THE RETARD IN THE NEXT BOOTH
By Jason Wert: It was the last night my parents were town for their first visit real with their grandson, Eli.
Mom and dad didn’t get out to us very often and we were so happy they could spend time getting to know Eli. Eli has autism and speaking on the phone isn’t something he likes to do. Mom and dad had only seen Eli previously when he was a baby, so they couldn’t really interact with him. This visit was their first time with him after the diagnosis.
The week flew by and we had some great moments. When we went out to dinner the last night, we had no idea that it would end very badly.
We went to a moderately busy steakhouse. We huddled in the booth and made our orders. Eli was behaving himself, although he was really hungry. We sat in the booth waiting for our drinks. And waiting. And waiting. It took over half an hour for our drinks to get to us. By this point, Eli was a little irritated. He began to make little squealing noises. Shouts, really, but they weren’t overly loud. But enough that someone in the booths immediately next to us could hear it.
After 45 minutes, an appetizer arrived…and it was cold. Eli didn’t want to eat it and I didn’t blame him -- a Bloomin’ Onion feels kind of weird when it’s cold. So Eli became more angry because he was hungry and now there was food he couldn’t eat. He started repeatedly telling us how hungry he was. Repetition is something autistic children do sometimes when they’re upset.
An hour and fifteen minutes later…still no food. Eli was squirming in his seat, but wasn’t being bad enough that I needed to take him outside (although it would have done no good in the long run because it’s not like Eli was choosing to act up). People in the booths around us were looking at E when he would make noises so my father went to each table, apologized, explained Eli had autism and that he was acting up because he was hungry and hadn't eaten anything in over an hour. Most people were sympathetic. An older couple actually gave us their appetizer so Eli could start eating.
That’s when a moment that I won’t ever forget happened to us.
Dad sat back down at the booth. He and mom were talking with Eli while he ate and began to make some noises which I call “happy squeals.” His brother was digging into the food as well, pretending he wasn’t trying to take the food away from his brother.
The waiter for the table behind us walked up. The booth had a man and woman and their two children. The girl was working on a phone and the boy had some kind of MP3 player he was listening to while the couple silently ate their meal. As I sat looking at my son, I heard this exchange:
“And how is your meal. Is everything OK?”
“Except for the retard in the next booth ruining things by making noise, everything is fine,” the woman responded.
“I’m sorry about that. Could I bring you a dessert to make up for it?”
I still thank God that the Holy Spirit was in me at that moment. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been pretty. I also thank God that I was apparently the only one at our table who had heard the woman’s comments. My dad wouldn’t have been as forgiving (You don’t mess with his grandchildren).
But it hurt. Badly. Mostly because this woman didn’t have a second thought about denigrating my son. He was less than human to her. He was just some “retard” whose noises somehow ruined a meal where her own children weren’t interacting with her anyway. She actually used the word a few more times before the family finished their food and left the restaurant.
And the waiter? “Could I bring you a dessert to make up for it?” I never spoke to that kid…he seemed in his late teens or early twenties…but I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he just responded the way they did to every complaint from a customer. That he didn’t really hear what the woman had said to him.
Imagine someone labeling your child a retard. Worthless. Less than human.
The word’s not funny. It’s not a “joke.” It's a label, and it aims to make people less than they really are. It's a lie.
Join us in spreading the word ... to end the word!
(To their credit, when the restaurant found out about it, they responded quickly and decisively. They brought us back for several meals on them. They identified the woman who said those words and said she wouldn’t be welcome again in their restaurant. They were furious a patron acted in the manner this woman acted toward us. )