wrestling my conscience … and a special kid
I’m not sure what they call it these days but I know it’s a complicated issue. I know because I was forced to live through something that troubles me to this day and I’m afraid that if I tell you about it, and I’m completely honest, that I might come off a bit insensitive. I’m a pretty open-minded guy, I don’t consider myself bias to any great degree and if you were to have an empathetic Hall of Fame I’d nominate myself as the first inductee. Having said that …
I think they call it ‘mainstreaming’ now but back when I was in school we called it having a retarded kid in gym class. Now before you mount your high horse and gallop off to Offendedville hear me out. When I was in high school, we didn’t use bullshit terms like handicapable. Retarded kids were called retarded kids and everyone was fine with that. It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful, it was simply the classification.
I was a skinny kid.
And a nerd.
Calling me cool-deprived wouldn’t have changed anything.
So what was it about having gym class with a ‘special’ kid that traumatized me? Ok, here goes. Prepare to judge me and think horrible things.
He looked like a caveman. His head did anyway. I swear, his noggin looked like it was stolen off a Neanderthal exhibit. We had another ‘special’ kid in the school but he looked more like a normal kid that took a fastball to the cranium. The kid in my gym class looked like the first one in his family without a tail. Now be clear, I’m in no way making fun of people with low IQs here. I’m making fun of people who look like they were just thawed out of a block of ice fresh from the Arctic shelf. He was like a short white Patrick Ewing. The fact that he was retarded just put the cherry on top.
So anyway, we shared a gym class and believe me as bad as this kid might have had it we were pretty much on the same rung of the social ladder. I had just moved to the school and due to my sparkling personality had yet to find much success with my fellow students. I would have literally been happy to have been friends with the ‘kid’ except he only spoke in one word sentences and every time he smiled he looked like he was going to kill someone.
Then came the day, the terrible day that scarred me forever. It was time for the wrestling portion of the semester. Bad enough to scar most people in and of itself but fate had a special treat in store for me. And I do mean special.
The ‘kid’ was in my weight class.
So it passed that eventually it was my turn to wrestle someone and the sadistic teacher decided that he would pair me up with the retarded kid. It was at this point that we both stepped to the middle of the mat while our peers crowded around us and began to cheer. And by cheer I mean that some of the larger more demented males began beating their chests and throwing handfuls of their own feces.
Here is where the real fun began. The ‘kid’ had no idea what he supposed to do at this juncture. He just kept smiling at me and saying “I’m not scared of you”. I pointed out that while I appreciated both his candor and courage that now would be a good time to commence with the wrestling.
“I’m not scared of you.”
I launched myself at him in the same ferocious manner that children will hug a relative they are not fond of. He wouldn’t budge. He had the strength of ten men. Ten very dumb men. I hung off him for a few moments before he collapsed onto his stomach with a final “I’m not scared of you”. And there we sat for a few moments as I tried unsuccessfully to flip him over and avoid seeing those giant glistening square-as-fuck teeth protruding from his larger-than-average jaw line. Attempts at a half-nelson were going poorly when I made eye contact with one of my most feared antagonists from the class. He was making it abundantly clear through slashing gestures across his throat that I’d better give serious consideration to letting the ‘kid’ pin me or else expect a savage beating soon after class came to its inevitable end. This apparently would differ from the typical beating I usually received at the end of gym class in both duration and intensity.
Weighing my options I decided to forgo my attempts at rolling the ‘kid’ onto his back and securing my first and only victory on the mat and instead change strategies and attempt to deposit the ‘kid’ on top of me. This proved even a more difficult task than flipping Captain Caveman over on his back.
I tried to calmly explain the plan to him, how I was going to let him win and all he needed to was let me slide underneath him for 3 or 4 seconds and the entire endeavor would come to a successful conclusion, but he once again assured me that he was in fact not scared of me and to drive his point home he once again flashed his winning grin.
As you can imagine, my classmates were in various stages of asphyxiation from screaming insults and laughing so hard. In their minds this was the Godzilla vs. Megalon of the bullied outcast’s faction. Had there been cell phones with the ability to capture video this would easily be the most played clip ever to grace YouTube.
I realize that many of you will assume I’m making this up but there will be some tiny minority of you that suddenly remember this spectacle and say to yourself “Holy shit, that was Lance Manion who got pinned by the retard?!”
That’s why the issue of ‘mainstreaming’ special kids into normal schools is more complicated than just letting good intentions guide every decision. The truth is that for every action there is an equal and completely unintended reaction. If that ‘kid’ had actually somehow understood what the gym teacher wanted I have no doubt that he would have killed me with his bare hands before any of the other boys could have rushed to my aid. Which they wouldn’t have but even if they had tried he would have probably killed a few of them before escaping and eventually being subdued on the top of the building by enough tranquilizer darts to fell an African Elephant.
For the record, no mentally handicapped people were harmed in the telling of this story. Skinny kids in baggy leotards did not get off so lightly.
They never do.