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i-tär-d?d adj (1895) : slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress.” This definition of the word retarded comes from the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition. Retarded was at first a medical term used to replace words like stupid, idot, moron, and etc.; each one of those words had once been used to describe a different mental illness or “slowness”. When the general public picked up these medical terms as insults the word “retard” was invented and eventually something happened to it. Retarded is now used in a different way. Today people use it to insult one another left and right. I do not understand why people feel they need to do this. Maybe they feel it would make them feel better about themselves, but for me every time I hear the word used it makes me cringe.
When I was growing up one, of my best friends was my great-uncle Noel. Every day after school I would jump off the bus and run up to my grandma’s house. That is where Noel would be waiting for me and together we would do homework.
“Do you have spelling words today Hannah?” was the first thing he would say when I walked in. I did not understand why he asked me this every day, because every day I would say yes.
“Yes I do. Why do you ask me that every day?” I asked him one time. It took him a little bit to think of an answer.
“I don’t know, I guess I just forget” he finally replied. I did not get how someone could forget a conversation from one day to the next, but I just shrugged it off and started spelling. Noel would write in his little tablet and write every one of my words five times, and I would do the same. Since I was only in first grade, my grandma would come and check our spelling. When everything was spelled correctly, she would say that it looked good and give us a coloring book, crayons, and an after school snack. Noel and I had a routine we would do every day. First we would do our spelling words, color, help my grandma cook supper, set the table, dry dishes, and then go up to his room and “feed the banks.”
Noel had a huge collection of banks that he collected, and every night we would put a penny in each one. My favorite bank was of a little dog and a clown. Then he would lay down on his bed and I would sit in the rocking chair and listen as he told me about trains and how he worked on the railroad. It was not until third grade that I realized that Noel was not like the other people in my family. I asked my mom about it one night and she told me:
“Noel is special; he is a little boy in an adult’s body. And he will be like that forever.” This only confused me more, but decided to drop it. As I got older I learned the truth about Noel. Noel was born in Three Rivers, Canada. When he was about four years old his family moved to Somerset, Wisconsin.
Since Noel was from Canada, his first language was French; his inter family moved here not understating any English. At first Noel went to school at Saint Anne’s Catholic school. Noel’s father took him out the same year he started. When the other students were doing their work and understanding what was going on, Noel did not. He was trying to learn a second language, as well as everything else that his teachers were trying to teach him. The nuns knew he was retarded, but thought punishment would help him remember. They would slap his fingers with rulers till they bled. After his short experience at school, Noel learned English from his mother and worked around home. When he was in his early twenties, Noel went to work for the railroad tracks for nineteen years. Not only did Noel work at the railroad he would do all sorts of odd jobs. He would cut grass, pick up cans in the ditch, shovel snow. No matter what, Noel always had some sort of job.
When Noel was with family we tretarded him how we tretarded everyone else, but sadly the outside world did not. When Noel was on walk one day, some teenagers gave him what he thought were cigarettes, but in reality they were marijuana. It makes me sad how people could do this to Noel. Everybody in Somerset knew how Noel was. How could people be so cruel to one another?
Recently my mother and I were talking about Noel and how we should go and visit him. We were talking about memories with Noel and my mom told me about a memory she had of Noel. They had been whacting a news story about how a lawyer who was trying to prove that his client was innocent because the man was rerated and did not know that killing people was wrong.
“That man is not retarded…I am…he is just crazy” It surprised my mom about what Noel said. But thinking about this made me think it makes sense. Noel is not stupid; he just does not get it sometimes, or it takes him longer to understand things. He knows when you are talking about him or trying to take advantage of him. If you act like he cannot do anything he will let you do things for him. Noel would have you going up and down stairs all day if you think you were going to baby him. He is capable of doing many things and always could if people could have just gotten over that he was “retarded”.
Noel had an education stolen from him that he deserved. He could have learned to do math, how to read and write. But at the time he went to school there were none of the learning programs that there are today. Noel would have been able to have done it all.
I have my very own personal experience to live through it and not watch it happen or hear about it. I have dyslexia. I remember in kindergarten when my teacher told me I was not trying hard enough when we were learning to read; or when in fourth grade when I asked the teacher to read a page to me how the classed laughed at me and said I was retarded. I remember how crushed I felt going home both nights thinking I was stupid and crying each time. In my second grade year I found out that i have a learning disability. From then on I had special classes just for reading and language. As I got older, I went to a special teacher in Stillwater. I did that for four years and I made massive progress over the years. But I still felt stupid; in fifth grade, for example I was working out of a work book that was set up for a third grade reading level. It felt like a slap in the face, all that hard work and there I was at the third grade reading level.
My biggest problem is that words and letters get all messed up and out of order when I read, so I cannot make sense of it. I could be reading a page and all of a sudden the easiest word in the world is the biggest obstacle. Most the time if I can hear the passage said out loud, I can make a picture in my head and everything makes sense once again. I remember from when I was little how I did not want to leave the room to get my test read to me; I still have problems with this to this day. When I got back from taking my test kids would ask me why I left and where I went. Sometimes they would just be like okay and walk away, but there was always the group who would not let it go and bug me about it all day. Saying how I was stupid or retarded and that I would never be good at anything. As I got older, people grow up and quite asking as much. Now when people ask why I leave, I just tell them, but I am always scared that someone will say something.
People use words all the time that they do not fully understand the full meaning of. Sometimes it is just the context that they use the words in. In the hallway I hear people use the word retarded in the strangest context and it hurts every time.
“Go to the tard room” or “you’re a retard” or “look who’s retarded now” there are so many different ways I hear retarded used every day I hear people say this and it echoes in my brain all day long. The way people say it, as if does not mean anything at all; it is just a word. But it’s not just a word. Retard has a huge meaning that not many people understand, or feel the say way I feel about it. And they never will, but hopefully after reading my paper that changes their mind. They can see how a simple word can be turned into dagger that stabs into someone’s emotions.
When I first started writing this essay I meant it to only be about a page. As I went along memories and more memories came pouring into my mind that I have thought over the years. Almost all of them I have keeped locked in my head for what feels like forever. The easiest way to end this paper would be to just say
“Please, pretty please would it be possible for people to stop using the word retarded.”