“Knock it off you RETARD!” I screamed at my brother from the big field behind my grandmother’s house. It was actually an air strip for landing small planes. We were out there, a slew of us kids, and somehow the play fighting had gotten too rough.
My grandmother stood barefoot on her covered patio behind her house, facing us in the field. She was short, with dark skin, dark piercing eyes.
“Michelle!” she hollered. "Git over here!”
Fuming, I walked up the hill toward her. Why wasn’t she calling Christopher too? He started it. With each step I readied my case.
When I got to her, my gruff gramma had tears in her eyes.
“Do you know when you use that word, you are talkin' about people like Jack?”
“Retard.” she said, disgustedly.
I looked at her confused.
Retard is a bad word? Everyone says retard? All the time.
I opened my mouth, “I didn’t mean Jack...I was just....I mean...Chris...”
She held my gaze, “When people use that word, they are making fun of people like Jack.”
My stomach sank.
I loved Jack.
My grandmother and Jack’s dad had been living together forever. Jack’s mom died when he was a baby and Gramma is like his mom now. I think of him as my cousin, even though he’s more like an uncle. Jack is one year older than me but he doesn’t look it at all.
Tears welled up in my eyes.
Grandma rolled her eyes and said, “Awww....Jesus Christ, don’t start crying. I know you love him. He knows you love him. You’re the only person he’ll go in the water with aren't cha? You taught him to put his face in, didn’t cha? He wouldn’t do that for anyone else. Now git out of here, go play, and I don’t ever want to hear you use that word again, you hear?”
I turned around and walked back down the hill.
* My grandmother died in 1999 after mothering Jack for over 30 years. Jack currently lives in a group home. He has Down syndrome.