If he indeed was without love, at the very least he must find a way to get someone to recognize him—not only to recognize that he was there, but to be pleased that he was there. (To be recognized by people who liked him was certainly preferable to being noticed by people who were mad at him or even hated him. He’d tried that option and definitely did not care for the result.)
But one day, a seemingly perfect solution occurred to him. Somehow he had come upon a book that he was able to read. He was fascinated, for the left hand page contained a script that matched the face of a character that took up the whole right hand page of the book. And if he cut out the face, cut out a space for the eyes, and put rubber bands on the ears, he could make himself a mask of that character.
The character that fascinated him most was called “The Stuttering Dutchman.” The Dutchman’s features, though smiling, decidedly gave a strong impression of someone we now label ‘mentally challenged.’ What delighted the little boy was that, when he put on the mask, though he appeared to be stupid, he knew how very smart he really was. It was all a set-up to fool everyone! Of course, there was a certain amount of delicious power in that as well.
Even better, the script contained many stammers (the silly Dutchman couldn’t even talk straight), and those lines might make people laugh, for he laughed himself as he read them. So he cut out the mask, cleared the eyes so he could see, and with the rubber bands placed over his ears, he proceeded to go out to play with his friends. He had taken pains to memorize the stammering script, and eagerly awaited meeting his friends.
Just as he thought, when they all gathered around him, transfixed by the mask, and listening to his recital, they howled with laughter—and even asked him to do it again and again and again.
The little boy couldn’t have been more pleased. Then one of the boys said, “Hey, this is so good why don’t we ask the teacher to have him do this before the whole class?!” “Yeah,” another said. “It could be a kind of Show and Tell.” And so they did.
And so it came to be. And when it happened that the whole class erupted in laughter, they pleaded with him to do it again. He couldn’t have imagined anything better than this! Not only was he recognized, but better than that, he had made people want him and like him. When they smiled and laughed, it seemed to him to be even better than what he imagined love to be. And then, when his teacher proposed to the principal of the school that every class might also enjoy the show, and the principal agreed, the little boy couldn’t believe his good fortune. For smiles, laughter and recognition accompanied him everywhere—or so it seemed.
But his illusions of happiness were not to last, for by the end of the week, when he took off the mask for the last time, he was horrified to discover that he now could not speak without a halting stammer himself!
It seemed as if by some cruel magic the Dutchman’s stammer had now become his own. Try as he might, he found he was simply unable to speak clearly. What had happened? How could this be? Surely this was some nightmare from which he would soon awaken. No such luck, for it would take another thirty years for him to free his mind from the stammering curse that he had chosen. In the intervening years, he would be unable to raise his hand to ask a question in class, unable to do so also when he knew the answer to a teacher’s question. Fearing the humiliating snickers from his classmates, he was paralyzed into speechlessness. Now when his classmates laughed, they laughed not at a silly mask, they laughed at him. In place of happiness and euphoria, now came hate—hate of himself for being such a fool and hate of those who laughed at him.
It was a Faustian bargain he had struck; what a monumental price he was to pay for his yearning to be recognized. A very bad deal indeed.
Copyright 2008, Frank E. West