The most difficult thing he ever told me was that he'd overheard his mother say, "If I'd known I would have had an abortion." He cried hard while telling me. He was one of the few who never asked where his parents were, when at Christmas, they never came to get him. He was one of the few who lived, abandoned, in contentment. But the occasional bursts of self injury had brought us together - me as a behaviour therapist, he as someone who needed to learn to express rage without hurting himself so badly.
She had been on her way through the food court, purchases resting happily her her shopping bag, on her way to the bus stop just outside the door of the mass eatery. A group of boys, watching her began talking loudly about her - to each other in pretense - to her in reality. "Hey," said one boy, "you ever tasted Ret-ard c-nt"? The resulting laughter brought on even more vulgar conversation. The words struck at her. The ugly sexuality of the words frightened her. She was traumatized. She felt raped by the very words spoken. She developed extreme panic attacks out in the community. Years after the incident she had a severe panic attack, she died, the doctor said, of fright.
I have just finished my last booked 'train the trainer' on abuse prevention. I have travelled the province over. Every single time, in every single town, people with disabilities have talked, confided, about the impact of words. Without exception, at some point in the workshop, someone has mentioned bullying and the violence of words thrown at them. I've been in small, small communities and heard of intolerance and hatred. I've been in Canada's largest city and heard of the violence of words.
And I've learned something. That there is no place safe. No universal sanctuary from the assault of words. The core of the family - where words tumble carelessly and thoughtlessly out of the words of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and uncles and aunts and grandparents. The core of the community where gangs of roaming youth, where store clerks but their hands in plastic bags so they don't have to touch what's been touched by 'them', where security guards remove the victim from the mall as a solution to bullying. The core of services where staff, when angry, are professionally hurtful - using language that demeans and tones that assault. There is no place safe.
But I am not hopeless.
But I am not despairing.
I am not.
Because, and only because, as I've travelled this province, as I've listened to people tell of their treatment, I am hearing something new, something different. The first time I taught teens with disabilities about bullying and teasing years ago, I found a passive acceptance of the bullying - that's what you get for being different. That's gone. Completely gone. I first noticed it in the northern most community I visited - where Joe and I were doing the abuse prevention workshop, where staff were learning to do it themselves, where people with disabilities had graciously agreed to let the workshop be viewed so staff could learn to do it, a voice spoke out about bullying and teasing. A voice told a story of unkind words, words with sharp edges, thrown at him. And others murmured. An angry murmur. There was a frozen moment where those who had experienced what was described became unified in anger. There was a change, I realized, brewing. They knew it was wrong. They knew it was undeserved. They knew it needed to stop.
And yesterday, my last training day booked, after travelling thousands of miles, north, south, east, west, I heard it again. One man spoke of being teased. A woman with Down Syndrome looked at him and said, 'Me too.' For a second I saw the faces of the others with disabilities set - realization first, determination next. They knew. Like they all knew. That they weren't responsible.
It is that realization, maybe that alone, that sparks the beginning of revolution. Because once the realization that 'respect' should be expected not gifted hits - things change.
I'm ready for change.