3 / 10

A Stain One Can't Get Out

When I was a child I was disabled.
Not in an obvious way that could not be denied.
I was frail and thin, asthmatic, allergic
And poorly coordinated
So that in the schoolyard and the streets
I wasn't like the other boys.
Always chosen last for the softball team.

And I had trouble learning and needed
All sorts of extra help, at which I chafed.
During the day I was taken
Out of the regular class.
Singled out for special help
With reading, spelling and arithmetic
Which made me feel ashamed

And I was made to stay for extra tutoring,
After the other children had left the school
And were at play, and also in the summertimes,
Which were supposed to be for respite and for fun.
So in the classroom, too, and in my life
I was not like the other children,
But felt less; somehow inferior and stupid.
And I resented it, including all the help.

No, my disability was not the obvious kind
Which could not be denied.
But still I felt the pity or concern
Of parents, teachers and some children
Who were kind and the disdain of others who were not.

And I did not like it, wanted to deny it,
And daydreamed in the classroom,
Doodled in my homework book
Or watched butterflies during ball games
As grounders sped on past me
Where I was relegated to the outfield.

I resented all the help, but help it did.
I learned to read if not quickly voraciously
(at least mystery and detective stories,
Where heroes triumph, overcome
And punish the assaults of others.)
I earned a Ph.D. and authored several books
So no one could ever say that I was stupid.

And I became a social worker and psychotherapist
Helping and defending others who are disabled,
Though not in obvious ways that can not be denied,
And a friendly man and loving husband, or at least I try,
And do succeed much of the time in feeling grateful
For my blessings, and try to forget about the past.

But I can not escape the stain of my humiliation.
I can not get it out, and in the day-time
I am plagued with recurring fantasies of
Unfairness and abuse
Against which I rail, but also am afraid
Of possible retaliation for my anger,
And my defense of the position I feel I must defend

And in my dreams I often am in danger
Of being attacked and having to defend myself.
I know these dreams and fantasies are projections
(I am a psychotherapist after all)
Of my anger at the stored memories
Of real or imagined humiliations and unfairness.

Tonight I had another kind of dream.
In it I was being driven by my father
From our home in Brooklyn to a new school
In Manhattan, where I had recently enrolled.
And I pointed out to him how much further
It was I had to go than his daily trips
To see his patients at the hospital.

Then there was a handsome black man,
A boy really; a student about my age.
He had been put in jail the previous night,
But had been treated well because they thought
He was a minister, and came to him for help.
(As they come to me when I am awake.)
I commented that it was a good thing
They had not realized that he was just a boy.

He looked at me and seemed surprised, saying
That I seemed to be really angry, and I replied
That it really did upset me to think that boys,
Or others vulnerable to the pity or disdain of those
who really did not know them, could be discounted.
Then I realized it was not that I was just upset,
But also angry as he had suggested.

We went into an auditorium and I wanted to sit
Right next to him, but found his book bag on that seat.
I wished for him to lift it up to make a place for me.
But then I understood that it would be more comfortable for him
If I put my bag with his and sat one seat away,
Where we could still be close, but not so crowded.

And I felt as if he were like a brother.