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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, c’mon, 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.

Except, of course, if you’re Mr. Hurtwell. He was a Leonard Cohen fan; 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 worked hard and spent a lot of time figuring out how to do things for themselves.

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 teacher-student etiquette.”

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.

There were 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 you special.