Steven Meresko isn’t normal. He’s retarded. At least that’s what people say. They say he is retarded because that’s what he is: retarded. By definition, mostly, but retarded nonetheless. They say this as nonchalantly as they say that fat Consuelo is fat, crazy Pedro is crazy, or that old man Felipe is an old man. That is what they are. That is what Steven is. He’s a retard. Steven doesn’t think he’s retarded. But that doesn’t matter because nobody cares what Steven thinks.
Since his pathetic childhood, nobody has cared what Steven thought. All most people have ever known was that he was retarded, or so they say. People don’t just say he’s retarded. They also say that he’s crazy, stupid, slow, idiotic, moronic, psychotic, loco, menso, pendejo. People have been saying these things about Steven, and directly to his face, for most of his life. By people, I mean his parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, teachers, business owners, passers-by—just about everybody that Steven has known, met, seen, or has heard of him. Steven doesn’t know that so many people are calling him names. He only knows of a few. If he did know, he probably wouldn’t care. He’s used to it. He’s heard it enough so that it no longer registers as an insult.
As a child, Steven was teased at school for his poor mental capacity and his extreme weight. His mental capacity was not based on academic potential. It was based on events. His extreme weight was due to the fact that he ate tremendous portions. His mother served them that way. Steven just ate them. His mother insisted that he eat everything on his plate before he would be allowed to leave the table. So, Steven would eat everything on his plate. He would do this with the fervor of somebody who was about to receive great compensation for a job well done. Unfortunately, that never occurred. He was just given temporary freedom.
In kindergarten Steven pissed himself in front of the class. It wasn’t entirely his fault. His mother always gave him orange juice in the morning, along with three scrambled eggs, toast, and a pile of bacon. She insisted that he drink the entire glass regardless of his lack of thirst. He drank it. She also insisted that he eat all the food on his plate. He did, with his usual fervor.
That day, during recess, Steven was riding a silver tricycle around a white track that was crudely painted onto the rough, asphalt playground. His fellow students laughed at Steven as he rounded the corners—one wheel lifted off of the ground threatening to spill Steven’s five-year-old, bulbous frame onto the floor. He never fell, but the anticipation was enough to even get his teacher to giggle and stop him.
“Careful, Steven. You don’t want to fall and hurt yourself.” She told Steven this every time he rode the tricycles. Steven knew he didn’t want to fall. He knew he didn’t want to hurt himself. Still, he stopped for the sake of eliminating any further criticism.
After riding the tricycle, Steven drank water out of the fountain that all of the other kids refused to use. A kid had stuck a twig into the fountain causing the water to come out at an awkward trajectory. Steven didn’t care about the water’s trajectory. He was thirsty. He drank the water. Because of the fact that none of the other kids used that fountain, Steven was allowed more time to drink water. He wasn’t being shoved from behind. He wasn’t being told to hurry. He was being pointed to and laughed at by the other kids for using the fountain that had a twig in it. It didn’t bother Steven. Steven just drank and drank.
After recess, Steven’s teacher gave him a carton of milk. Steven wasn’t thirsty, but his teacher insisted that he drink it. So, he drank it in just a few large gulps that forced some of the milk to roll out of the corners of his mouth, cascading down his chin and throat, creating two dark pools on the neck of his faded, Navy blue T-shirt.
Within minutes, Steven had to urinate. He had to ask for permission to use the facilities. Steven’s teacher had always told him to raise his hand if he had a question. Steven raised his hand. He kept it in the air, straight as an exclamation point, for what seemed hours. It only seemed like hours because the desire to urinate was so strong that it even changed his ability to sit properly. Hence, he was very uncomfortable for those few minutes that seemed like hours. He kept his hand in the air as he watched his teacher help another student replace eight fat crayons into a yellow and green box. He kept it in the air as he watched his teacher hold a child’s finger and maneuver it over a piece of paper with a big black “R” on it. He kept his hand in the air as he felt his lap warm with liquid that was gushing out of his body, on his chunky legs, through his pants, onto his socks, the arches of his feet, and into the inner soles of his tight, tan Buster Brown shoes. He kept his hand in the air as the boy sitting next to him noticed the darkening of Steven’s pants and the puddle that was forming at Steven’s feet. He kept his hand in the air as the student sitting next to Steven announced to the class that Steven had pissed in his pants, to a sudden burst of laugher. He kept his hand in the air until the teacher finally turned to look at him, laughter in her eyes, and told Steven to put his hand down, which Steven did. She didn’t ask Steven to state his question. She asked him to go and see the nurse. He did this with laughter behind him, steady as applause, as he exited the classroom.
From that point on, his fellow classmates started telling Steven that he had to wear a diaper, that he didn’t know how to hold it in, that he smelled like pee. Steven didn’t like the teasing much, but he didn’t like it much when he was sent to the nurse that day and she told him the very same thing. He also didn’t like it when he was sent home and his mother told him the very same thing. Nor would he have liked it had he known that, right after school, his kindergarten teacher burst into the teachers’ workroom, laughing hysterically, barely able to tell all of her colleagues the story of the stupid kid that pissed himself. By the time his fellow students started teasing him, the words ceased to have much affect. He sort of ignored his fellow students. His ignoring them was translated into stupidity, or retardation, if you will.
“Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to pee on yourself? Are you retarded?”
“Yes.” Steven was answering the first question. The students, naturally, assumed that the answer was directed toward the latter.
In the second grade, Steven had volunteered to participate in the spelling race. He was to race one of his fellow students, a girl named Barbara. Barbara knew she would easily win. She thought, “I’m going to beat this retard, easily.” She did, although not as easily as imagined. The idea was that the teacher was going to announce a word. The first of the two students to spell the word correctly on the chalkboard would win. It was a very productive time in Steven’s education. The teacher announced the word: chicken. Steven began writing, his left, meaty hand moving the chalk along the coarse, green board as quickly as he could. The fact that Steven was left- handed seemed strange to some of Steven’s classmates. They would say things like, “You write weird.” Steven didn’t think it was weird. It was just natural—as natural as anything Steven or anybody did or learned. As Steven was writing the word on the board, some students were looking at his left hand. Steven was, also. He was writing fast. To everybody’s surprise, especially Barbara’s, Steven and Barbara finished writing at the same time.
“Okay. Let’s see,” the teacher said. She had to check for spelling. That was a rule, after all.
Barbara spelled the word correctly. Steven, on the other hand, spelled “chichen.” He had forgotten to put the little line above the “h” that would have made it a “k.” Naturally, the classroom laughed at Steven as loudly and steadily as they did that day in kindergarten. The teacher even laughed as she shook her head and asked Steven to sit down. Steven sat down. To make matters worse, fried chicken was being served in the cafeteria for lunch that day, so all of the students couldn’t help but say things like, “Are you going to eat your chichen?” “This chichen tastes nasty,” “I don’t like chichen.” They made sure to say these things loud enough so that Steven, and as many other people as possible, heard them and laughed. Then they would shake their heads contemplatively and say to themselves, “Sheesh. Chichen? What a retard.”
“Steven is retarded.” They would say this to his face, to their friends, to their teachers, to their parents. Eventually, it caught on, and stayed with him throughout his years at school.
In fact, now, in his late twenties, Steven is known as “Steven the retard” around his neighborhood. Only now, Steven is retarded. Steven still doesn’t care what people say. The neighbors call him a retard when he’s walking down the street: “There goes Steven the retard.” The neighborhood children call him a retard when they see him on his front yard: “Hello, Steven the retard.” The mailman and ice cream man deliver the same salutation: “Hi, Steven the retard.” That’s what Steven hears. They don’t always say “Steven the retard.” Not to his face, anyway; not all the time. They sometimes just say, “There goes Steven,” “Hello, Steven,” “Hi, Steven.” Steven always hears the addition of “the retard” because he’s heard it all of his life.
Steven tells his mother that everybody calls him “Steven the retard.” Steven’s mother, Martha, acts surprised when she hears this, even though she already knows that they call him a retard because Steven has been telling her so for over a dozen years. She’s overheard the neighbors talking of Steven in that fashion. In fact, she has called him a retard countless times, along with stupid, idiot, moron, tonto, menso, pendejo.
She called him stupid the first and only time that Steven told her what he wanted to do when he grew-up. Steven was twelve when he told her, “I want to make Coca-Cola. I want to work where they put the Coca-Cola into the bottles.” He said this after watching the opening credits for a Laverne and Shirley television show rerun.
“That’s stupid.” That was all she said. Steven never said anything else about it.
Steven’s mother, as a superficial means of consolation, tells him not to listen to what people say about him, that one day, he’ll be normal again. She says, “Don’t listen to what people say. One day, with the help of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, you’ll be normal again.” Steven’s mother is a devout Christian. She was reborn a Christian after her Catholic first husband, Rogelio, died. Until then, she was a devout Catholic. Back then, she believed that Christ, with the help of his virgin mother and a handful of saints, would help make Steven normal. Now, she believes that only Christ will make Steven normal. Steven believes that he already is relatively normal— that is, as normal as anybody else. He doesn’t tell his mother this. He just listens to his mother’s constant reassurance. He knows his mother’s words are free of tenderness. He knows his mother’s words are merely a front, a distraction, a way of getting Steven to drop his guard and to trust her. That is why he decided to kill her.