‘Grasshopper Face’ by Boris Smokrovic (unsplash.com)
Eddie was different. He sort of looked Chinese, and I liked that. He also talked different, and very little. And even though he was bigger, he didn’t seem as smart as me, but I didn’t mind. His mom seemed grateful when I visited, and offered non-stop treats. But Eddie had two big obsessions which kept us outside.
First, he collected string. Even the tiniest pieces were treasures. The moment Eddie found one, he’d add it to his humungous ball of string. Which I found kind of boring. But what happened next wasn’t!
One day, Eddie took his giant ball of string to a big tree out front, and began ceremoniously stringing it from limb to limb. He started with the lowest limbs, then climbed to reach the rest–and I got to help. After two days, the tree was a colossal spider’s web of string!
And then the fun began.
Eddie climbed up above the highest strings, and then dove down into the spider’s web, bouncing from level to level until he’d reached the ground! And so I did it too. It was epic! Once we’d reached the grass, we did it again! And again, and again, until we’d finally broken most of the string. Then Eddie began lovingly re-building his giant string ball for some future colossal spider’s web event!
Eddie’s other obsession was collecting grasshoppers. Cool, yes, but… He’d add the grasshoppers to his Red Flyer wagons after tearing off one of their legs in order to make them stay. “No!” I shouted, and ordered him to stop! But he absolutely refused. Which was not OK with me (remember the parakeets?).
So one day, while Eddie was inside, I pulled his wagons to the front yard and set all 200 grasshoppers free! When Eddie came back out, he was devastated. He screamed forever it seemed, and then sat down and began tearing up of handfuls of grass. I went home, thinking, Boy, Eddie really is weird.
I felt good, heroic, noble. So, even when Eddie’s mom told my mom about the Great Grasshopper Liberation, I refused to apologize. I was grounded for a week, but even then refused to relent. It turns out I rather enjoyed martyrdom.
Mommandad finally sat me down and explained: Eddie was what some people back then called a “mongoloid,” a type of “retarded” boy (he was much older than me), which gave him those “Chinese” eyes* I liked. He wouldn’t be going to kindergarten with me that fall, or ever, they said.
After that, I felt bad for Eddie and sort of apologized. On some level, it seemed, he was a one-legged grasshopper. But when school began and I found myself surrounded by “normal” kids, I suddenly felt like Weird Eddie myself. So from then on I made a point of befriending other weird kids…
*Some people with Down Syndrome (the old term “mongoloid” was based on outdated, racist theories) have slightly upward slanting eyes.