I use it, a lot of people do. I’m trying to quit though. It’s one of those words that I really hate hearing come out of my mouth, and for good reason.
It’s hurtful and offensive.
When I was a kid, it was thrown around more than probably any other “label” that we could put on someone. It was funny. It would make people mad. Not for the reasons it should make people mad, but because no one wanted to be associated with “those people”. I used to make my sister mad by imitating Mickey Rooney’s character “Bill” , which was based on a real life success story of a handicapped man named Bill Sackter. I didn’t know that I was being an asshole.
So many things have changed since then. I think the biggest change is in how much we know about people who are different. People like me. People like you.
That’s right, every single one of us is different, and we learn that over time. We all have something that is “wrong” with us, but we don’t let it stop us from living, we learn to survive and thrive, despite any hurdles that life throws at us. If you are like me, you Google things to learn about how to overcome or how to cope with something. Some people don’t have the capabilities to use the internet, and have to cope by other means.
But we are all different.
When I was in high school, a bunch of kids would go out behind Charlie’s and make fun of the people who worked at ARC Industries. It was a place that gave employment to people who would otherwise have none. It also gave them something to feel proud about, to learn. They would assemble things there, count out the nuts and bolts that go in your cheap, dustboard desk set that you bought at Walmart, maybe do a bit of woodworking. It doesn’t really matter what they were doing, because they weren’t doing anything to bother anyone, and they got harassed daily.
I sat and watched as people that I called my friends would antagonize them into throwing rocks back at us. I don’t remember doing the taunting, but looking back I think that doing nothing to stop it was just as bad. All they wanted to do was go outside and have a smoke when they were on their break, and they couldn’t even do that in peace. I wonder how it would feel if every time I got to sit down for lunch, or a coffee break, a bunch of bullies would start calling me names? I bet I’d snap and throw shit too.
I wish I could go back there and tell myself that I didn’t have to go along with that shit, and that you can stand up and say that something isn’t right. What’s the worst that can happen, you get your ass kicked? I have had my ass kicked lots, so that’s not a big deal. Maybe my circle of friends would get smaller? No problem, they obviously aren’t true friends anyhow. To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I just sat there. I do know that I’m fucking ashamed of myself for doing it, that’s for sure. I feel like I owe a whole bunch of people an apology, and if I could tell Ian and the rest of the gang that I was sorry for what my friends and I put them through, I would. As if they didn’t have enough shit to deal with on a day to day basis, that they maybe needed a bunch of punk kids to sit and yell disparaging remarks at them. Jesus.
You know, sometimes it takes a good kick in the ass to make someone realize that what they are doing is wrong. I’m so glad that I’m not the idiot kid that I was back then, and although I feel that I’ve grown into someone that I can be proud of, I still remember who I was, and where I came from. I would never use that word towards or near someone who was handicapped, but for whatever reason, I thought it was fine to use it on almost every other occasion. That is until this one time, when I was going on a date with a girl that I was head over heels for, I did probably the worst thing that you could do on a date, or anywhere really. I swung around a lamp post and started speaking as if I were mentally challenged. I know, classy right? I saw her eyes change very quickly, and she spoke to me in a tone that made me sink into my shoes.
She said “We don’t make fun of people because of something they can’t help!”
I felt like a child that had been scolded, and my first reaction was to make some excuse to get the hell out of there, but then I actually thought about what she said. She was right. I was totally out of line, and deserved to be scolded in public, so I apologized and hoped she would still talk to me. I knew that she had worked in group homes for years, and had many friends with varying degrees of handicapability. She has told me that her father was most proud of her for working in the group homes, and I understand why. Despite all of the success she has had in her life, that was the thing he bragged about to his friends. I’m so glad that she had the courage to speak up and set me right, and I’m happy to say that her and I will be married in less than three months now. I’m also happy to say that she has helped me change the way I think about others feelings, because maybe I wasn’t saying it in front of handicapped people, but it still hurts, and it’s inviting others to use it too.
I want to thank Tanis Miller for inspiring me to write this post. I know it’s rambly and maybe doesn’t make a lot of sense,
but after reading her post , I started to think about my past, and how I used to be. I’m going to make a point to not even let it slip out anymore, and if I do, I hope one of you calls me on it, because I know better, and ignorance isn’t an excuse.
He was a little weird, and we all feared, he wasn’t one of us,