them "typical negros" on a website breaks my heart and makes me angry.

My wife and I take our kids to a church in Middleburg Heights once a month, where volunteers watch special needs kids so the parents can take a break. We observe these times religiously. We need them. We will often go out to eat or just take walks around the mall. We talk and we rest. We psych ourselves out and then pick the kids up, throwing ourselves back into the autism wars for another round.

On September 8th we did all of this, but then decided that we wanted to go see some friends. Some friends who likely could use a smile and an encouraging word. We weren't sure if they would be home, or if they would even be seeing anyone if they were home, or if we would have to fight off hordes of press on the way to their door, but we went anyway, because sometimes you do what you have to do for the people you love.

Bob and Jo Ann were home. They welcomed us in, as they had so many times in the past, and we talked. And smiled. And hugged when we left.

I'm not going to mention what we talked about. All I will say is, if you think you know the story, you don't. Not like I know.

I've known the Madisons for 25 years. They are my friends. I would take a bullet for those people.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Ronald Joseph Dekker

There's one in every school.

35 years ago I went to Anchor Bay Junior High School. Now Anchor Bay Middle School. Amidst the usual band of stoners, athletes, cheerleaders, sluts and losers was a boy named Ronnie Dekker. Ronnie was, as we used to say, "a little slow." Actually what we used to say was "retard". And we said it a lot. He had the habit of saying things, asking questions, that were the wrong things at the wrong time. One memory that has stuck with me was in 8th grade sex-ed. You remember, they split up the class, and the girls went to one room where they watched a filmstrip about their flowering womanhood and were later given a sampler pack of, well, you know. The guys went into another room where the gym teacher, who was likely also a football coach and a social studies teacher and didn't even want to be talking about this stuff, talked about, well, you know. Don't snap bras, don't pinch butts, and how about those Lions? Any questions?

Ronnie had a question. I don't remember the question, but I do remember the sound of 29 other boys laughing at him.

Ronnie was well known in Anchor Bay Junior High School, and later Anchor Bay High School, but he wasn't well liked. In fact, Ronnie was mercilessly teased and bullied.

And yeah, I made fun of him too.

Life is nothing if it's not about the passing of time, and time passed. Ninth grade ended, we moved to Elyria on orders of the United States Coast Guard, and I started over at the bottom of the social ladder at Elyria High School. Memories of Ronnie faded off to that place where all memories go until such time where an event knocks them loose from their resting place in the cave, and you suddenly remember the teasing of someone who never deserved it. But those of us who teased him, yeah, we deserve a lot.

My son Matthew was diagnosed as autistic in April of 2004. My life immediately became an endless series of trips to the neurologist and meetings with school officials and specialists. Matthew was always special, but now he was "special". A year later Rebecca was diagnosed as autistic. Rebecca was always special, but now she was "special". You know what I mean.

I made fun of schools like Murray Ridge when I was in high school, and now my children attend Murray Ridge. God is probably laughing his ass off now. "Yeah, I'll show you."

And my memories suddenly returned to that boy in junior high school, the boy who asked the wrong questions at the wrong time, the boy who was endlessly teased.

My son was Ronnie Dekker. My daughter was Ronnie Dekker. And my soul was sorrowful to the uttermost for the part I played in Ronnie's sorrow.

But what happened to Ronnie? Whatever happened to this boy who likely graduated high school and either got a job in a work setting specially designed for those "special" people who will never work at banks or go to college or run for public office, or just never worked at all?

For many years I never knew. As my children progressed slowly, and I came to the realization that they will likely never say my name, I wondered. What happened to Ronnie Dekker?

Ronnie bowled. Ronnie was an usher at his church. Ronnie was involved with Special Olympics.

Ronald Joseph Dekker died on June 23, 2012.

I'm sorry, Ronnie.

But I should have said it sooner.

Obituary for Ronald Joseph Dekker