Slap Happy

by Christopher Britt

By way of introduction it should suffice to say that I am an individual who, some six or seven years ago, hit Larry on the head and made his eyes water with uncomprehending tears. That's right, I smacked him, I spit in his face and I yanked his hair, asking him how he liked it. "How do you like it Larry?'' And I squeezed his hand nice and hard. I wanted to make certain he'd never try to use it again to pull my hair. And as I held his hand between my tightened palms, I grimaced joyously like a prankster and whispered in harsh ugly tones my verdict on his future. I don't remember exactly what I said to him, but I can assure you it was something along the lines that he was a little monster, not a human being at all and as such should no longer expect to be treated by me as though he was fully equal.

The night this happened must have marked about the 30th time I'd put Larry to bed. I was working at a center for handicapped children. Larry was one of approximately twenty children who lived at the clinic. He was about 13 or 14 years old, weighed probably 110 pounds, had beautiful, dazed, blue epileptic eyes and a toy of a smile. He was handsome. He looked normal. He was and he wasn't. He couldn't speak, he had trouble moving about except by dragging himself around with the strength of his favored left arm, and he always wore diapers. That night Larry couldn't sleep. I filled a bucket full of water so he could splash it around with his hands. This was something he liked to do very much. It seemed to mesmerize him. When finally he seemed tired enough to go to sleep, I helped him back to his room and put him to bed. As I was leaning over him in order to get his pajamas on, he grabbed my hair. This was par for the course with Larry who genuinely seemed to enjoy spitting in peoples' faces, grabbing their hair and pinching their skin. The official explanation for his behavior was that he liked textures. Hence the bucket of water. He also enjoyed seeing me, his caretaker, defenseless. This was my experience and my explanation.

I don't think Larry was so completely out of it that he didn't know, from prior experience, what the official policy was. Of course Larry's behavior was not officially encouraged in the clinic, but policy was either to ignore his violence or to punish him by leaving him alone for a while presumably so he could think through what he had done and why it was wrong, but more probably with the hope that he would simply forget. Either way it was implicitly understood that he, like all the others, was always already innocent. On the other hand, I did know why what Larry liked to do was wrong and I also couldn't afford to forget it nor pretend he was innocent; quite simply it hurt whenever Larry pulled out my hair, pinched my arms and hands, bit my ear and spit in my eye and it was infinitely frustrating to see him smile and to listen to him laugh all the while at my obvious attempts to control my anger to prove to him that I, his slave, was in some way superior to his tyranny. The night I am telling you about was the first and only time I lost it and took out my anger on one of those kids. It doesn't matter much that it was Larry. It could have been any one of them. The point is that it happened as it was bound to happen. It was right and it was good.

What I had done to Larry was forbidden and unspeakable. But there were many things wrong at the clinic. And not just between Larry and me. Larry, like the rest of the kids at the center, amounted to little more in my mind than some sort of external expression of what I believed I had within me and needed desperately to get in touch with: an inner child in need of tender loving care. I do not think I was the only attendant there for whom this was true. When I finally left the clinic, another attendant gave me the gift of a self-help book on how to make a difference in other peoples' lives: twelve steps to loving yourself through others. Most of the others working at the clinic were versed in this kind of talk. They were beautiful selves, each of them. I think most of them, like me, saw these children as mirrors of whatever drama each of us thought was going on in our private lives. Work, to them and me, was an opportunity to express one's innermost self.

To this day I wonder how the kids felt about it. Because they did feel. Some even knew how to think in ways I could recognize. Some spoke, some with and others without the help of electronic picture-boards like the ones apes use in zoos. The kids would communicate, however; I can still see their smiles and their eyes all aglow. It was as if there was either too much or too little electricity running back and forth and jumping about in their brains. Whatever the case they could let you know, somehow and to some degree, what was going on "inside" them.

I remember being with them during their seizures. Weird stuff. Hard to watch. Makes you want to do something and there's pitiful little you can do. So you watch. Sometimes these seizures would go on for longer than a minute. It seemed an eternity. Would the child live through it? Or would his entire nervous system fire one last round of random energy and shut itself off for good? Afterward, I could tell they had been through something very strange: like an ecstatic and mystical moment. I could see it in their eyes, looking about disoriented, recognizing no one but smiling on everyone as if to say thank you but not knowing why nor what for. Such eyes as those I have never seen again. Eyes that wake from incredible darkness to see some inkling of life again. All the kids at the center had seizures. Most were bound to wheelchairs. Some could not eat without a straw rammed down their throats. Only two were able to go to the bathroom alone; the rest wore diapers which were changed a zillion times each day. Many were autistic; some, like Larry, were extremely aggressive; others were perturbingly quiet. All of them required 24 hours of vigilance, punishment and help in order to make it through each day in a more or less civilized manner. But none of them ever told me what he thought about his life, about what we were doing with them, keeping them charged up, fed, awake, clean, asleep, and clean, clean, clean. If nothing else they had to be clean. While I was there one girl died. I don't know whether she did it cleanly or not. Some of the kids would talk about it. But this wasn't clean. Others were oblivious, didn't even seem to know what death was, much less life, or who they were. We kept these children especially clean.

The children were divine creatures by mandate, a chosen people. Chosen by us. They were good. They were good because they were stupid. They could do no wrong. They were the Masters and we, seekers of our inner children, were their Slaves. To be good along with them we had to become stupid. I was already that way by the time I had arrived at the clinic. I'd been through a drug rehabilitation program where I had learned the truth of all my "inner" suffering. In other words, I was no exception to the bitter-sweet practice caring first and foremost about my inner child. Forget that I didn't know where to find it, I was still busy trying to coax it out of its shell, give it room to grow, develop, and, of course, play with other nice boys and girls. Not unlike the other good people with whom I worked at the center, I came from a "dysfunctional family." This is something I learned to say at the drug rehabilitation program I "attended" for several months before moving on to social work. There I also learned that from an early age I had been trapped in "double binds" which tormented me and traumatized my innocent, well- wishing inner child, stunting his princely and preordained development toward self- realization.

Naturally, I went public with the awful truths of my sadly endured childhood. Somehow, I needed to locate my inner child outside myself and gain a direct objective experience of him. I had to be sure he existed. It wasn't enough to poetically intuit his princely existence. So I took up social work. Social work was a way for me to do for my inner child what I had tried to do before for my inner monster by means of drug abuse. This is what I learned about my "inner" self while I was at the rehab; when I was using drugs, or rather abusing myself with drugs, I was actually telling the story of how my beautiful inner child, that little prince within, had been subjugated and negated and like Kasper Hauser before me and Calderon's Segismundo before him, had been turned into a veritable monster. The idea was that the "dysfunction" of my family had taught me that I was a monster, and it is for this reason that I began to commit monstrous acts in the unconscious hope that these would be, somehow, understood by those around me for what they "truly" were: desperate screams emitting from the perverted depths of my inner child I was innocent and stupid and good after all!

When I struck Larry in the face I struck myself in the face. I had set out to fight a monster and to prove to myself that I was good and princely, noble in an inner child sort of way, and in the process I became a monster. Again. When you look at stupidity and take it to be an image of yourself, it also looks back at you. The truth of my monstrosity was the idiotic proof of a still more perverse sense of morality waiting to correct it.

Who were they? They were children. But not children of the sort anyone needed. They were political abortions, invalids; they were not angels and they were not demons; they were not sane and they were not mad. They were not people in the common sense of the term; they were not individuals. They were not capable nor will they ever become capable of serving their community. They were not. They are not. They did not have a vote. They did not. They were not individuals. They are not. They were children, eternally, forever and ever Amen. And they were stupid.