Alex Jackson Say
My story isn’t as profound as, say, holding a man in my arms as he dies of AIDS, or watching a loved one slowly wither away from Cancer, but it’s still something that’s always weighed heavily on my mind.
I was in New York for my uncle’s wedding. We were all in an apartment room talking and eating (well, everyone else was, I was reading a book). After a while, I got bored and went into the next room to watch TV. The door was open, and everyone could see inside.
One couple had brought their little girl with them, and she was also watching TV. After a little while, we started playing together. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always liked kids. I like making them laugh. Sure, they can get exhausting with their boundless energy, or annoying with their inherent ignorance, but I’ve always been a clown when it comes to kids. Just pull a face, burp, make a fart joke, and their faces will just light up.
How many mental health providers are there in the US?
This girl was definitely a “Climber”. She’d hang onto my legs when I’d walk around and jump on my head when I sat down and sit on my shoulders.
But then my mom saw us playing and gave me a disapproving glance, telling me to stop playing with the girl. All at once, it hit me like a sack of bricks. I asked her why she wanted me to stop, but I knew why. I just wanted to hear her say it plainly. I didn’t blame her then, and I don’t now. I know she was just looking out for me. But it still hurt.
And so I had to make this smiling, laughing, ignorant little girl stop playing with me. I tried to walk away but she hung onto my leg as usual. I tried to sit down and explain that I “had to go”, but she wasn’t listening, or couldn’t really understand what I was trying to say in her excitement.
Eventually I resorted to simply pushing her away and refusing to speak to her. I just didn’t know of any other way. At first, she thought I was still playing, but then on her face as it dawned on her that something had changed. As far as she was concerned, her new best friend had betrayed and abandoned her, and at her age, there was no way she could have understood why.
I knew it was because of the social stigma there is against men playing with little kids (I was in my early 20’s at the time). I am not a pedophile, nor have I ever had sexual thoughts about children. The very idea sickens me. And yet I am still condemned for the POSSIBILITY of the crime, just because I’m a man. If there were some penalty I could pay, even if it required that I be beaten, stabbed, or even shot in front of the whole world if only people would STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT, I would pay it in an instant.
According to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 552,000 mental health professionals practicing in the U.S. today whose main focus is the treatment (and/or diagnosis) of mental health or substance abuse concerns.
For one glorious instant in time, all of that was forgotten, and all that mattered was the simplicity of making a little kid laugh for a few minutes out of the day. That shouldn’t have been too much to ask, not for either of us.
I don’t remember what her face looked like now. But I’ll never forget how quiet and withdrawn she became and how devastated she looked in that moment. In a small way, I feel as if broke part of her childhood, and that her experience, whether she remembers it or not, will be with her for the rest of her life.
And I know that, for the rest of MY life, I’ll always keep my distance, and if anyone asks, I’ll simply respond, “Oh no, I hate kids.”
I’ve seen, said, and done, many “sad” things. But out of all of them, I count that moment as the saddest.