When I was seven, and in second grade, the school secretary would directly contact the teachers and students through an intercom system installed in each room. This could be a good thing, or a bad thing. Depending. If your parents were there to get you out of school early to go to the circus, it was a good thing. If your mom was there to bring you a dry pair of undies because you'd wet the ones you were wearing while waiting in line for the toilet...not so good.
This story is about neither a good thing, nor a not-so-good thing. Rather, it is about an ADHD moment, and a defining moment in my life, when I realized that not everyone saw life the way I did. I apologize in advance to anyone whom this story may offend, but it really did happen this way and it really was 1974, which was not a time when political-correctness abounded. I mean, Nixon was still in the White House. I'm just sayin'.
So, I'm seven, it's 1974 and Randy Ferg (names altered to protect the innocent) sat in front of me in Mrs. Anderson's classroom. Everybody was in their seat, except for Randy, who apparently missed the bus. I'm checking over my math homework, prior to turning it in. Just then, Mrs. Tucker's voice came through on the intercom.
Mrs. Tucker: "Mrs. Anderson? Randy Ferg's mother called in. He's gone retarded and won't be in until after lunch."
Mrs. Anderson (nodding and making a notation in her gradebook): "Alright Mrs. Tucker. Thank you for letting us know."
What?? I looked wildly around the room. To my left was Art Felt, whom we all called "Artie-Fartie." He was casually chatting up the girl next to him. Neither of them showed any signs of shock, surprise or disbelief regarding Mrs. Tucker's announcement. In fact, the entire classroom appeared calm, collected and ready to learn. HAD THE WORLD GONE MAD???
My mind raced with questions, too fast for normal human thought to register. First, and foremost was the question - you can just go retarded??? You could just wake up retarded?? How? Was it contagious? I'd shared part of my peanut butter sandwich with Randy earlier in the week. Should I go see the nurse? My hand hovered in the air for a split-second before I was overcome with even more questions. If you go retarded, then your mom just calls you in? Like if you had the flu? I mean, poor Randy. And how had Randy's mom known that he'd gone retarded? Had Randy himself told her? If so, how? And if he did tell her, how had HE known? I mean, wasn't he retarded now? And how did she know he wasn't faking it, just to get out of going to school? Or had Randy's mother Just Known? And was it reversible?? Obviously so, if Randy's mom planned on bringing him to school after lunch.
For the rest of that morning, I waited and I watched. And I wondered why Mrs. Anderson wasn't moving desks to make room for Randy's wheelchair, which he would probably need now that he'd gone retarded. I recall thinking that Mrs. Anderson didn't seem to CARE about Randy's situation, and that ticked me off. So much so, that I decided to do something about it.
During lunchtime recess, I gathered all of my classmates around me in a huddle. It went down something like this:
Me: "Ok guys. You all heard what Mrs. Tucker said about Randy this morning, right?"
Artie-Fartie: "Yeah, he's going to be late. Man, he better have my Stretch Armstrong with him. He promised he'd bring it back yesterday."
Me: "Forget about Stretch Armstrong Artie-Fa..Artie! Poor Randy has bigger problems!"
Artie-Fartie: "Oh yeah? Like what?"
Me: "Well, like going retarded, for one."
The general consensus among my classmates was that nobody had heard Mrs. Tucker tell Mrs. Anderson that Randy had gone retarded. I was the only one who heard it. Some kids actually dared to accuse me of making it up! I was outraged, but I also knew I was right, and assigned jobs accordingly.
Me: "Joe, you can push Randy in his wheelchair. And Sue, you'll need to count out Randy's lunch money everyday, cuz he probably forgot how to add and stuff."
More silence. Two girls wandered off toward the swings. Whatever. This was not the first, nor would it be the last, time I would swim against popular opinion. The bell rang and we slowly trickled to our classrooms.
Back in our room, wonder of wonders, was Randy! I looked him up and down, checking for any signs that he recognized me. He looked the same as he had the day before. Good for him! As the bell rang, and we settled into our seats, Randy slowly turned in his seat until he was facing me. I expected that he was getting ready to ask for help tying his shoes, and flexed my fingers in preparation.
Randy: "Um...did you tell everybody at school that I'd gone retarded?"
Me: "You can TALK!"
Randy: "Um, yeah. Just like I could yesterday. So, why did you tell everybody I was retarded?"
Me: "Mrs. Tucker told us."
Randy: "Mrs. Tucker said I was retarded?"
By this time, our little exchange had the attention of the entire second grade. I sat up a little bit straighter and lifted my chin. This was Mrs. Tucker's mistake, no way was I going to take the fall.
Me: "That's right! She came over the loudspeaker and said 'Mrs. Anderson. Randy Ferg's mother called and said he won't be here till after lunch, he's gone retarded."
Randy closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath.
"Not retarded, you idgit! TARDY! My mom called and said I was going to be tardy!"
So. I didn't have super hearing abilities after all. What I did have was wax build-up in my left ear. This, when combined with my vivid imagination, distractibility, lack of impulse control, high emotional output, naivete, and utter belief in the rightness of my conviction, led to just one of what would be many misunderstandings in my life.
Randy, if you're out there, you know who you are. This goes out to you.