It was his first year in high school. He was too young to be in high school. Born prior to WWII, and an only child, his mother had taught him the alphabet and how to add low numbers. He was too smart to be in kindergarten so he was ‘promoted’ to first grade much to his mother’s delight but which in actuality was a curse.
It became obvious from his first day in the advanced grade that he was ‘different’. He wrote with the wrong hand. He used his left hand which was a ‘no, no’. The teacher worked laboriously to have him use his right hand but to no avail. It was widely held that anyone perceived to be left-handed was the victim of genetic dysfunction or mental illness which had produced a birth defect known as left-handedness. This boy had no knowledge that he was ‘different’, not yet anyway, and continued to use his left hand.
He was raised in the industrial northeast during and after WWII. It was not the best of settings for a boy who proved to be sensitive and made to feel self-conscious about himself. It was not just being left handed that made him different. He was slight of build and small for his age. He had ears that stuck out which made him the target of every bully’s ridicule. Besides his ears he had a large discolored scar on the back of his neck which had been the result of birth and a radiation burn. Back in those days ones hair was cut way up on the neck which only added to the exposure of the scar. He would be asked incessantly ‘what happened to your neck?’ and he would do his best to explain. He could feel the bone that protruded in his neck but he had never seen the scar. He learned how to use a hand held mirror so he could see his neck’s reflection in a stationary mirror. When he saw the scar he himself shuttered. No wonder he was asked so many questions.
His life was not fulfilling. He faced insurmountable odds. His neck was a topic for discussion and his ears were a subject of ridicule. ‘Hey, Dumbo flap your ears. Let’s see you fly’. All the boy could do was smile sheepishly and hope he could walk fast enough to escape the hurt which pressed upon his chest. He went to bed at night, crying, fearful of what he would encounter the next day.
And now he was in high school. You have to give him credit. He tried to fit in but as was stated he was too young; too emotionally immature; too physically underdeveloped. No one recognized the agony he was enduring, not his parents, not the teachers, not his classmates as if they would even be concerned if they knew. They were too busy sharpening their knives on him.
The high school sponsored a back to school dance his freshman year. He was scared but he wanted to go. He gathered up his courage and asked a girl he liked if she would go to the dance with him. What he received was not expected. She could have just said ‘no’ but she proceeded to ridicule him. ‘You have to be kidding. I wouldn’t go to a dance with you’ and went away laughing. He never got to ask another girl for a date. He loved to play baseball and made his high school freshman team. He wasn’t that good but good enough. He was a pitcher and he had ‘plans’ of playing for the New York Yankees. Sadly he would never play for any other team except his high school and when he did play he drew the hateful remarks from the opposition. He would crumble the minute he would be called ‘big ears’. If only he had voiced his opposition perhaps his teammates would have backed him up, but even that was questionable. Maybe if he had opened his mouth and told the ‘bully’s how it hurt to be called names they would have stopped; maybe he could have taken further risks and asked a different girl to the dance; maybe she would have said yes and his life might have changed; maybe if he had confided in his parents they could have nurtured him. But it was now too late. He was cursed and the door to let him out was locked from the outside. There was no handle on the inside. He was trapped.
At his funeral all present expressed shock as to why he would commit suicide. No one saw his pain. No one recognized that the ridicule he had endured left only one exit. His death stopped the insults and the pain. It did not stop cruelty. It did not stop ridicule. It did not stop ignorance.