Call me retard. That’s what they called me in the only school I ever attended. Boy, those kids were mean. They didn’t care, even when I cried from all the beatings and the nasty name calling.
Call me retard. Because that is what the world calls me now, outside of calling me a trickster, a phony or fake, a false prophet, a drunk – a dipso. But I never told a lie, the world’s perception of me was the lie, told by no one but themselves.
The mean kids at my grade school called me “retard”, because I couldn’t speak well. I was put with children that had mental retardation.
‘Retard’ was the frequent noun form of their insults, whereas ‘mental’ was the adjective form for them to describe how I was retarded. These were the clipped words that came from the popular medical term used in those times, someone who suffered from mental retardation was mentally retarded. In the case of those kids that made fun of me because I couldn’t talk well, they considered me a ‘mental’ ‘retard’.
For years, I believed I was retarded. My basic understanding of what it meant to be retarded led me to think that those kids were right in calling me a retard. I didn’t know it was offensive to call a person with mental retardation a ‘retard’.
I had terrible speech problems as a child. So bad, that you couldn’t fault those kids for thinking I was retarded (of course they didn’t have to be so mean about it.) I was barely understood by anyone but my mother who had spent the most time with me. My father couldn’t even understand me, because he was away on “business” half of the time during those early years. He had me write things out. I started writing very early.
If you can think of every kid that you have ever met who had a speech disorder, and put all those disorders and dysfunctions into one measly little child, you’d have me.
Remember the kid who stuttered? That was me.
The kid who had a lisp? Me.
The kid, who even at seven years old, made his t-sounds like k-sounds? Me again.
I was also that kid that mixed up English with the other languages from his household, so even without my lisp or stuttering, you wouldn’t understand my childhood Pigeon language.
My mother spoke Polish and my father spoke Swedish as their native tongues. Although they spoke to me in English directly (only my father spoke it well), I was still in a lost hope in the ways of speech. If anyone could decipher what I was saying and knew Polish and Swedish, they would have heard this little brat swearing a whole bunch. They fought a lot in those early years, mainly about my father’s “business”, so I picked up some swearwords.
Once I found out what I was saying, I was embarrassed and stopped using any swears immediately.
My mother often yelled in her native Polish at my father, and he yelled back at her in Swedish. Whenever they got angry to the point of yelling, only their native languages came out. They made several attempts at carrying an argument out in English, but this usually only lasted a few minutes. My mom would get upset first and start swearing and yelling in Polish then my dad would puff out his chest and glare at her with his crazy one eye and responded in Swedish. And I would be watching and listening while I pretended to play with my wooden toys (all my toys were ancient, my father did not approve of anything modern).
If you could imagine, this little pipsqueak stuttering and stammering his way through four years of primary school, mixing up his /t/’s and his /k/’s or making /r/ like a /w/, also with a lisp and a stutter. And if you could get through the mess of disorders, you’d hear a Polish or Swedish swearword here and there.
It was no surprise that even my dear mother, who spoke my special idiot language, didn’t understand me (and to no fault of her own) for those years I came home saying “kewawg, ge taw ne kewawg”-Translation-> /Retard, de (they) call me retard/. If I could only have dropped some of those speech disorders and managed a simple “wetawd”, it would have sufficed. My mother could have understood me saying “wetawd” and figured out earlier what was going on at school. Or if I would have wrote it down for her. My writing was impeccable and the school didn’t know it. I still believed I was retarded anyway.
She finally found out that they thought me retarded. She was outraged. My teachers had been trying to tell her for years, but she would have nothing to do with them. She always pretended like she didn’t speak English, simply because she disliked and distrusted most people and hated speaking English to anyone but me or my father anyhow.
The school’s principal also gave in too quickly when it came to dealing with my mom. He came from the era where the school was allowed to make decisions. He made the ultimate decision to put me in with the other mentally retarded children.
My mom didn’t know that I was in a ‘special needs’ class, what they called “Special Education”, until the last and final episode before she pulled me out of school.
It was the end of a usually harsh winter, piles of dirty snow melted making trickling streams of water everywhere. We lived in Upper Michigan, much snow was common in the winter months.
The rivers of melt water flowed like my eyes. I was crying, walking home with my head down. After four years of abuse from the kids at my school, I still wasn’t used to it. “Retard” and “You’re mental, you idiot” wasn’t the only things that came out of these devilish children while they pushed me down and washed my face in the snow. They called me other dirty taboo words that I didn’t know until later in life.
“Stupid retard pussyface.” A bully said.
“Kot ip kweeze” Translation -> /Stop it please/. I said.
They’d get five minutes of harassment in before the Special Ed teachers would come to my rescue.
Don’t have pity on me though, my ‘special needs’ friends got it far worse at times.
The leader of those bullies, all four of those dreadful years, was named Edward. The only name I can remember, the only face. I’ll never forget that face, especially after out last time seeing each other. That last view of his face was the opposite of every time before. He was always scowling, even when smiling or cackling. He was demonic until our very last meeting, and then his face was a bloodied and broken helpless heap of child’s, no longer a demon.
I walked home that winter’s day and fell into my mother’s embrace. She always let me walk all the way home by myself and greet me at the door. She didn’t think me retarded.
I cried in her arms. “Oh Bozhi.” She said.
My name is Baldur (my Swedish father picked it out, he was a Norse revivalist). My mother liked to call me Bozhidar, a Polish name, which means ‘divine gift’, I was her “divine gift” she’d often say.
“Oh Bozhi. What did they do to you?” She said. Her Polish accent was rich. She learned English during her teenage years in the streets of New York City (probably why she could swear perfectly).
“Mama.” I said. The only words I could say correctly were ‘mama’ and ‘papa’. I cried some more.
“They called me retarded and pushed me down and kicked me.” (I’ll save your eyes the trouble of reading the phonics of what I said).
My mother had understood everything of what I said except for ‘retarded’, she couldn’t ever make out the word ‘kewawg’ or in this case “kewawgeg”. Then something in her head clicked, maybe by ways of her learning my special little version of language.
“Retarded.” She said. Her face twisted with the defensive evil that got her through much of her awful life. She changed herself back to comfort me and kiss me on the head several times. She sighed, I cried.
My father was watching us from the driveway. He was holding a shovel in both hands with a blank look on his face, his one functioning eye squinting in the sun. I finally noticed him. He walked as quietly as he was big. He looked like a Viking, was from Viking lineage, and was damned proud of it.
“Papa.” I said. I tried to clear my tears as fast as I could. My father didn’t like crying in those days.
“Who did this to you?” He said. “You don’t have to talk. You can write it to me.”
What the school never tried to find out, and what I never tried to assert, was that I knew written language perfectly. My parents knew I wasn’t retarded at all. Of course they were concerned with my speech, but my parents were old, from a different age. They let things work themselves out.
My father had commanded it into a law of our household. “He’s fine. His tongue will work itself out. This hardship will make him smarter and stronger than ever.” He said.
He was right.
For several weeks after that day I came home crying, my father was home on “business” leave. And every day after, he taught me how to fight. Out of the thousands of skills my father had, this was the one that he knew how to do really well.
“I wanted to wait until you were turning into a man, twelve or thirteen, but now is your time. Your trial.” He said.
“Your fists and arms. Your feet and legs. Your head and chest. Fight fair, if the fighting is fair, but if you are in mortal danger, use anything you have. Even your teeth and nails if you have to, if it’s till the death.” My dad said.
This was half of my dad, the other half was gentle and fun if you can believe it.
He held my arms in front of me, turned my body slightly, and moved my feet apart. “You must have a solid base.” He said. He jerked me, checking my balance.
In the melting snow of our backyard, every day after school, until my fists were aching and feet frozen, he trained me in different types of hand-to-hand combat. A mixture of things he had learned over the past twenty years the military business.
“They’ll never tease you again after you stand up to them.” He said. “You’ll be brave. Bold. That is your name Baldur. The Bold One.”
At eight years old, I was Baldur, The Divine Gift of Courage, at least to my parents. Not at all to myself.
That last day of school is often in my daydreams, vivid as yesterday.
The snow had melted. Mud and dead leaves blotched the streets and sidewalks which were as dry and gray as the sky.
My Special Ed class went about our usual business, playing games and wandering the halls until lunchtime. After our meals, all the kids went outside onto the playground for recess.
I had been avoiding Edward and his band of snot-nosed tyrants since the last bullying session. This wasn’t too difficult to do, I just stayed near our Special Ed teachers. But that day I wandered with intent. As far as I could, out of sight of my teachers. My father said I was ready.
Edward was predictable. He could not help but stalk in on a helpless ‘retard’ sheep whom had strayed too far from the shepherd, and most of us couldn’t tell on him.
I waited in a muddy patch just out of view of my teachers.
Edward and his gang came quickly to get their free licks in.
But I was waiting, in the pose that my father had taught me.
“Look at this. The stupid wetawd pussyface wants to fight.” Edward said.
He came over with his hand forward, ready to flick me in the face.
I unloaded my fists, unchildlike pistons. One after another, nose mouth eye mouth nose, until I was too close then I tackled him and straddled him then started punching him again, in his ribs, his belly.
His friends were kicking me and pounding on my back. I couldn’t feel it. I wasn’t there. My biggest fear of violence is not being there.
I stopped punching, grabbed Edward’s collar, and started slamming the crown of my skull into his nose and mouth and brow. I felt teeth prick my forehead. Edward’s friends stopped hitting and started screaming for help.
“Help, Help.” In the distance.
Blood and mud melded—more red than brown upon my fists and forehead and upon Edward’s face.
I felt the teacher’s hands pull at me. I stopped, panting. I looked down at Edward. His eyes were swollen almost shut, I could barely see his beady eyes, no longer wolfish but sheepish.
His poor little face, a mangle mess of broken facial bones and skin and teeth.
I started to cry. I still cry today about his face.
I never fought again after that until my life was truly in danger, and that was near the end of life as I knew it.
They called my parents in for a talk. An ambulance came to take Edward away.
The school nurse was afraid to wipe the blood off me. She wished the ambulance would’ve taken me also.
I sat in the principal’s office alone waiting for my parents to get there.
“Sometimes retards possess inhuman strength.” The principal said. He was looking at my mother. My father was too much for him to even glance at.
My mother’s face went wicked. She took an eternal minute before speaking.