Chapter 1: A Lesser Human

Original book cover

You may be asking, “Where did I get the idea for such a strange title for my book and the opening chapter?” The idea originally came from a pair of likeable comedians whose job is to create entertaining YouTube videos for young and old.

Their style of comedy is a mixture of Three Stooges meets Mafia. Video games serve as a backdrop for many of their antics. Though they may talk tough, the guys manage to do a good job of keeping it clean. I’d give their names; however, I am not certain if they want to be mentioned.

In one video, the two men were playing a game map called Diversity. The map provides a variety of challenging obstacles and puzzles for the player. For these guys, this map provided some great opportunities to entertain their audience.

For these men, it is not enough to merely play a game and post it on YouTube. They have to keep the audience’s interest and it’s done through comedy. It’s a recipe that serves them quite well.

At one point, the guys have just finished a challenging round of trivia questions related to Minecraft.  At the end, the guys were cracking a variety of harmless jokes. When I heard one comedian say, “People who wear glasses are less human,” it struck a chord of emotional pain.

Though I did laugh at the harmless joke, old memories were stirring within me. I was experiencing waves of emotional pains and tears. I asked my Father, “What the heck is going on? It can’t be these guys.” It soon became clear; a story needed telling and a heart needed healing. Here’s my story.

I was born in November 1964 and I almost died in the delivery room. What happened? As I came out of my mother’s womb, the doctors could see that something was wrong. It seems I could not swallow the fluid in my mouth or spit it out.

 The doctors responded quickly and saved my life. I was rushed to the NICU for monitoring. It seems that something was wrong with my esophagus. Though Point Pleasant Hospital in New Jersey was a teaching hospital, the doctors could not do anything. Thankfully, my story doesn’t end there for my Father had other plans.

Someone must have been praying because a door opened up at the Presbyterian Children’s Hospital in New York City. Years later, my mother would tell of a Dr. Santoulli who successfully operated on my throat. Of course, my family and I are quite thankful and I praise God the Father for this miracle. 

When the dust finally settled, my parents began to deal with another terrifying fact about my birth. At some point, my mother was exposed to someone with German measles when she was pregnant with me. When I was born, the doctors discovered that I was very nearsighted and supposedly deaf. I was medically diagnosed with congenital rubella.

In 1964, my future was deemed bleak and my parents were given little hope for the future. No man knows the future with certainty. In those days, children with severe disabilities were not given much hope. Group homes, sheltered work programs and poverty were all too common for people who were physically or mentally disabled.

Thankfully, my father came from a strong Catholic family and my mother and her mother were devout Catholics. I strongly suspect my grandparents were probably praying for me during the whole ordeal of my birth and disabilities.

As for my parents, they chose to raise their three sons in the basics of the Catholic Christian religion. As a small child, I received a King James Bible from my maternal grandmother.  I can still recall reading the many stories contained within that book. The Bible was easily my favorite book to read and enjoy.

I can still recall talking with my Father about what I read. It seemed so natural to talk with God and I could not imagine prayer in any other way. Heck, at the time I did not know that I was praying. For me, “Hail Mary” was a prayer; I was just talking with God about what I read. “What is prayer?” I would have asked.

In those days, children with physical disabilities were sent to specialized schools. These schools were often far away or expensive.  I was given the impression that they were a one-way ticket to a sheltered lifestyle. 

What were my disabilities? Did it warrant such a drastic move? My parents did not think so.

I was not born deaf as everyone originally thought. I was born with a conductive hearing loss in both ears. The degree of loss is actually a mixture of moderate to severe in the right ear and severe to profound in the left. That’s why I only wear one hearing aid.

I can sit down and hear most of what’s being said in a quiet room; however, I get into trouble with multiple conversations.

If I focus on one conversation, then I am okay. It’s a skill that I learned over the years. It has come in handy many times.  

As for my eyesight, I was born nearsighted. In a classroom setting, I could generally see what was happening around me; however, I’d miss out on a lot of subtle details. When it came to the chalk-board, I could see the teacher writing on it; however, I’d have trouble reading the chalkboard.

I have a third problem and it’s not the result of the rubella. I suffered a pinch nerve that resulted in a slight facial paralysis. It’s hardly noticeable these days; at least I don’t think so. It came as a result of the doctors saving my life.

In the ‘60s, you were not likely to find many disabled children in public schools.  For one reason, the public schools were not built to accommodate children with physical disabilities. Thankfully, I could safely navigate around as I did have vision and I could walk or run.

A second reason centers on a child’s ability to handle the classroom materials. It was commonly believed that one’s physical disability affected a child’s mental capability. Like my parents, I was born with an above average intelligence. The same thing is true of my two brothers. It runs in the family.

Guess what? Education was not a serious problem; however, the real problem came in the form of acceptance. In those days, young children were not taught tolerance towards children with disabilities. Without guidance, it’s a very difficult thing for both sides.

What about my parents? My parents were not in favor of a special school for the disabled. Here is how they viewed the situation. “Barry needs to function in the outside world and he’s to be like all the other kids who don’t have disabilities.” Though such schools do have their places, the sheltered lifestyle is not something I’d care for.

I started school in 1971 and I entered the first grade in ’72. I am grateful for my parents’ decision. Though public school did prove challenging and I certainly had my shares of frustrations, I don’t regret it. One challenge came in the form of a question. Is this child mentally capable of handling the materials presented in class?

This challenge resulted in my taking an IQ test. Imagine their surprise when my test showed my IQ to be quite high. Though I am not a rocket scientist, I was clearly not a dummy.  Did the school have legit concerns? To an extent, they did have some legit concerns. My physical limitations did affect my ability to take in information from the chalkboard, hear everything the teacher said or finish my tests in a timely manner.

Once they saw my IQ level the school became more relaxed. However, they did see some potential problems.  As a result, I was assigned a Special Ed teacher, a social worker and a speech therapist.

 I’ve been blessed by Mr. Ollie Lokerson, my Special Ed teacher, and Mrs. Stapler, my Social Worker, many times. As for speech therapy, I’ve had many therapists throughout the school years and they’ve been quite helpful. Alas, there is one problem the school board could not help with solving. Like you, they probably saw it coming; hence the need for the social worker.

What may that problem be?

There is a blessing in being nearsighted. I did not get to see the uncomfortable stares of other kids. I also did not always get to hear some of the mean spirited words directed at me. For me, I did not see any differences between us. On the other hand, they did see the differences and they didn’t know what to do. Kids can be cruel, especially in a situation like this. As a result, I was a target for all manners of pranks, ridicules and name callings.

At the time, I was very sensitive and it was not hard to get a cry or some other reaction out of me. It seems that I was a popular target for the average school bullies. Oh how they delighted in calling me ugly and many other derogatory remarks. Those words went deep inside and I had nothing to counteract those lies.

I honestly believed the lies about my appearance. Though my two brothers were considered handsome, I saw myself as ugly. When it came to looking in the mirror, I did not see anything worth looking at. There was little that I could do so I learned to accept my face. I really hated those stupid “You’re so ugly that you’re breaking the camera” jokes.

Remember, I do have a slight facial paralysis and I do have noticeable physical disabilities; hence, I was very sensitive to my appearance. There’s little that I could do about it. I felt resigned to the barrage of taunts. Here’s the worse part! I thought everyone had that opinion. How can I be certain? No one spoke a word against the lies of the bullies.

If the Internet had been available, then I am certain that photos and videos would have been plastered all over Facebook and YouTube. Thankfully, the Internet was not available at that point in time.  Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. 

Though there was not much I could do about my physical appearance, there was another option. Do you recall what I said about an IQ test? I would regularly compete in spelling contests and blurt out answers. I was determined to prove myself of value.

I give you an irony. As a kid, I believed other people thought I was stupid or retarded.  What? I don’t know where this strange lie came from. Guess what? Years later, I would discover a surprising fact. 

No one thought I was stupid. It seems everyone thought I was a nerd. Like a true nerd, I had no clue. I will take a quick kick in the rear for $1000. Isn’t it amazing what a lie can do to a person? Yet the evidences of spelling contests, reading comprehension, a King James Bible and an aptitude for the computer were right in front of me.   

By the time sixth grade came, most of the teasing subsided; it was only the usual school bullies that would continue harassing me. When my high school was built, things were going to dramatically change.

Manchester, NJ, is a very large and spread out township. It is home to a variety of communities, in addition to a borough called Lakehurst. It is easily one of the largest townships in Ocean County, NJ.

About this time, my parents made plans to move into a beautiful house built by my father. It was located in a very rural area of Whiting, another section of Manchester. At the time I was 13 years old. For any child, a move away from familiar faces can be scary. I was no exception to this rule. I felt very isolated and alone at the time. The feeling of isolation would grow as I got older. 

 Manchester High School was finally built around 1977 and it became home to kids from all over Manchester Township. We’d also have students from Lakehurst and the neighboring township of Lakewood. In the 70s, children with disabilities were not commonly seen in the public school. These children were often segregated from the main school population. Only a few such kids were seen at my old high school.  

At the time, 7th and 8th grade students were placed in the same school as the regular high school students. As many of these kids did not have prior experiences with the disabled community, it made things quite interesting. For me, the cycle would begin, again.

When I started junior high school, a change came over me. I felt very alone and I was hurting inside. I did not know how to deal with the hideous teasing. It’s not like I was packing muscles and I was not a fighter. How would I deal with this barrage of ridicules? 

Looking back, it seems I made an unconscious decision. I was not going to be a target for these bullies. I would retaliate in anger and I would use my one and only weapon, my mouth. How did the tactic of verbal threats work? It totally backfired on me and I was too angry to see it.

My anger simply served to fuel an endless cycle of pranks, torments and harassment. I am certain that the usual suspects would have posted it on YouTube or Facebook. These antics would occur throughout my two years of junior high school and four years of high school.

 Here’s an irony, for you. My father was a tough guy and a serious troublemaker in his youth. I know that my father cared about my situation; however, my father was both passive and critical. My father was not an easy person to talk with. Though he did give me one piece of advice, it would be years before I’d understand “Act. Don’t React.”

What about my mother? She was resigned to blame me for my trouble. “You must have done something to deserve this! “ I would react in anger and say, “I did not do anything!”  It never dawned on my mother that I could be innocent. In truth, I was responsible for how I chose to react or act in the above situations. I needed to recognize my actions were only encouraging the troublemakers. I needed to change my tactics. I had to let go of my anger and I needed to learn to use some new tools.

What tools am I talking about? For one, I had been reading a great book that could easily help me except I didn’t have a clue. What book may this be? It’s the Bible. The Bible contains 66 books and I was not reading the one book that I needed to read. It’s the book of Proverbs.

Years later, I’d learn of the value of a good wisecrack and self-control. For example, I could have said, “Do you need help? Is that why you’re throwing spit balls at me?” or “I notice a thumbtack on my chair. Did you need something? All you have to do is ask.” Such remarks would have shifted the attention to them rather than the attention being on me.

I don’t think the wisecracks would have made for good entertainment on YouTube. Do you? The bullies would only be making fools of themselves and that’s likely not a comfortable scenario.

At the time, I really didn’t know how to act; rather I’d react in anger. Could this be what my father meant by act and not react?

As I was finishing my senior year, there was one altercation that really hurt and it depicts a sad reality about school bullies.  At the time, I was a senior and I was looking forward to Stockton State College. I shared my excitement in my science class. In this class, there was a noted school bully.

For years this kid delighted in ridiculing me. On this day, it would be no different except that it would be worse than normal. Somehow, I got to talk about my acceptance to college. For some strange reason, Larry ripped right into me.

They only accepted you because they felt sorry for you!” claimed the kid. I was both shocked and deeply hurt. It was really the worst thing that I could hear.  Within seconds, I blasted him in fury! I spoke words that I’d never say to anyone black or white. I actually felt bad about it. My science teacher didn’t have a chance to stop it.

I would later discover that a fellow classmate was heading to Seton Hall. Andy was a good student. Andy was also the school’s top basketball player and he ran track and field. He deserved the scholarship. Did you know that Andy won the Gold medal in the US Olympics?

There’s just one thing. Andy was Larry’s friend. Guess who was not happy about this? It doesn’t justify Larry’s bad behavior towards me or my angry reaction to his vicious attack. It does bring up an interesting point.

It’s important to recall that bullies are victims too. One tormentor suffered a nightmarish situation at home. I was simply a needed distraction to the pain. On a few occasions, I would hear a story that could be anyone’s. It involves someone who is self-conscious about their inadequacy. For one person it’s dyslexia and the second person it’s being an amputee.

Because of my own situation, I can readily understand the awkward feeling of being considered different. A third person was simply tall for his age. What did they do about it? They poked fun and ridiculed other people. Why? It’s so the other person becomes the focus of attention. 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not excusing bad behaviors; however, I am setting the stage for real healing. Are you ready for this one? “Forgive them.” It is one of many steps that I took towards healing. Forgiving the ones who hurt you is a good starting point.

I could not have done it alone. I must give credit to my Father in Heaven. He brought healing through people and the Word of God. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I would like to say the bullying ended in high school; however, it did not stop there. In the summer of ’83, I was going to have an experience that is far worse than any normal bullying tactics.  It was a summer job that was filled with physical and emotional abuse. You can read all about it in the next chapter, “A Summer of Hell”. 

Before you continue reading, I would like to share some words of healing and talk about forgiveness. Not everyone went through a summer such as I will describe in the next chapter. The horrors of that summer served to internalize the lies spoken by those in my school. Did you ever notice I kept calling the mocking ridicules lies?

As human beings, we tend to judge a person’s outer appearance. It has been the case for centuries. In the United States, we put a premium on a person’s outward appearance. Have you been to a movie or watched a TV show? Did you ever notice how good looking the model or actor is? When is the last time you saw an unattractive actress?

Hollywood knows that we’re attracted to such people and they put out a lot of money to make people look good. Our fascination with physical appearance isn’t limited to the screen. It can be found in other areas of our lives. It is a part of human nature and children are not exempt from this truth.

It does not have to be this way. What do I believe?  As a Christian, I can best share from my own belief system. You are free to choose what you want to believe. If I try any other way, then I will fall flat on my face and no one benefits.

I believe that each human being is a unique creation of God and that we’re each made in His image. By image, I am speaking of God’s character as opposed to physical appearance. Here is another thought. God looks at our heart rather than our physical appearance.

My faith has taught me to value the person for whom they are. I have learned to look for the gold in each person. I did not come to this viewpoint overnight. This process took years. First, I had to choose to stop believing the lies of other people.

Forgiveness played a big part in my healing. I needed to forgive and let go of my anger and bitterness. In time, I learned to surrender my hurts, anger and bitterness and leave it in God’s capable hands.

Here is another step in my journey towards healing. I had to choose to believe what God says in Scripture and I had to choose to believe what my family and friends were saying. I was so wrapped up in believing the lies that I could not hear any of the good things.

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