Friday, August 17, 2007

The R Word

Ever since I read Tricia's post the other day I can't stop thinking about it.

The word retard has always been the dirtiest word in my life. Hearing it is like being punched in the stomach, every time. It never gets any better. It never goes away.

I still remember going to see Clueless in the theater and hearing someone in that movie say retard and how it wrecked everything in an instant. I was at that movie with my sister and my whole family and I knew in that moment that an otherwise great afternoon had been a tiny bit ruined for all of us.

I remember seeing Scream and There's Something about Mary and wanting to run out of the theater at the horrible ridiculous caricatures of mentally retarded people. I was angry that I had to sit through those movies. I probably shouldn't have. And I'm sure everyone who was there with us felt the awkward because hey...this stuff is only funny if you don't know someone who's mentally retarded and everyone who knows me knows that my sister has Downs Syndrome and so of course I wouldn't find this stuff funny, and I swear I can still remember what the awkward sick twisted smile I had plastered on my face to just get through the moment felt like. Not good.

I broke up with someone I once really loved, could have loved, maybe loved for a moment, maybe, because he flat out wouldn't stop using the word retard after I asked him too. Before and since then I've asked hundreds of people who probably never thought twice about it before to do me a favor and to not say retard in front of me. Most of the time they listen. I don't know how many people have only stopped saying it in front of me. I do know that when I was growing up it was very much slang and I hope it's not anymore but I don't hang out on playgrounds too much anymore.

Eli won't be saying retard, I can tell you that much.

Sometimes I tell myself that the word "retard" is a built in asshole detector. Like I'm lucky if you use it because I know you're a jackass and I don't have to worry about being your friend. Sometimes I think that's too harsh and hell, maybe I'd be throwing it around if I didn't have this gift - this gift of growing up loving someone different and special.

The thing is this. I'm here, on this earth, for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons is to keep my sister safe, to have her back, to protect her. And while the word retard hurts me and ruins movies for me and, yes, makes me like you less? I can take it. However. My sister is 25 years old and she watches those movies sometimes and when she hears the word retard and she sees mentally disabled people being made fun of, it damages her irrevocably. Because every time it happens it's a lesson to her - that not only is she different, but that the world thinks that's a bad thing. Think about what it must be like to learn that. To grow up thinking you are just amazing and wonderful and loved and special and perfect and smart and funny and amazing, and then to learn that the world does not agree. THINK ABOUT THAT AND HOW IT WOULD HURT YOU.

That's my nightmare. That's what I hear when I hear Cher say "Well, I am such a retard." That's why the grimace.

So do me a favor. Bring something positive to this world. Don't make fun of people who have it harder than you do, through no fault of their own. Quit assuming that different is worse. Quit saying retard, for now and for ever, amen.

Thanks.

2 comments:

TB said...

My sister is also cognitively disabled and while I've never heard anyone say that word to her, I'm sure she has.
I never ever say it in reference to her or anyone who has a developmental disability. It's so hurtful, but I think unless you know someone who is disabled, you just don't think of it in the same way.

PastaQueen said...

In college, my roommate used to say "That's so gay" and I used to say "God damn." I didn't like how her use of the word implied homosexuality was bad and she didn't like me blaspheming the Lord, so we agreed to stop using those words around each other. It was funny thought because you can't automatically shut it off. Frequently I'd say, "God damn - oops, sorry!" and she's say "That's so gay - oh, sorry!" Basically we kept saying it and just amended every sentence with "I'm sorry!"