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The Story of Fish Lips

Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade 1971-72
Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade 1971-72

The year is 1972.

I am a ninth-grader at Central Jr High School in Findlay, Ohio.

I am a typical boy.

The need to prove I am one of the guys is important to me.

I want to fit in.

I want to be part of the club.

The retards have a classroom in our building.

You know who they are.

The freaks.

The morons.

The half-wits.

A wonderful opportunity to prove that I belong.

Fish Lips.

That’s what we called him.

He had big lips like Mr. Limpet.

Every day he wore a tin sheriff’s badge and carried a toy gun.

No post-nine-eleven worries in 1972.

Why do the retard’s parents send him to school like that?

Don’t they know boys like me lurk in the hallways looking for opportunities to mock and harass their son?

And so I did.

I mocked him and made life miserable for Fish Lips.

So did other boys, but I am the boy I remember.

I was part of the group now.

I hope Fish Lips didn’t mind being the price of admission.

It is 1989.

I am 32 years old now.

I have three children.

I am the pastor of a thriving Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church.

My wife is pregnant with our fourth child.

Our beautiful red-headed daughter was born on September 1st.

Our first girl.

We are so excited to finally have a girl.

It was not long before we realized something wasn’t quite right with our daughter.

The doctor sent us to University Hospital in Columbus.

A genetic test . . .

We didn’t need the results.

We already knew . . .

Our daughter had Down Syndrome.

Her features were mild and the doctor missed all the signs.

We found out she had Down’s the same day our second daughter was born.

I had a mentally handicapped child.

All of a sudden I had a flashback to 1972.

Visions of a hateful boy persecuting the mentally handicapped, all because he wanted to belong.

I thought of what I would do to that boy today if he did what he did then to my daughter.

I wept.

I couldn’t undo what I did.

But I could make sure I am never that boy again.

The least of these deserve my protection and care.

They deserve to be who they are without worrying about a boy with something to prove.

I am glad that boy died in 1989.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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  1. Avatar
    Doug B

    Very powerful post, Bruce. Honestly, sometimes I feel like Fish Lips. Other times I feel like his persecutor. Constructive criticism is a good thing. Hateful bullying is not. Ever. How easy to mistake the latter for the former. I try to think hard about every post I write and comment I answer.

  2. Avatar

    I hesitate to critique your bullying but if he had lips like Mr Limpet he had Don Knott’s lips (since in the movie the fish has some of Don Knott’s features in particular his lips and eyes), of course that isn’t exactly a compliment either.
    After I saw a picture of your daughter it seemed she may have the mosaic variant of Down’s syndrome. Her physical symptoms are much less pronounced than usual.

  3. Avatar

    You were a child, Bruce. You’ve since grown up. You’ve learned. That’s what we do as we grow. I’m proud of you that you’ve grown enough to accept that your actions in the past were wrong. Your daughter will always have you as a father to be her advocate, and You’ll do a great job of that.

  4. Avatar

    Darn it you made me cry. Again. Your raw honesty shines through so much. It’s poetic and oh so real. I’m ashamed of my judgmental past. Why did it take giving up (ok rejecting) my fundie life to get to this point? Why did I have to shut off my feelings while I was in that cult?

    That’s all rhetorical of course. Just needed to vent. Thank you so much for being here.

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