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Short Stories: 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 Junior 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 thirty-two 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 developmentally disabled child.

All of a sudden I had a flashback to 1972.

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

I thought of what I would do to that boy today if he did today 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, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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  1. Avatar

    Well Bruce, the person you are today was always in there and life taught who you want to be. It describes my own evolution. I certainly did cruel things I regret. I recall being cruel to a classmate who was as misfit as I was. I didn’t want to be one of the guys because I couldn’t fit in. I was bullied myself, yet I hadn’t learned to be better than the bullies. Picking on someone different seems to be like the pecking order in the chicken coop. It’s an unfortunate quirk of nature. Like you Bruce, I didn’t like being that guy and as I learned more I left that guy behind. Life lessons could have taught us to be worse human beings but we learned we wanted to be better people.
    Aiming to do and be better is a moving target and you can’t ever quite get there. Once we do better, the goal posts move a bit farther away. Better is a waypoint not a destination. As we become better people, regrets from the past will be there. We just need to forgive our past selves.

    • Avatar
      John S.

      I second DutchGuy, Bruce. Been there, done that, too. If I only had a Delorean that I could build into a time machine- thing is I don’t know where I could find the plutonium to fuel the car.

      Then you also have that butterfly effect- the consequence of changing the past establishes an alternate future where you are free of imperfection along with the lessons the imperfection taught you, so instead of being a beloved ex-Pastor who hosts a page for recovering deconstructed Christians you instead become an enlightened dictator of an alternate America after winning several lotteries..Hmm..I need to give this some more thought!

      In all seriousness, Bruce one of the reasons I and I’m sure many others respect you is for your willingness to share the lessons you have learned along the way.

  2. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, most of us did things we wish we hadn’t when we were young. All we can do is to learn from them, as you obviously have.

    I believe that most things young people do and regret later are done because those young people are trying to “fit in” or to “prove” or hide something. I am a transgender woman but, as a fifteen-year-old boy, I took part in a gay-bashing to show I was one of the boys who took part in it and to deflect suspicions that I was more like the young man we were punching and kicking.

  3. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    You are an honorable, thoughtful man, Bruce Gerencser. Knowing that you have been self-reflective and been able to own this difficult aspect of ‘belonging’ is very significant to me this morning. I have been wailing and blasting on over the inhumanity so evident these days/months. Thanks for sharing this bit of things. I do wish a certain Zionist entity PM might experience the kind of self-examination you speak of… but I think it will never be. Instead, he chooses King David’s supposed words from thousands of years ago as his mandate for ethnic-cleansing, for 70+ years of apartheid and misery on his ‘neighbour’. Best wishes from Alberta, a stupid Canadian provincd allowing Israel to test weapons to harm others…

    • Avatar

      Agreed Brian. One man’s version of defense appears to be another man’s ethnic cleansing. I have not seen or heard those words used to describe what’s happening in Gaza but it’s beyond obviously true. It’s all about who controls the narrative. “Truth is the first casualty of war”.

  4. Avatar
    Ben Berwick

    I see this as a demonstration of growth and understanding on your part. We’ve all made mistakes, but you have been working to make peace with yours, which is very honourable.

  5. Avatar

    Some things from the Bible are just good stories or sayings, like the concept that whoever among us is without sin should cast the first stone. We’ve all dine something we regret, something thoughtless or careless or mean. The self-reflective and compassionate among us regret what we did. Know better, do better (paraphrased from Maya Angelou).

  6. Avatar
    Tony McKeon

    because of my wife’s condition, I have been forced to go back to work after being retired.
    Therefore, I don’t stop in too much.
    I’m glad I did today – this is one of your best that I have read.
    “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
    I remind myself of this almost every day.

    • Avatar

      That’s a profound thought from Maya Angelou. Now I know what to say if St Peter at the pearly gates gets on my case about dumbass things I did in life. “Saint, I was born without wisdom and when I knew better I tried to do better”.

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