Earlier this evening, I was reading a story from MLB.com about JP Arencibia’s surprise gift of tickets to autistic fan Matt Harvey. Harvey, a 31 year old Blue Jays fan from St. Catherines, Ontario, is a constant source of support for his team over Twitter, and is unceasing in his support for the Jays.
So, when Arencibia had learned that Harvey has suffered from bullying most of his life, the Blue Jays catcher took it upon himself to surprise Harvey with tickets for Toronto’s season opener versus the Cleveland Indians. “got 2 tickets for u!” Arencibia tweeted to Harvey. “The bully’s can watch it from home, you won’t have to!”
Reading that, and reading about what Matt Harvey has had to go through in his life… Being picked on for being “weird” or “different” or a “freak”… Going through childhood KNOWING something made him different from his peers, but not understanding what it was, or even why until he was in his twenties. Well, something about that just resonated within the coal black void that is my heart. Okay, a couple of somethings.
First, in this day and age where we look at athletes and admire from a distance; Where we can appreciate the skills and contributions they make to our beloved teams, but do so with the full understanding that we’re little to them but amorphous blobs of revenue, we become jaded. We don’t expect an athlete like Arencibia to just do something so kind out of the blue like this. In an age where total douchecanoes like Alex Rodriguez can pocket the revenue generated through his charity, such generosity as seen by Arencibia almost doesn’t compute.
For me, reading of such a thing is enough to think to myself that it’s really damn cool to learn that not all pro athletes are as Rodriguez. It’s also enough for me to say that no matter what a guy like Arencibia does for the rest of his career, he will always be one of my favorites.
And for a guy like Matt Harvey, my own heart goes out to him. I am envious of the support he receives from his family, his girlfriend, and even guys like JP. I feel for him as well, as I know what he went through on a daily basis (and still possibly does).
You see, I was different too growing up.
Ever since I could remember, there were… things… that set me apart. When I was first learning to speak for example, I did so with a pronounced stutter. Also, I’d suffer through bouts of palilalia (when you involuntarily repeat yourself. For example, I’d ask somebody, “What’s your name? What’s your name?”). And there were also the tics: Suddenly, with no real explanation, my arms would flap about at full strength. If not those, then it’d be my legs. I had no way of knowing what caused it. And despite all my efforts, I couldn’t make these things stop.
The first bully I remember to point all these idiosyncrasies out to me was my own Grandmother. She had little to no qualms about hitting me whenever my arms would start twitching about, or when my tongue would suddenly fall to stuttering. The fact that I was only four or five years old during all this was irrelevant in her eyes. If I stuttered, or twitched, or repeated myself spontaneously, I knew I could expect a clubbing from bits of firewood.
The worst of it though was when she’d tell me and everyone else who cared to hear, that I was mentally retarded. Or that all of this was my fault. You know, because I totally chose to do these things since they were so super fucking neato.
When it came time for me to go to school, I was hoping it would be a reprieve from the tender mercies of my grandmother. I was wrong. Instead of dealing with one actual Grandma, I was sent to interact on my own with a seeming army of smaller versions. Coming home with a bloody nose or torn clothes was a pretty regular thing. And I knew that my family wouldn’t get it. To them, I brought all of this on myself by not being able to control my actions. Somehow, this was my fault.
I think that for me, this all came to a head after the divorce of my parents. After Dad left, he could hardly support himself let alone a “retarded” son. And my mom’s boyfriend had decided that if I were around, they couldn’t be together. So I was sent to a residential school to live when I was six.
I’ll tell you: If you thought that it was bad before? Just think of how much worse it became when I was placed in a facility with REAL problem cases. I’d been brutally beaten at this school. I’d been stabbed. Or put in restraints. You name it: This “school” was really a prison with teddy bears… and cartoons. And I did four years in it.
It was when I was ten that a particularly observant social worker had an idea of what was really wrong with me: I was born with Tourette Syndrome. I wasn’t retarded. I wasn’t autistic. I wasn’t just “doing it for attention”. I was born with this, but beyond that I was just like everyone else.
Except by that point, I wasn’t. It took me years to acclimated to being “out”. It wasn’t until my late teens that I realized that responding to slights by beating people nearly half to death was not the normal method of conflict resolution. I had been bullied, and as such, I became a bully in response.
One thing I’ve learned from all of this is that the world is a cruel hard place to live. And it’s crueler still for people like Matt Harvey and to a lesser extent, myself. Without the love and support of one’s family and friends, it becomes all too easy to become the cruelty you experience. I’m glad this is the case for Matt. I’m glad that he has these things, because growing up, I did not.
And to JP Arencibia: In a tweet you wrote in response to supporters (like myself), you said that “its not about me”. I beg to differ.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I’ll tell you: People like Matt Harvey… people like myself; We NEED people like you. We need people to tell us that were okay. That despite our flaws and despite our troubles, we’re not terrible for them, and we’re not failures because our disorders set us apart from the mainstream. We need people like you, because unlike so many of the people in my life, you seem to give a shit.
Furthermore, I need to know when you’ll be playing Seattle. I’m just a couple hundred miles south of Safeco. I might be able to swing the trip.
Also, if you and RA Dickey (one of my other favorites) could maybe go a little easy on my beloved Orioles… Please? What do you say?