You probably won’t believe this but I swear
to god it’s true. I went to school with a girl whose name was Retard. In
English class, the teacher would say, read the next paragraph, Retard. Or the
math teacher would say, Retard, what’s the square root of eighty-one.
I grew up in Ridley, the population’s around
three thousand. It’s a small town. Retard was in my class from first grade on.
You think, nah, nobody would name their kid “Retard”.
The Pecolis did. Retard Pecoli. That was her name.
You say a word over and over and it bleeds
a little each time. Grows pale, becomes toothless. After awhile, it was just
another name. Retard Pecoli. So what.
At least that’s how it was until Mr.
Hurtwell came along.
He was sandy-haired and trim and wore those aviator style glasses. He ran his hand through his feathered hair and said, guys,
call me Sean.
We called him “Mr. Hurtwell”. There are lines
you just don’t cross. Or jump over or try to erase with your toe. At lunch, I
didn’t sit with Ms. Blumgard, the art teacher, either. She probably didn’t want
to sit with me. Which is right and fine, and how it’s supposed to be.
Unless you’re Mr. Hurtwell. He was crazy about
Leonard Cohen, and the first time he met Retard he said, to me you look like a “Suzanne” .
She just melted. Everything melted. All the unwritten rules and silent pacts, and tacit understandings. The years spent putting it all in
place, brick by brick.
In a way, it was sort of insulting. To
Retard, I mean. Like how some people will treat a blind guy or someone in a wheelchair as if they’re fragile. You try to help someone in a wheelchair, like
an automatic door doesn’t work, or whatever. They’ll take your head off. They’ve
worked hard and spent a lot of time figuring out how to do things for
Then you come along. Wanting to be a good guy. Holding the door so you can feel special. It’s not about you. Just because
your legs work doesn’t make everything about you.
After that, Retard followed Mr. Hurtwell
around like a little pet, and he enjoyed it, you could tell. At lunch period,
they would go out to his car and he would roll the windows down:
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they will lean
that way forever
Leonard Cohen. “Suzanne”. Mr. Hurtwell rolled
the windows down so we could all hear it and he could wag his finger at us. And
Retard sitting there beside him and wishing it wasn’t the school or the parking
lot. Wanting to touch him. To be touched. And wanting to be Suzanne.
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love…
Every day they were out there. Leonard Cohen
playing and Mr. Hurtwell gazing into her eyes to check his feathered hair. And she
was Suzanne for half an hour every day, and the parking lot didn’t matter or the backseat where it poured down like honey.
Then one day he was putting boxes in his car
and no more Leonard Cohen. She was crying, and tugging at his shirt. He
finished, and looked at her like she was something stuck to his shoe. Slammed
the trunk. And that was that.
Sean Hurtwell was gone.
The school said Mr. Hurtwell was dismissed for “violating
The Pecolis said, where did we go wrong, and kicked
their daughter out of the house.
Some people were surprised. I don’t know why.
I don’t know why the Pecolis named their
daughter Retard, either. Maybe for the same reason some women drown their children,
or put arsenic in their oatmeal. Only instead of small doses it was one big poison lump.
And maybe we should’ve said something to the
Pecolis. Like what the hell were you thinking. But we live in the land of the
free and they didn’t commit a crime. So we minded our own business.
lines we didn’t cross.
You go about your day in Ridley, the same
as anywhere else. From the houses on the hill to the truck stops and motels. What
you need will find you, the same as anywhere else.
Children in the morning. Suzanne for half an hour.
Just because you can walk away doesn’t make