Sixth grade was almost over, and I was looking forward to the summer, a long stretch of time during which I could read, write and think without my classmates’ harassment. Although this was almost definitely not accurate, I knew everyone hated me, and I would move on to seventh grade in the junior high, which meant a bigger school where even more people could hate me.
The spring morning was gorgeous, and the sixth grade was lined up in two lines: boys in one line, girls in the other. That time before the morning bell rang was the second worst time of the day. (The only time which was worse was lunch and recess. I had lined up lots of activities to get out of these times: newspaper, helping in the computer lab, art lessons, writing enrichment. But they didn’t work every day). I stood between the lines, talking to my male co-helper in the computer lab when a kid named Bryan Otis, who had made fun of me every day for the last two years or so, began to tease me by ordering me to get into the right line.
My mother knew about the teasing kids, of course, and her advice to ignore them flashed across my brain. I knew she was right, but … “Why would I want to, Otis?” I heard myself say. I was as startled as my classmates were, maybe even as startled as the kid who had suddenly been moved into the scapegoat position with one quick move.
“You call me my right name!” he shouted, “Or don’t talk to me at all!”
“Ok,” I told him, my serenity surprising me even more. “Why would I want to, … Bry-an?”
Then I stopped, my bravado gone. The bell commanded us to go inside. A few kids congratulated me under the clamor of our entrance. But I felt ashamed.
For so many years, I had tried to listen to my mother, to ignore kids who made fun of my blindness and geekiness. But I always ended up crying instead, giving them more ammunition. Still my mom’s advice stayed the same. She would advocate for any of my academic needs, but the social issues were mine to work out. After all, her telling the teachers to intervene would only make things worse for me. I was just as conflict-phobic as my mother, and yet here I was, starting conflict. I burned with this new power, a combination of pride and intense shame. And after that incident, the kids more or less left me alone. I moved on to junior high and made more friends, and oddly enough, the few relapses were easier for me to ignore. Just one outburst had helped.
Now as a parent myself, I wonder what to say if and when my son comes home from school with a story about being teased. Of course, I don’t want to advocate violence or even insults. I don’t want him to feel like he is alone in his feelings either. Perhaps I will tell him this story, letting him read between the lines: on very specific and desperate occasions, verbal retaliation is not always a bad thing. Or maybe by then, I’ll figure out another way to help him work it out.
Kristen Witucki is a writer whose work has appeared in The Huffington Post. She has been totally blind since birth. She graduated from Vassar College with a BA in English, a minor in German and certification to teach English in New York State. To support herself, Kristen works in the Member Services Department at Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic. She has written a novel which she hopes someday to publish. She lives in Central New Jersey (where New York is the big city) with her partner, James, who is also totally blind, and with her guide dog, a black lab named Tad and with their new baby boy, Langston.
You can follow Kristen at her blog and on Twitter. We would also LOVE for you to vote for her to win a new Medela breastpump for her return to work next week. As Kristen says, “This pump is lighter and just as powerful, which is extra valuable to someone who uses public transit and a Seeing Eye dog with which to travel. I had to put up a picture and write a 25-word caption, so I used my caption to highlight the fact that blind people can and do parent. I would appreciate your sending this to any friends you have who are interested in promoting breastfeeding, promoting blind or nontraditional parents, or procrastinating. It would also be wonderful for the fact of a successful blind parent to be shown to Medela and all the hospital professionals and other medical personnel who use the site.”