The Stupid Speech
I proclaimed “Bullshit” in full-tilt teacher voice as soon as the student finished his sentence. You could have heard a pin drop, had anyone in the class dared to drop anything.
Months later, a student would describe it to me as “that day you lost your temper,” but he was only half right. Genuine anger impelled the speech, but it was entirely calculated. I had seen the moment coming; I selected my words carefully. I had a message to send, and I wanted them to talk about it for as many months afterward as I could muster. I had only been waiting for the comment that would bring it all out into the open.
“You shouldn’t expect us to get this, Mr. Love,” John had said. “We’re just botards.”
botard, [BOE – tahrd] n. (slang) a derogatory term for one who studies vocational
education, suggestive of reduced intelligence. Origin a combination of BOCES
(New York State’s Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which handles
vocational training) and “retard.”
“Bullshit,” I spat. “That is absolute bullshit and it’s an excuse. I don’t care what you plan to do for a living, you are capable of this, and don’t you dare tell yourselves otherwise. Is reading an 18th century essay hard? Yes! But don’t you dare pretend you can’t do it because you go to BOCES. Do you know how much intelligence it takes to fix a car, or cook, or run heavy equipment? I have a Master’s Degree. I couldn’t change the oil in my car to save my life. I could write a lovely poem about it, but I have no clue how to do it. I can’t fix an engine. I can’t blend makeup. I barely recognize any colors that don’t appear in a basic Crayola box. Intelligence comes in a hundred different shapes. I don’t ever want to hear the word “botard” again. The idea that people who get trained in a trade are dumb is bullshit.”
“Jeez Mr. Love, OK,” John said, awkward, surprised smile on his face. (I was glad it was John. I knew he’d roll with it.)
“Not at all mad at you, John,” I added. “It could have just as easily been someone else. But you’re smarter than some people give you credit for, and it pisses me off.”
And then we discussed our excerpt from Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Want people to be smarter?
Stop telling them they’re stupid.
Pa calls me dumber than rocks all the time, especially when he asks for my help, but also when he doesn't. He called me dumber than a rock when I was sitting at the kitchen table stirring my Ovaltine and Ma was right by us fixin' breakfast on the stove. "I didn't mean to spill it." I said, cause I didn't and then cause he made me real mad I also said, "My name is Ralph, not Dumber, not Than, and not Rocks, and then he said, "You're dumb like a fox," and Ma said afterward, patting me on the back real soft, real nice, "That means he thinks your smart, Ralph." Why doesn't he make up his mind?
Ma calls me stupid, but never to my face, only when she's on the phone with Gertie late at night and she thinks I'm fast asleep, but I'm not. Sometimes I just lay awake for no reason at all listening to night sounds, the owls hoot and the squirrels scurrying on the roof, wishing I was one of them instead of me, cause they don't use words; just screams, barks, hisses and coos, which are much easier to understand and less likely to maim.
It would make me smile if Ma could call Gertie when I do things right, like turning the compost, or stacking the wood, or shoveling the snow, but she doesn't. She only calls Gertie to tell her everything I want to forget and hearing it again makes me sad twice in one day. I didn't mean to kill Miss Sarah's kitten. I only squeezed it hard because it was the cutest thing I had ever seen I forgot for a minute how strong I am. And I didn't mean to look in Mr. & Mrs. Gimbel's bedroom window next door and see them both naked. I thought I was supposed to go help people when they moan or scream. Gertie lives so far away, I never get to see her face when Ma tells her about my mistakes. That's what she calls what I do, mistakes, and then she always says, "He's just too stupid to know better. He's really not a bad person."
So if I'm a good person, what's so bad about being stupid, or being dumb? As far as I know there are lots of really smart people, that do lots of really bad things, and not by mistake. On purpose. And as far as I know, I've never done anything bad on purpose, so why can't they just let me be just Ralph, instead of stupid Ralph or dumber than a rock Ralph. I've never met a fox, but if I do, maybe I'll ask him, "Are you really dumb or really smart, and does it matter?" Maybe he'll answer and maybe he won't.
you call the kid next to you stupid but in reality, he builds amazing robots in his basement.
you ask her 'how can she be failing history' when she stays up late trying to learn guitar and write her songs.
you assume the boy in your math class who's barely passing is stupid, but he plays the violin better than anyone.
the girl who can't sit still can climb trees in a second. she'd outrace you any time.
you call people stupid and you see stupid but you don't see how smart they really are.
My life is full of empty spaces.
Long quiet days spent listening to things that don't remind me of you: a drip against the sink basin, black cat snores, ice falling from the balcony, commercials.
I keep a list of all the things people places I can no longer enjoy: songs by <i>Toto</i>, flavored cola, beaches, fighting leprechauns, baby giggles.
This time should be about healing, but it's been about you. And I haven't figured out how to make it not. I make lists and write poems and spend more time alone than my doctor would prescribe.
Still, it would be wrong to say you never gave me anything. You gave me bruises and heartache and mental illnesses. You gave me a type of pain that made me feel like my lungs were swollen, filled with concrete and drowning.
I'm unable to clear our moments from my memory. I want it most, to let go to give up to move on. I threw you away and it's done <i>it's done</i> <i><b>it's done</i></b>; holding on to trash is stupid.
My life is full of empty spaces, now.
So I'll curl up in them and stretch and grow and sleep soundly, knowing these days are better without you.
the morning skies,
black as pitch
and shadowless, upon
which dawn has
yet to rise
for those who doubt the sun exists
I fell for you. So hard and deep that I failed to realize it sooner. I loved you so much that I forgot to shield myself. I gave you all my love but I failed to ask if you wanted it first.
The arrow flies and hits its target.
The human cries out. She lifts her head and her eyes become fixed on the milkman.
Danica dashes toward him and crashes into him. The milkman catches her in his arms.
A new arrow lands on its latest target- the milkman. The guy smiles and twirls Danica around.
The being behind all the crazy, and silly displays of love grins. Then flies off to find more targets.
Ah, young love~the lovers always seem to lose all their common sense when hit with one of the arrows. It only takes 1 shot to be affected by one of cupid’s projectiles.
#TheArcher #ProseWeeklyChallengeCLXVI Feb.2020
And Then I Knew
My mother began sleeping with Mr. Maxwell when I was 15 years old. Even now, I still only think of him as Mr. Maxwell, someone who slept over at our house a couple of times a week when, I could only assume, his wife thought he was away on business. I liked his wife. She’s wasn’t a typical rich person, not like her husband. Or at least I didn’t think she was. I didn’t know many rich people.
The first time I met Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell, I was cleaning their toilet. My mom was their housekeeper, and I helped out one day when she wasn’t feeling well. One Friday morning a week later, Mr. Maxwell walked out of my mother’s bedroom, and I felt my stomach lurch.
I couldn’t understand my mother. She had gotten herself into a dead end situation. Mr. Maxwell was never going to leave his wife for her. I knew that, especially after things continued on the same way for a full year. I also knew that she didn’t love him. She was never enthusiastic about him; there was never a glow. Even at 15, I knew a little of what love looked like, and what it didn't.
But the real kicker? Mr. Maxwell had a daughter who went to my school. She was a year behind me. I don’t think she had any idea what her father was doing; she was the type of girl who had more than enough friends and soon-to-be-more-than-friends to keep her occupied.
When I turned 16, the school held its first father vs. daughter basketball game as a fundraiser. I wasn’t a great player, but I did enjoy being on the basketball team, and I really wanted to play in the game. But my father wasn’t even a memory for me, as he left before I entered the world. I had an Uncle Tommy, but he lived out of state and was in and out of jail. Mr. Maxwell would be participating with his daughter.
My partner for the game ended up being Mr. Thomas, one of our school counselors. My coach set up the whole thing as a surprise. He had his own daughter, but I know he didn’t want me to feel left out. The whole thing was humiliating.
The night before the game, my mother stood at the sink doing dishes. She had taken a bath earlier, she had on nicer-than-usual clothes, and her hair was fixed. I knew Mr. Maxwell would be paying a visit tonight. My frustration gripped me stronger than usual.
“Why are you so stupid?” I asked. “This relationship makes you look like a complete idiot, even if I’m the only other one who knows about it. You’re just thinking about yourself when I’m the one who needs someone who can be a father.”
“I’m sorry about the basketball game,” she said softly. I don’t know how she knew about it. That was clearly all she had to say to me on the issue, and we didn’t speak about the relationship again.
On my 18th birthday, I stepped off the bus to find a new car with a bow attached to the hood parked in the driveway. When I walked into the house, my mother was waiting with a cake, balloons, and an envelope. “Mom. . .” I began.
“Wait. Open this first.” Inside the envelope was a receipt that showed my first full year at Westover College, the college I wanted to attend but knew we couldn’t afford, was paid for. “Each year of schooling will be covered.”
“How is of no concern. You have what you need to live your life very differently that I have lived mine.”
And then I knew. She had waited to call in her favor for giving herself away, or maybe she had truly managed to make him fall in love with her. Either way, she had gotten what she wanted.
I stepped forward to embrace my mother, who still remains the smartest woman I have ever known.
It fidgets and twists in the wind of passing people.
It floats away in oceans of noise,
Of sing-song conversation.
Sharp as the winter cold at midnight,
Fleeting as the spilled-paint colors,
Isn’t it stupid,
That the things we need most,
The things that make us who we are,
Fly away from us so fast?
A curious cat sniffing your hand,
But fleeing at your first sign of reaching for it.
I grab it,
Think I have it,
But watch it slip away.
An untetherd boat upon the sea,
An unraveling thread of story.
And it’s so stupid.
I need that thought so much.
But it’s gone before I can understand its meaning,
Before I can observe its true beauty.
I reach for one,
But it’s like trying to grab one thing from the bottom of a pile.
I grab it,
I pull it,
And the pile scatters around my feet.
Isn’t it stupid?
I am trying to hard just to assemble my thoughts,
Into logical lines,
Like a child’s lines of toy soldiers.
But I can’t.
And isn’t it stupid,
That I am so scatterbrained?
I was stupid for loving you with all my heart and soul.
You were stupid to leave me, as if you could ever find another like me.