"Retard," was the weapon of choice. It was a direct heart hit. It wasn't, for once, ME that was the recipient of this angry hatefulness. This young man had the misfortune of living in a time when unique was called something else, something lethal in a child's world, DIFFERENT! DIFFERENT must be written just like this. It has to have capital's because DIFFERENT was something that you heard shouted at your tender child's psyche. It passed any boundaries or safeguard that you worked to install over that place. Another heart hit.
I had been DIFFERENT now for four years of school. I mean, let's face it, I WAS different. I lived with a chronic illness. I had spent many, many hours in my bed, and my fantasy world. My best friends were all 70 years of age, and older. They understood the health issues that framed my daily life. The children my age...how could they know what it was like to awaken in the night gasping for air on a regular basis. Could they know what a childhood was like with oxygen tents and ER visits in the night for oxygen? Really, how could they fathom what it was like for a 6 year old to live on slippery slope that could quickly slide to death.
I wanted to help the young child. I wanted to stand with him, for him. Instead I realized that while he was the target the cruel children ignored me.
Ignored felt much better than being cornered on the way home from school by two boys. They actually planned on beating me up. I barely even knew these boys. I was saved by the brave actions of a young man who had a crush on my foster sister. He was Native American, Indian is what we called them in the 1960's. The Cowboy's two to one Indian ran before his ferocity. I didn't care that his motivation was to get in the good grace's of Charlene. I just knew that I had reprieve!
Ignored kept heart hits from being mine. Ignored meant that I could live most of the time in the fantasy world that always lived inside my head. I carefully constructed this fantasy to keep the actual world I lived in and all the trauma and drama at bay. I CONTROLLED my fantasy world. I allowed no mean kids.
The taunting grew worse. Emerson was now constantly barraged by cruelty. Some of the kids devised the cruelest torture of all. They would act as though they liked him. They would include him in their recess play. When he started to relax and feel safe the camouflaged weapons of pain came back out.
Emerson would be diagnosed today as, Asperger's or some form of Autism. The label used in that time that covered any and all mental manifestations...a simple word RETARD. Retard is what you were called if you acted DIFFERENT. It didn't usually mean that your brain was any special kind of DIFFERENT.
I spent an entire school year thinking that I had to actually be RETARDED. What would your child think if they heard that label used over, over, over, over, over, over, over, over, each and every single day, five days a week? Unless you had the armored hide of an armadillo those strikes would wound deeply.
That label was not directed to me when Emerson was in our school. I was safe because there was a new target. The taunting got so vicious that if you were different you were called an EMERSON. I saw the affect that this constant viciousness was having on Emerson. He really was a sweet, sensitive kid. I did NOTHING to stop the bullies. Really what COULD I do? I was already powerless. If I stood up for Emerson he would not thank me. (At our age the opposite gender still suffered from a severe and positive case of COOTIE'S). If I stood up for Emerson I would again BE the target instead of Emerson. I DID NOTHING. I stood by and watched Emerson go from a sweet, sensitive kid to a wounded huddling creature.
I have since watched nature shows when you see a predator attack another creature as prey. I have NEVER watched that scenario on purpose. I will be watching a show about a Mom Tiger with her pride of cubs. Cute gamboling cubs learning about the world they are born to. Tender, fluffy and fun the cubs tease each other and playfully wrestle together. Then SNAP...some predator sees the babes at play...slightly too far from Mama Tiger and the scene of fluffy and fun turns into mayhem and murder.
Seeing that scene always reminds me of what we did to Emerson. I say, "WE," because even though I never hit him, or taunted him, I also did absolutely nothing to protect him, or to have him as a friend. At almost sixty I know that doing nothing to stop pain and violence is pretty much the same as perpetrating it.
Emerson's parents took him out of school at the end of that year. I have prayed since that he was able to get hope and help.
Unfortunately, the minute that Emerson left our school, I was once again the primary target of the hunters in my class. That's how I still think of them, hunting stealthily...eyeing their prey (me), and then SNAP...