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A Childhood Turning Point, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 953

Essay

It would be pleasant if, when we recall the moments of childhood that remain with us, they were uplifting and positive experiences.   The reality, however, is that the most intense understanding of yourself is most likely created by those situations that were, for whatever reason, painful to both live through and remember.  I believe this to be true chiefly because of one, single episode from my childhood.   It embarrasses me to recall it, always, yet I also am convinced that it moved me forward as a person, even at so young an age. A shameful action, performed when very young and with no intention of doing harm, can forge an awareness of self that resonates for a lifetime.

Quite honestly, I am not sure of how old I was, when this particular incident occurred.  I know I was in grade school, and I believe it was an early grade, at that.   I was not new to my elementary school, but I was also not especially comfortable or popular.  Even at these ages, children are beginning to gather into cliques, yet I moved between several, not quite sure where, and if, I belonged.   I only knew that I did want to belong, and be liked by certain classmates who appeared to be the natural leaders of our school.

It was recess time, and I distinctly remember that the day was warm and sunny.  In these hours, we were essentially left to our own devices; impromptu games of kickball took place, and boys and girls clustered together to whisper and gossip, or talk about TV shows and movies.   I tended to drift into whatever setting seemed least intimidating to me, hoping that I would simply be allowed to join in and be valued for doing so.  This was not a burning ambition, nor was I particularly insecure.  I was, I think, merely more aware of the dynamics going on around me, and consequently more apprehensive of entering into any.

“Hey. Get over here!”  This was called out to me by a girl I barely knew, and one whom I respected as a leader.  It took me a moment, in fact, to understand that she was calling to me.

“What’s going on?”  I asked this even as I was already moving toward her.  Ahead of her, I saw a crowd, or a circle of others.

“This is great,” she said, her back to me. “He’s retarded.”

Approaching the other children, the words only barely reached me.  Then the girl who had summoned me took hold of my arm; it struck me that I was, somehow, an acquisition.

“This is hysterical,” she whispered into my ear.  “Watch.”  What I saw was a mentally handicapped boy from a special class in the center of the circle of children.  He was being teased, as a ball was being thrown over his head and around him, back and forth.  Clearly, the “game” was to see how long this boy could be taunted, and comply in trying to grab a ball he had no chance of getting.   All the kids surrounding him were cheering, urging him on, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

“Bobby, come on, you’re not trying!”  This was yelled out by the girl who had brought me to this circle, and I was suddenly conflicted in a way completely new to me.  On one level, I was distinctly aware that the most popular kids from my grade were here, and that this inclusion of me translated to a kind of status in their eyes.  On another, and as a reflex, I believe, I was absorbed in the handicapped boy.  He was laughing and jumping, seemingly overjoyed to be the center of attention and in the game.  I remember feeling that, given his obvious state of happiness, nothing truly wrong could be occurring.

Then someone threw the ball to me.  In that instant, I held it and saw the object of this game stare at me, panting, his eyes gleaming, eager to try to intercept my throw.  I was, in a word, horrified.  In that moment, taking in the innocence of the boy’s face, I felt as though I had joined in on an absolutely vile activity, and one made even more despicable by the boy’s willingness to be made an object of fun.   It was not that, suddenly, I no longer wished to be popular: I did, as that desire would remain with me for some time.  It was more that the moment removed any choice I might have had.  I was simply too disgusted with myself for standing there, even for those few moments, to consider anything else.

“I need to go,” I stammered to the girl who had recruited me.  “Sorry, I forget something,” I added,  excusing myself by not condemning what they were doing, as I wish I had done.  Not surprisingly, nobody attempted to stop me, and I heard the game go on behind me as I hurried away.   I was not, of course, entirely sure of what had just transpired.  Nonetheless, a variety of thought and feelings were emerging, and one of them was a kind of certainty.  Nothing mattered to me at that point beyond removing myself from that cruel game.   I was not judging the others, even, nor was I suddenly aware of possessing a finer character.  I merely knew I had to get away because I could not participate in what was, viscerally to me, an ugly scenario.   This brief episode remains etched in my mind, as both a shameful moment I passed, and as a reason for what I will call hope.  I did abandon that game, and this encouraged, and encourages, me to believe that I can see what the right thing to do is, when the crowd says otherwise.

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