When you enter this world mentally challenged, the idea of a cruel world takes on a new reality. It is your reality you grow used to the shunning and the bullies. You tune out those who yell and curse you as a retard, because it is life. You aren’t like them. So, it is okay for them to turn their hate and disdain towards you. They don’t believe you have feelings, at least not like they do, and they think that just because you are slow you can’t process their meanings. They are wrong.
This was my life growing up as a high-functioning mentally retarded person. “Normal” friends and boyfriends are rare. I find the boys especially don’t want to be romantically involved with someone like me. Maybe it’s peer pressure, maybe it’s that they can’t show off their girlfriend, but my teen years showed me how hard it is to be mainstreamed with the so-called normal kids.
I remember my first crush. He was the captain of the football team and I was more clumsy than usual around him. When I told my best friend Judy about my crush she said “leave it to me.”
She passed note in class and he smiled;my heart leapt. ‘Could he possibly like me to?’
Later that day, I was heading to my locker, around the corner was my crush talking to his friends:
“so what was that note from Judy?”
“she wanted me to take Tracy to the dance”
“Tracy, the one with the big tits and no brains?”
“Are you going to? You could get some….”
“No man, she’s a retard…”
I ran pass them and all the way home crying. I avoided everything to do with football after that. Later, I found out the Judy’s boyfriend, a basketball player, beat the shit out of him.
I didn’t care, just mentioning his name made me cry and I had my counselor switch me out as many shared classes as possible.
My date to the dance was a friend, Luis, who had down syndrome. Seeing my crush with his arm in a cast didn’t help, I cried on Luis’s shoulder. He understood of course. We went with Judy and her boyfriend to our secret place and the four of us got drunk and ate pizza.
My mom said Judy was a bad influence until she found out what was going on. Then I heard her saying to my aunts, “what was Judy thinking? No normal boy is going to date her!” I gave up on “normal” boys after that.
That is until I met John Donnelly. He was assigned as my social worker to help me transition into daily life after high school. No one expected me to go to college, but John said “do you want to?”
He was different than any other social worker I had met. He was alive, energetic, and had a laugh that made me laugh even harder.
He never treated me like I was retarded, even during the testing process. He helped me discover that I could sing better than I could talk and we would sing my favorite songs, sometimes making up our own words to them, every time I came to his office.
He took me out to the malls and the parks where we would invent stories for those around us and laugh and laugh about our creations.
After about six months, I came into his office hearing him singing “my girl”. That was always a sign that he had a surprise for me!
“Tracy, you know that I think you are a great storyteller and songwriter right?”
“Yeah?” I watched his blue eyes twinkle.
“How would you like to go to college and become a writer?”
“But! I can’t write well. ”
“You don’t have to, you just need to talk or sing into this.” He pulled out a computer with a microphone. “You will be paired with a buddy who will clean up the spelling and grammar and the classes are geared to help kids with special needs.”
My heart was beating so fast. ‘Could I do it?‘ He promised to be there to support me every step of the way. By the time I left his office that day I had applied for school, talked Judy into into sharing an apartment near my school, and made plans for John to teach me to drive a car.
That was five years ago, my first novel was published two years ago and I supported myself “writing” songs for a pop band who John introduced me to. It seems another one of his “friends” (he never called us clients) was the brother of the lead singer, Jamie. I never felt uncomfortable working with them, because they were like Judy – they saw me as me.
At my first hometown book signing my old crush brought a book up to be signed. He had gained 40 pounds and was almost completely bald. I didn’t recognize him until he spoke:
“Make it out to the stupidest man on earth.” I smiled then.
Jamie and I began dating about six months ago, but when my novel was optioned for a movie I asked Jamie if he wouldn’t mind if I didn’t take him to the premiere. He smiled because he knew there was another man in my life; one to whom I owed everything.
I found John in his office later that day humming to the radio. This time, I began to sing to him “nothing you can do to make me untrue to my guy…”
He spun around with a huge grin on his face. “Tracy! What are you up to my little star?”
I held up two tickets to the red carpet premiere in California and two airline tickets.
“How about a dinner and a movie?”
He laughed and his cheeks turned red and then he said with a grin “where’s my tux?”