As constant changes happen throughout the College and Williamstown community, a few constants hold up over the years. Within the Purple Bubble, one force proves constant and immalleable amidst all this volatility: Eric Wilson, the self-proclaimed “big brother” of the College.
Having spent plenty of time at Tunnel City Coffee over the past few years, I originally grew acquainted with Wilson for his status at the coffee shop as a “regular” who never actually buys anything. He would walk in the front door, make his way from table to table to chat with everyone, maybe grab a complimentary cup of water and eventually find his way out. Oftentimes, he has never met the customers beforehand – he is just trying to prove a friendly presence. “I like to go to the basketball games and the cafe and the Williams Christian Fellowship,” he said. “I’m on campus because I want to give back to the community. I had a ‘Big Brother’ as a kid and that really helped me a lot. I feel like we can all help each other. So that’s why I am on campus. If some people are a little scared of me, I’m sorry I didn’t explain myself very well.”
Wilson experiences this nervousness behind his infallible affability, he explains, as a result of his struggle with his cognitive disability. “I have part of my brain dead,” Wilson said. “We went to North Adams [Regional Hospital] and I had all those tests for my brain when I was around 6 years old and then we went to Boston to see [what the problems were] and Boston found that part of my brain was dead. I was in this big ball or something … it was really scary. So after the test, the doctor told me I would never move out of the house, drive a car or do all the things I do. I just wanted to share this with the College because everyone is going through stuff … but you’re not by yourself. Talk to each other. Talk to me. I just want to be available.”
Wilson’s disability has directed much of his life, including his move from North Adams to Williamstown while he was in elementary school to secure better care and educational access. “I came here and my mom and dad bought a house, a nice house, here in Williamstown. I went to public school and in grammar school I had a ‘Big Brother’ … they decided to get me a ‘Big Brother’ to help with my education … I have three sisters and so it [was] nice to have a ‘Big Brother’ that I could talk to … he took me hiking, took me to sports at the College … that helped me a lot.” He would go on to attend Mount Greylock Regional High School, which he said “was pretty easy and pretty hard,” noting how “some people protected me” from bullying. “When I was a kid, kids used to make fun of me,” Wilson said. “Now because I’m grown up, now I feel like I lost my childhood a little bit … you guys understand me more [than people my own age]. I hang out with you guys because I feel safe with you.”
After high school, Wilson bounced between a lot of different work. He started out working at the Burger King in North Adams for five years before Dining Services employed him at Mission and Driscoll dining halls for five years. He began receiving disability benefits to allow him to work only part-time and got jobs at Hot Tomatoes Pizza, a greenhouse, a driving range and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. The work of which he is the proudest, however, allows Wilson to assume his alter ego: Slider, the feline mascot of the North Adams SteepleCats, a collegiate summer baseball team. “I got into the SteepleCats through David Bond … he was my boss [at The Range] and my friend,” Wilson said. “Awesome guy. He got me into the SteepleCats because he knew I care about people and knew that I would help people. When I got into the SteepleCats, I did garden work, concessions and then I got into [serving as the mascot].”
Wilson keeps a busy schedule, but he makes plenty of time for bouncing around the College, continuing to enjoy the community after hanging around town regularly for about two decades. “I like the [people at the] College because they accept me for who I am,” Wilson said. “They understand me with my disability. I have a couple of you guys [who] say that I’m simple, down-to-earth and have some book intelligence. I can have fun and be serious. I enjoy life, because I’ve been through stuff. I’m still going through stuff. I’m still learning to be caring and sensitive. I do get [down] on myself once in a while, but I’m getting better at that.”
He is grateful for the time people within the community make for him at Tunnel City, basketball games and religious events and has a few comments to offer, especially for those who struggle with disability. “If you do have a disability on campus, don’t be afraid of it,” he said. “Live with who you are … God cares about people … You gotta keep going.” And for the College overall? “The only thing I want to say to the community of Williams College is thank you and to keep up the good work.”