A Boy Named Stupid
by J.E. Fountain
When I was 8 or 9, I was part of a well-established "gang" of kids in my neighborhood. One summer, a new kid showed up who looked and acted rather odd. When we asked his name, he made an angry expression and shouted "I'm stupid, I'm stupid, I'm stupid!"
Without fail – every time.
My buddies and I thought this was funny. We didn't know his real name, so we called him Stupid. He responded as if it were his actual name. He didn't get angry if we called him Stupid, only if we asked his name. We loved to make sport of this odd boy, when someone came along who had not yet met Stupid, we’d nudge each other and tell them to ask his name, and we'd have a good laugh.
We were the stupid ones. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how tragic this was. This boy had obviously been told repeatedly he was stupid – possibly by a parent. He lived with foster parents for the brief time I knew him.
He was often close by, but never really one of us. After the novelty of prompting his angry outburst wore off, he was nearly invisible. He spent most days catching frogs.
Then Scott moved to the neighborhood and joined our gang. Scott was "normal" and was quickly accepted into the group. The day came when Scott met Stupid.
We snickered and urged Scott to ask his name. "I'm stupid, I'm stupid, I'm stupid!" the boy predictably said. My buddies and I had our laugh, but Scott didn't laugh. He knelt by Stupid who was sitting on the ground playing with a frog. Scott said, "That’s not your name. What's your name?" but he got the same response. Then Scott asked, "What's your frog’s name?”
Stupid replied that it didn't have a name, and Scott asked, "Can I call him Jumper?"
Stupid's face brightened. Then Scott said, "Hey, can we call you Jumper too?" For a moment, Stupid's face got the angry look and I expected his usual outburst, but then it softened and smiled.
I was suddenly ashamed.
Stupid became Jumper. He still kept to himself most days. If we’d invite him to join us he would usually decline, but sometimes he joined in. It is only a childhood memory, but I seem to recall he smiled more often. If asked his name, he responded the same as always, but we no longer made sport, and even shielded him from being asked.
I never did learn his real name.
He made a powerful impact on me. They say confession is good for the soul. Perhaps I just wanted to unburden myself for this long ago guilt. I’d never told a soul about Stupid before writing this.
I’ve wondered how I might have responded if a parent or authority figure had sternly corrected me for making fun of Stupid. I suspect my behavior would have changed, but quite possibly, NOT my heart.
Instead, providence sent a kind example in one of my peers – and my heart broke before my will.
A broken heart can be good for the soul as well.
© 2017 Joseph E. Fountain