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For No Particular Reason

October 13, 2007

I wasn’t the most popular kid in high school, that’s for sure, but I was certainly not part of the “sit-by-yourself-at-lunch” group either. Being the only kid in the entire school with a visible disability made things challenging. But I was lucky in that I had carried over a bunch of friends from grade school. They WERE part of the “cool-kids” group. And so I had an in, I got to hang with the fun kids, go to the cool parties, and sit with a large group at lunch. And when I started having parties too, well my popularity grew even more.

All of that seems so trivial now, but you all know that at that age, it means absolutely everything.  So why am I thinking about all this? Well, a post on Violet’s blog led me to this site where people are telling sad stories about their school days. I read a few stories and while some seemed horrible, others left me wondering how the writer would even remember that, let alone hold on to it. And so I started to wonder if I had any stories, and of course, like everyone else, I do. I just don’t dwell on it much, I’m over it. But if you’re interested, here it is.

My high school was still fairly small when I started in grade nine. It had only opened five years earlier, and so the entire population was only about 650 students. Of that, I was the only one in a wheelchair. That’s sounds strange nowadays, but as one of the first kids in my city to be re-integrated into “regular” schools, it was just the norm for me.  With the help of some of my friends from grade school I made new friends quickly. Other kids weren’t sure what to make of me at first, but once they realized I was just a regular guy except for the wheels, they came around.  Except for all the usual anxieties and self-consciousness that the awkward teen years bring, high school for me was a pretty much a breeze. Pretty much, but not completely.

Jim (not real name) was tall lanky kid. Same grade as me, and in fact despite not being related at all, we had the same last name. He was one of those guys that just doesn’t quite know how to interact socially, and in high school, nobody is going to help you learn that skill, so you become a bit of an outcast. But he seemed ok with it, he was good friends with a group of kids that had similar problems, and together they seemed quite happy doing their thing. They had their own little clique.

So things hummed along quite nicely, until one day I exited a stall in the men’s washroom, and there was Jim. Just starring me with hatred. I pretended not to notice, washed my hands and headed for the door. He blocked my path. I went left, he went left, I went right, so did he. Finally I said, “Jim, what the hell, let me out”  “F!ck you, you worthless piece of sh!t!!” I looked at him stunned. My brain was reeling. What did I do to piss this guy off? I hadn’t done anything. “What’s your problem?” I asked  “You’re my problem you piece of garbage. You don’t deserve to be alive! People like you should be killed!” And with that he stepped aside. Adding “Go home and die you useless piece of shit!!” as I made my way out of the washroom and into the hallway.

I got back to class and sat there trembling. Not out of fear, but out of anger. I wanted beat his head in with a crow bar. I wanted to pour gas on him and set him on fire. But I calmed myself down. Maybe he’s having a bad day or something, whatever, he’s a loser, forget about it. And I tried.

Except I couldn’t. He wouldn’t let me. Every time he caught me alone, he tore into me. It was always the same message. I was worthless garbage and didn’t deserve to live. He would say it with a smile and laugh in my face knowing full well I couldn’t do anything to him. He never said these things in front of others. The only other witness was Jim’s best friend Chris (not real name). Chris was a follower, and he laughed uncomfortably as Jim abused me, but I could tell he knew it was wrong.

My friends were HUGE guys and could have pummeled him easily, but they were never around to see it first hand. And I never told them. It wasn’t their problem, it was mine. And so it went on like that for years, off and on, and at some point he just gave up. To this day I don’t know why it started, and I can’t explain why it stopped either. It just did.

About 12 years later, I was taking the local disabled transit bus to work. It was a new driver that day, and when he got off the bus to lower the ramp I thought he looked familiar.  “You don’t remember me do you?” he asked.  I looked at him for a few seconds, “Chris?”

He smiled, “yeah, how are you Syl?” 

We talked for a while, small talk, catching up. The usual.

There was a pause. He looked at me in the rearview mirror when we had stopped at light.

“Have you heard what happened to Jim?” he asked.

I wanted to say I didn’t give a shit. But I just said  “no”

“Well, he moved to Toronto, and got married and had a kid” he said.

“Oh that’s nice” I said, trying to fake an interest.

“Yeah” another pause. “Then last year he killed himself with a shotgun.”

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2007 11:18 pm

    Bullying is interesting isn’t it? My first thought was who is abusing this boy Jim?
    He in turn picks on you, someone who can’t fight back. Easy. I’d say he was a real troubled human being. Such a sad life. Sorry you had to suffer his wrath.
    Glad you grew up and were able to let it go. (Also very well written piece, Syl.)
    Two story writers in the same house!

  2. October 14, 2007 9:50 am

    Misery breeds misery breeds misery – but, for me, that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, y’know? *sigh* And yet, it keeps going…

    AND.. I had no idea that kids in wheelchairs weren’t previously allowed into regular ol’ public schools! Or was it just that the (ancient) schools weren’t architecturally equipped with ramps and appropriately-sized doorways and the like and, without the required legislation (or, um, common sense) to make accessibility possible?

  3. October 14, 2007 10:14 am

    The person who tormented me the most in school ended up dropping out to have her baby. Then she came back, graduated I think. The next time I heard of her, it was to see her photo in the paper along with several other prostitutes who had been murdered in Little Rock. Amazing the power I allowed her to have over me, never realizing how sad her life was.

  4. Sylvain permalink*
    October 14, 2007 1:27 pm

    Violet, it wasn’t so much that we weren’t allowed, but that it just wasn’t done. The special kids went to special schools and then went to a special place where they had menial jobs supported by non-profits and government. Very few entered mainstream society. Lucky for me, I was born just at the right time when attitudes started to change. Those who were able were encouraged to take the “normal” path and participate fully in society. Some might argue that now integration has moved too far, but I’d rather not tread into that debate.

  5. Sylvain permalink*
    October 14, 2007 1:43 pm

    Oh, and also you are quite correct. Schools, and all public/government buildings were not accessible. Finding an accessible washroom anywhere was a near impossible task. When I was transferred back to my regular school in grade 7, (1980), a special consultant had to visit months ahead and advise them on what needed to be done. They had to renovate a bathroom, build a ramp to the front door, minor things like that. A waste of tax dollars was the sentiment quietly mumbled amongst seemingly intelligent caring adults. I wish I could meet them now and show them how much income tax I pay in a year. Short sighted small minded ignorant asses.

  6. October 14, 2007 9:32 pm

    Yes, yes! Let’s shout them all down! Way down!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Interesting sign at a new building in town. It’s blue/handicapped sign right in front of a door says “Not an Entrance and then an arrow. Why not just say Accessable door this way…>
    Just hit me wrong “not an entrance.” Its obviously a DOOR. It is an entrance for some. Not an entrance FOR YOU GUYS. I didn’t like it. Rubbed me the wrong way.
    Does it strike you weirdly too or not? Wondering.

  7. October 14, 2007 9:50 pm

    Yeah, that sounds like an attempted helpful sign gone terribly wrong. I saw something similar once on my trip to Vancouver Island while visiting Cathedral Grove (a park with trails through giant redwoods) One of the trails was marked with the usual blue wheelchair sign, only this one had a circle around it with a slash thru the middle, like a no-smoking sign. I knew that the intent was “do not attempt this trail if you are in a wheelchair as it is not safe” But it looked more like, “we don’t want your kind on this trail, go away” A simple “Not safe for wheelchairs” would have been better. (assuming people can read).

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