When Rose handed me the box, I was thrilled. The cards, used to confront those who use hateful words like 'retard', were finally in my hand. I pulled one out and it was better than I expected. It felt like accomplishment. I was tremendously proud of my agency for producing them, incredibly proud to be part of a movement, incredibly ready to start using them.
On Saturday morning, we were headed over to our local mall to shop and arrange a pharmacy transfer (don't ask, I may tell) and such the like. I listened like I had ears twice normal size. Though the place was busy, though there were people everywhere. I never heard the word once. I was both pleased and disappointed at the same time. I realized that these cards had created in me a mission. A need to make a difference. I was now ready for what I used to fear.
The next day we went to church and then stopped at a big grocery store down near the lake. We needed a couple specialty items that we had not been able to locate in our local grocery. The cards were tucked in both my bag and my wallet. I was armed and ready. Joe left me to go upstairs to the washroom and I went over to the magazine rack. There were two boys there, 13ish, looking at music zines. One of them said it. The exact quote? Said while pointing to a picture in a magazine, "These guys are so retarded."
I reached back into my bag, grabbed a card and handed it to the boy. Just as I did so, his mother came round the corner and saw me as I rolled back over to continue looking at a cooking magazine. I tried to read but all I could do was pretend to read as I watched out of the corner of my eye. She took the card from the kid, he didn't even have a chance to look at it. She read it. Grew red in the face and over she headed.
"What do you mean by this?" she asked, furious.
"The card explains it," I said, "He used the word 'retard,' it's a hurtful word, he needs to think about what he is saying and who is hearing him."
"How dare you ..." she started.
It was like I've been waiting for this confrontation all my life, "How dare I? How dare I?" My voice was loud, she was looking a bit frightened of my anger, "You raise a child that uses hateful bigotted words, you parent a kid that freely uses language that denigrates others, and you are upset with me?"
"He didn't ..."
"Don't tell me he didn't mean anything. There's only one thing that word means. It means those he considers stupid, considers less than him, considers worthless. It means only one thing. He knows what it means and so do you. Don't give me that. It's a word that hurts, it's a word that's meant to hurt." My heart was beating hard in my chest. I thought I was going to drop over.
"I've raised him to be considerate ..."
"Well, you've failed. And no wonder, if you are confronting ME because of the language HE used, then he's got a poor role model. I'd be ashamed if I had a child that used racist, sexist, homophobic or disphobic language."
"You're a stupid son of a bitch, that's what you are ..."
"Then I've much in common with your son."
She grabbed him by the arm, he'd been standing transfixed at the confrontation between his mother and I. Joe got back and I was shaking. He wanted to know what was wrong, I just wanted to shop and get out of there.
We found our 'specialty item' for a 'specialty recipe' ... don't ask, I may tell ... and we were on the elevator on the way down. They were just ahead of us, mother walking like she was still angry. Women can walk mad way more emphatically than men can. Her boy, the kid who used the word, kept glancing back at me. He said something to her, broke away from her, and ran back.
I braced myself. He came at me with speed, I thought he might hit me.
And he did.