A young boy’s physical limitations do not stop him from overcoming some bullies and winning their friendship.
Trig’s Smokin’ Wheels
There were a lot of things Trig Nelson could do, many he wanted to do, and more things he couldn’t do. Trig couldn’t run, he’d never climb stairs or hills or mountains. He couldn’t play football or basketball. Being stuck in a wheelchair that would always be in the way.
Nevertheless, Trig’s parents early on instilled in him the ability to see beyond his limitations. As practitioners of positive thought and attitude, they encouraged Trig to focus on what he could achieve rather than what he couldn’t. It wasn’t difficult; Trig was a determined boy. Summer or winter, he would roll the three blocks to school or the five blocks to church. If there was ice or snow, one of his parents would drive him. For the most part, though, Trig would roll himself fearlessly down the sidewalk, off the curb and across the street toward his destination.
When Trig was little, his sister would push him to wherever he wanted to go and never complained. Terri often thought how it would be like if she were the one with deformed legs. So she helped him, sometimes into bed or in and out of places where it was difficult to maneuver a wheelchair. Though he appreciated her help, the fiercely independent Trig insisted he could do it all himself. Two years Trig’s elder, Terri saw herself as his protector. “I know you can,” would come her answer. “But I’m right here, so you might as well let me give you a hand.”
His parents had named him Jasper which means Treasurer. He however called himself Twig because of his legs. The name stuck and became his nickname.
One spring afternoon on the way home from school, Terri stepped between her brother and two bullies. The older boys had come up behind Trig and dumped him out of his wheelchair onto the ground muddied by an earlier downpour. The rain had stopped but the damp air and cloudy sky still threatened. Following behind, Terri dropped her books and ran to her brother ‘side.
“Well ,looky here. Dufus has to have big sis protect him,” Fred White chided. Overweight by a good 30 pounds, Fred danced around the angry girl, punching the air with his chubby fists as she stood over her fallen brother.
“Yeah,” Gregg Morgan taunted. “Come on little Miss Terri, you wanna piece of me?” He charged her. Breathing heavily, her face red, Terri squarely met Gregg’s nose with her fist. There was a loud crack and the boy flew backward, landing on his butt with blood spurting from his crushed nose. Emboldened, Terri wheeled around and kicked Fred in his flabby stomach. The
breath went out of the bully like air from a deflated balloon. With one holding his belly and the other cupping his nose, the boys took flight.
Trig lay on the ground bawling. Terri shook her hand—it hurt! She consoled herself with the thought that it might be sore for a few days, but Gregg’s nose would take a lot longer to heal. She grinned. Fred liked food, but his dinner wouldn’t go down near as easy tonight. She reached down to Trig. “Are you hurt?”
He slapped her hand away. Big tears ran down his cheeks that flamed with anger and embarrassment. “What did you do that for?”
“Do what, Trig? I was only trying to help.”
“I can take care of myself,” he whined. They both knew that wasn’t true, but Terri said nothing while Trig sat on the ground sniffling and watched her set his wheelchair upright. Offering her good hand to Trig, he grudgingly let her help him into it. She gathered up her books and pushed him home while he sat slumped and silent.
“Do you need to use the bathroom?” Terri asked as she pushed Trig through the front door. He stared at her, his face flushed with indignation. “If I do I’ll get there myself, thank you very much.” He rolled himself down the hallway toward the back of the house.
“I know that,” she answered apologetically. “It’s just I have to go but I thought I’d let you first.”
Trig stopped and spoke softly. “I’m all right. You go ahead.”
Later, while Terri was trying to concentrate on her homework, she heard a soft knock at her bedroom door. With Mom and Dad still at work, it could only be Trig. “Come in.” She turned to face the door.
Pushing it open, Trig rolled over the threshold. “I’m sorry, Terri. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I was just so embarrassed.” He hung his head. “It’s okay. I understand.”Terri stayed in her chair. She wanted to hug Trig but knew he wouldn’t stand for it.
She noticed he had changed his clothes not a small feat for a boy without the use of his legs. If he put his pants and shirt in the laundry basket, his mother would notice. He probably hid them under his bed he had done that before.
Lifting his head, he grinned at her. “How’s your hand?”
She smiled back at him. “Not too bad, just a little sore.” She held it up and flexed her fingers.
“Bet it doesn’t hurt as much as Gregg’s nose or Fred’s stomach,” Trig said with a snicker.
Turning back to her book, Terri said, “I hope Fred doesn’t try to start trouble.”
“Why should he? He started it. You ended it. It was his fault,” Trig said, still grinning.
“You know how he is, though,” Terri said.
“Yeah I know.”
“Got your homework done?” Terri asked.
“Nah. Almost though.”
“You better finish it, Trig. Mom’s bringing Kentucky fried chicken for dinner and you know how she is about having our homework done before we eat.”
“I’ll have it done,” Trig said, hoping he could back those words. His parents didn’t cut him any slack just because of his disability.
“Hey, it’s okay with me if you don’t. I can always have your share,” Terri teased.
“I’d like to see you try.” Trig backed his wheelchair out of the room.
Minutes later Madge Nelson blew in. She always seemed to be doing three things at once. She placed the bucket and bags on the kitchen counter and, stepping into the laundry room, jammed a load of clothes into the washer. Then she quickly straightened up the kitchen, reheated the chicken in the microwave, and called her children to dinner.
“Is your homework done?” Madge asked her son as he rolled up to the table. She studied his face.
Trig never lied to his parents, but he could be evasive. “Math is,” he said, averting his eyes.
“Math is. What isn’t?” Mage asked sternly.
“Most all of it is done. Can we eat?”
“Trig, you know what I say. Work now, play later.”
Trig smiled coyly. “Yes and video games are addictive.”
Madge smiled in spite of herself. “Come on, dinner’s ready.”
“Meeting with a new client. He’ll be late.”
There was a knock at the door as they were eating. Madge answered and minutes later called, “Terri, come in here, please.” Looking frightened, Terri stood up from the table and made her way to the living room with Trig following behind. She stutter-stepped when she saw Bill White
standing in the foyer frowning. “Mr. White has a question for you,” Madge told her. Terri’s face went pale.
“My son said you kicked him in the stomach, is that true?”
Terri looked at her mother for help. “Go ahead, Terri, answer Mr. White” Madge trusted her children. If Terri did what she was accused of there must have been a good reason.
Terri started to speak but Trig’s voice was heard first. “It was my fault.” Bill White turned to the frail looking boy sitting beside Terri in the wheelchair.
“Why?” Bill White asked.
“Because I couldn’t defend my sister.” Trig answered in a small voice, looking down at his shoes. His shoulders sagged.
“No, I’m the one to blame,” Terri said. “They made me so mad.”
“They?” Bill White looked at her, his eyebrows raised.
“Fred and Gregg Morgan. They dumped Trig out of his wheelchair onto the ground,” she said, blinking back tears. “They thought hurting him and getting him all muddy and wet was funny.”
“They wanted to fight and I couldn’t do anything about it,” Trig said, his hands fidgeting in his lap.
“I wasn’t trying to hurt them, just stop them,” Terri said. “I’m sorry.”
“I see,” Bill White said. “I’ll let you folks finish your dinner. I think I may pay you another visit after a while.”
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” Madge said. Bill White nodded and left. Back at the table, she asked Terri. “Could you have thought of a better way to handle the situation? Don’t get me wrong. I am proud of you for defending your brother.”
“I know I should have dealt with it differently.” Terri said. She carried her plate and silverware to the sink. “The way they went after Trig, it just they made me so mad. I’ll handle it better next time.”
“Let’s hope there isn’t any next time,” Mage sighed. She filled the sink with hot water and dish soap.
“If there is I’ll take care of them myself,” Trig said, clenching his fists.
“As I said, let’s hope there isn’t a next time,” Marge said.
“Yes, Mother.” Trig always called her Mother when he was frustrated with her.
They had just finished the dishes when the doorbell rang. “You kids put the dishes away while I see who’s at the door,” Madge said, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. A few minutes later she called them into the living room.
“Now what? I hope it’s not Mr. White again,” Trig said, turning his wheelchair toward the living room.
“Me too,” Terri said, quickly putting away the last of the silverware.
As they entered the room they saw Bill White and Fred, standing just inside the front door. Fred was looking at the floor; his mouth was turned down and he looked like he’d been bawling.
“Fred has something he wants to say to both of you.” Mr. White placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. Fred’s mouth moved but nothing came out. “Go ahead, son.” Bill White urged.
“I…”Fred started his eyes still on the floor. He uttered a little grunt when his father squeezed his shoulder, not so hard as to hurt him, just enough to let him what was expected of him. “Remember what we talked about,” Bill White said softly. “Look them in the eyes.”
“I...I’m so…sorry. I really didn’t mean to hurt you.” Filled with tears and misery, Fred’s eyes darted around the room, finally landing on Trig.
All the fight went out of Trig. “It’s all right. You didn’t. The two boys exchanged conciliatory looks. The tension that had filled the room evaporated.
Terri’s voice was barely audible. “And I’m sorry I kicked you, Fred.” She stepped forward and held out her hand. Hesitantly, Fred reached out his hand to grip hers. Rolling forward, Trig grasped Fred’s other hand. For a moment no one spoke.
“Son, wait for me outside,” Mr. White said quietly.
“Yes, sir. Sorry. That will never happen again,” Fred said, then turned and walked out the door.
Bill White turned back to Trig, Terri and Madge. Lines creased his face. He sighed. “Fred has had a lot of problems since his mother died last year. He blames God for her dying and he’s been acting out. He started running around with Gregg a few weeks ago and I’m afraid one of these days I’m going to get a call from the police.” Mr. White exhaled heavily and wiped his cheek. “Well, I’ve taken enough of your time tonight. Thank you for understanding.” He turned to go.
“We’ll be praying for you and Fred,” Madge said.
Bill White nodded. “Thank you.” At the end of the walkway he put his hand around his son’s shoulder. Together they crossed the street and walked home.
Chad Nelson arrived home exhausted from the day’s business. His client had showed up an hour late for his appointment and made Chad answer all his questions twice. He came in as Trig and Terri were getting ready for bed. He spent a few minutes with each of his children and prayed
with them. Lying in bed listening to the low rumble of his parents’ conversation, Trig couldn’t make out their words but knew they were discussing the afternoon’s incident. The lull of their voices was making him sleepy. He turned on his side, closed his eyes and wondered what it would be like not to have a mother.
“I wish I could shield him from the hard side of life,” Chad said as he sat on the couch rubbing his eyes. “But I can’t.”
Madge’s crochet needles clicked as she worked on what would be a blanket for a family with a new baby at church. “I know. He has to face the bullies of the world and overcome them with the love of Christ.”
“Yes, and it’s not going to be a picnic for him. You know, this new client John Macklin was annoyed when I said I had get home before my children went to asleep.” Chad poured more cola into his glass. “He walked out in a huff. I think I lost the contract.”
Madge put down her handiwork and looked at her husband in disbelief. “Oh, honey I’m so sorry! After all the time you spent with him.”
Chad drained his glass. “Well, maybe he’ll find somebody who’ll be more accommodating. But it will be at a higher price than I’m willing to pay.” He yawned. “I’m going to bed, hon. I’ll meet you in there.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I finish this row.”
As in every household, school and workday mornings were a flurry of activity. Yet in the Nelson house there was order, that is, as much as possible. Chad and Madge insisted the family sit down together for breakfast, even if for only ten minutes. After their father said grace, Trig and Terri could eat while he read from a daily devotional.
This morning just before the children left for school, Chad, still sitting at the kitchen table, took Trig aside. “Are you okay for today, son?” Whenever he spoke to Trig or Terri, Chad made every effort to come down to their level. Even when he had to discipline them, he would sit down, tell them what they did wrong and explain what the punishment would be. He also explained that he was implementing the punishment so they would learn from it and live a happy, satisfying life. Afterward he would hug them and tell them how much he loved them. He never held any wrong they did against them or brought up past sins.
Trig grinned. “Yeah Dad. Terri’s going to follow me around all day and if somebody so much as looks cross-eyed at me she’ll beat them up.”
“Ha ha, very funny,” Chad said, smiling.
“I’ll be fine,” Trig said. “Gregg’s kind of a coward and after last night Fred won’t bother me.”
Chad tousled his son’s hair, pulled the hood of his jacket over his head and said, “Okay, buddy, your mom and I will be praying for you.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Trig said. His heart felt much lighter than it had last night.
The day went better than Trig thought it would. Fred didn’t bother him at all. Trig got 100 on his English quiz. Gregg acted up in math class and got suspended for three days.
The end of the spring semester was approaching. Everyone including the teachers was becoming antsy. Gregg came back from suspension and tried to buddy up with Fred, but Fred wisely kept his distance. So Gregg wandered around like a loose cannon. A few times he thought of going after Trig, but Terri was never far away.
Trig loved summer. Some days he would roll down to the library, check out a book and sit reading in the shade of an elm by the pond in the park. There was a fountain in the center of the pond, and it seemed to whisper to him of adventures beyond the confines of his wheelchair. Once in a while Terri would go with him, but most days Trig went by himself. Believing he was safe at the park, Trig’s parents never worried about him being there.
He was reading a dog-eared paperback copy of Moby Dick when a shadow fell across the page. “Well, if it ain’t the twit all by his lonesome.” Panic gripped Trig as Gregg sidled up beside him. Scrawny as Gregg was, Trig knew he didn’t stand a chance. Thinking quickly, he tossed the book over his shoulder. Gregg grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and began pushing it toward the water. Trig gripped the wheels, trying at the same time to set the brake. They were at the edge of the pond when he succeeded. The momentum of the sudden stop jerked Trig out of the chair and catapulted him face first into the water.
Slapping his thighs, Gregg doubled over with derisive laughter. “Hey, I know where I’ve seen you before! You’re a fish so here’s your whale.”He picked up the library book and threw it into the water. Bracing himself with one hand on the muddy bottom, Trig saw it flying over his head and tried to catch it. He missed. Dancing around, Gregg laughed at the boy as he struggled reach to the stone retaining wall. Holding onto it with one hand while he flailed and slapped at the water, Trig managed to grab the library book. The pages and cover were completely soaked. It was ruined. With the small allowance Trig received, it would take months to pay for a replacement. He glared at his tormenter.
“You idiot. You stupid idiot JERK! Look what you’ve done!” he raged, slamming his fist in the water. “What is wrong with you? Why are you so mean?”
“Whats a matter, baby? You gonna cry for your mama?” Gregg taunted. He stood on the algae covered wall over the disabled boy and jeered at him. “Maybe if you cry loud enough your sister will come and…and…aHH…” Gregg’s foot slipped and he skidded toward the edge. He looked like a skater slipping on the ice. For all his arm-flailing, whirlybird acrobatics, he went crashing
into the deepest part of the pond and immediately went under.
Fighting his way to the surface, Gregg looked pale-face and frantic at Trig. “Help me, help! I can’t swim!” He went under again. For a fleeting second, Trig was tempted to let Gregg drown.
When he was two years old—reconciled to the fact he would never walk and if he did it would be on crutches—Trig’s parents enrolled him in swimming lessons. Buoyed by the water, Trig took to it like a fish, experiencing freedom like nowhere else. He learned well and over the years continued to enjoy the water.
Now, forgetting about the ruined book and his desire to punish his tormentor, Trig swam to where Gregg went down. He reached below the surface but couldn’t find him. Seconds later, Gregg’s head popped up. He looked at Trig, his eyes wild with fright. He opened his mouth but no sound came out. Throwing his arm around Gregg’s chest, Trig swam toward the overturned wheelchair. Gregg’s arms thrashed, hitting Trig in the face and bloodying his nose. Twice he socked his rescuer in the eye. Trig lost his grip and once again Gregg disappeared under the surface. Trig searched for several seconds before his fingers closed on Gregg’s shirt. As he dragged him toward the bank the shirt begin to tear. Trig was tiring. Regripping the material, he struggled on. The exhausted Gregg was dead weight. Forcing himself on, Trig concentrated on getting him to the bank. Even so, he was surprised when he felt mud under his hands. Ripping out clumps of grass as he pulled them both along, Trig managed to get Gregg’s upper half out of the water.
Gasping, Trig looked down at the bully, his enemy. Gregg lay motionless, drained of color. His breathing was shallow and thready. He looked like a wasted, half-dead little child. Trig hesitated only a second before starting CPR. After performing a few chest compressions, he rolled Gregg onto his side, hanging back while the water in Gregg’s lungs gushed from his mouth. Gregg started to cough. Leaving him lying there, Trig dragged himself to the overturned wheelchair. Pulling it upright, he rolled it out of the water. Scrambling into the seat, he took one more look at Gregg. Adrenalin gave him new energy. Turning the wheels like a dervish, he raced down the road to the park office. Never a speed racer, Trig hands now worked in a frenzy. He covered the half mile to the office in two minutes.
A woman stepped from the building and headed for her car. “Help! Help! A boy drowned at the pond!” Trig shouted. She whirled to see the boy racing toward her. She opened her mouth, but if she spoke Trig didn’t hear her. His message delivered, Trig spun the wheelchair around and headed back the way he came. The woman ran back to the office. Arms pumping, Trig tore down the road. As he neared the pond the sound of sirens filled the air.
Gregg was sitting up, looking dazed. As Trig rolled up beside him an ambulance screeched to a halt behind them. Two paramedics jumped out. While they rushed to gather their equipment, Gregg looked at Trig. “Why did you save my life?” Before Trig could answer, the paramedics were bending over Gregg checking his vitals. They hustled Gregg into the ambulance. One of
them called to Trig. “Are you all right, son? Do you want to go along and get checked out?”
“No. I’m okay,” Trig answered.“Just a little tired. Is he going to be okay?”
The man smiled. “Yes, he’ll be fine. You got him out, didn’t you?” Trig nodded. “Way to go, kid. He owes you. He may have to stay overnight for observation, but by tomorrow he’ll be his old self.”
But the paramedic was wrong. Gregg never went back to being the bully he once was. He, Fred and Trig became best friends. They went together to the ceremony where the chief of police gave Trig a metal for heroism. Come to find out Gregg was a gifted artist. He’d kept his talent hidden, thinking it made him look weak.
The next day the newspaper’s front-page photo of Trig accepting his medal was placed side-by side with a drawing by Trig’s friend Gregg. The drawing showed Trig leaning forward in his wheelchair, his hair streaked back, his hands turning the wheels in a blur, smoke trailing behind him. Underneath, the caption read, “Trig’s Smokin’Wheels”.