Then a Father and a young teen with Down Syndrome come rushing by. They are back in a few seconds and Dad instructs Teen to wait on the couches as he checks out. She settles back into the softness of the cushions and, like me, watches. I glance at her and realize she hasn't seen me. Sitting still in my chair I've become a potted plant. I feel a smile flicker across my face. "So Visible, Easy to Miss" I sing to myself the first couple lines from the Cory Hart song.
The noise is heard before the frenetic activity is seen. A group of 5, seeming like 25, young teens enter the lobby as a unit, a 20 legged beast. The boys, 2 of them, are struggling to keep up with the 3 girls who talk quickly bouncing words off each other with skill and precision. The girl next to me watchs them. I watch her watch them. She looks at them with ... not envy ... maybe longing. A smile lights up her face and she leans forward with 'notice me and include me' anticipation.
Then one of the boys drops something he'd been holding in his hand. A girl scoops it up and hands it back to him saying, "Stop being so r#tarded, will you?" Then they all pounce on him laughing and teasing, the word r#tard flew around. It left their mouths aimed solidly at his self esteem, it missed the target and instead landed solidly to my left. An anticipated longing to belong became a fearful wish not to be seen, for invisibility. Hurt flooded her face. R#tard pierced her heard, her soul, her wish to live.
I was choked with anger. I wanted to cause a scene but knew that was exactly the wrong thing to do. I rolled my chair a bit forward and the movement caught her eye, she looked over at me and now I see tears, unfallen, in her eyes. I rolled my eyes and said, "What mean mouths they have." She nodded silently, startled at my presence.
I looked away. Hoping that my simple message finds its way down deep inside her. Hoping that the realization that they are simply issuing mean words from mean mouths will ... at some point comfort her. Hoping that she comes to realize that she has the power - inside - to withstand whatever comes - outside.
Her dad is back, she gets up and they walk by the group. Who notice her. She stares at the with a mixture of hostility and understanding. "She knows," I think, "she knows."
The group of teens, notice her notice them, one of the girls says, "Oh my God, I think she heard."
I'm surprised, deeply surprised, that in that voice was regret. Then the girl covers her face and runs out of the lobby, extremely upset. The other four look confused. Then 16 legs follow the missing girl down the hallway a buzz of words flying around them.
I'm relieved that they are gone. I'm drained from the anger, unspilled. But more, I feel unable and insignificant. How, how, how, how, do we get the idea that 'r#tard' is a hateful word that hurts teen girls with Down Syndrome across to those who just don't get it? Yet even girls who know better still fling it around. What do we do?
I don't know.
And not knowing what to do or how to do it - leaves me feeling inadequate. Hopeless.
By God, I hate that word.