Sticks and Stones
The movie Tropic Thunder stirred up a great deal of controversy because of the inappropriate and ridiculously excessive use of the slang form of the word retard. While I agree that this was an incredibly irresponsible, thoughtless decision on the part of the movie makers, I felt nothing more than numbness when I looked up exactly what was said in the film to measure my own reaction. I simply decided that I wouldn't find it funny and didn't buy a ticket. While I admire those who express their outrage about this movie, I didn't find I had much fire in my belly about it at all. If I felt anything at all, it was sadness and disappointment.
I have a long, strange relationship with the word. I likely heard it tossed around casually on the playground and perhaps used it myself, although I cannot remember with certainty. I learned the word "retarder" in high school French class, and I never really thought about anything but its root and correct usage. I just knew it meant "to slow." I can even conjugate it for you.
Later on in my life, the word and its medical meaning seemed to easily tumble out of our geneticist's mouth when Erik received his diagnosis. We were told that although our child would have strengths, he would be retarded. Slow. He explained the levels of what he kept calling "retardation" and where Erik would possibly be compared to other syndromes. It was a complete slap in the face for a fairly new parent who thought Erik's strange difficulties would fade with age, and perhaps the numbness began to set in back then. The word still echoes in my skull, even after all that time. Since then I have wondered when someone would use that word outside of a clinical setting to refer to Erik. I have secretly dreaded that day.
Recently I received an e-mail indicating that someone had left a comment on one of my You Tube videos. For the first time since November 6, 2006, the day I opened my account, I saw an ugly, negative comment underneath my favorite video. The one of Erik eating lunch.
It finally happened.
However, it did not happen the way I imagined. Not even close. There was no insult hurled at Erik on the playground. Instead, the word was quietly injected once again into my life on line.
In addition, it wasn't even the "R word." In fact, I had no earthly idea what the word in front of me on my screen meant at all. I actually had to look it up.
According to urbandictationary.com, this word means: A person with mental health problems, i.e. Down syndrome; or retard for the lay person.
The examples listed were: Hey why do all the water heads work at McDonald's; Someone stop this water head from humping my leg; That effing water head just pooped his pants.
I stared at the word and the horrible examples on the screen. Although I admit that I felt a wave of nausea wash over me for a split second, I didn't cry. I absorbed the word, got up from my computer, and went on with my day, feeling a tug on my heart now and then. In the coming days, I thought about it from time to time and shared my feelings with a couple people close to me. Did it hurt? Yes.
Did the world end?
To the jerk that left the comment: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Although you have been blocked from my account and your comment has been deleted, the first time for me is over and done. I never again have to wonder when that horrible moment will come. If the word or one like it does come floating through the air from someone on a playground or in a mall, I will be that much more prepared. I feel as if I survived some sort of strange initiation and expect that although things may be more personal and more difficult next time, I am certain that I can and will survive. I'm not the sobbing heap of mother that left the children's hospital with her baby wearing a new, ugly label that rainy day two and one-half years ago.
Words are just words. But words hurt. They do. I have attempted to remove the ugly ones from my own aging dictionary of slang and encourage others to do the same. I don't want to give them any more power than they already have. And I have as many or more powerful words in my arsenal to counteract the nasty ones, attempt to make a small difference on this planet, and soothe the hurt that comes with the ugly as my son is exposed to more of this world. The good. The bad. And the very ugly.
And I know that no matter what happens, my world will not end.