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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A Mind Gone Astray

By Johna Ferguson

Dickie was a child of the new age in China; in other words he was overweight and very spoiled. With the one-child policy in effect, an only child became a little king or queen in their families. They could now eat better foods, lots of meat and sweets things which added fat to their bodies, things never available during the Cultural Revolution.

Dickie’s mother had heard about me, an American teacher, through the grapevine which was more effective than even the old telephone party lines had been. She wanted me to tutor her child in spoken English. He was in sixth grade then and had studied English in school for three years, but had learned absolutely nothing since he didn’t think it was important.

To him drawing pictures of guns, rockets and tanks was more interesting. He was also a prodigious reader, in Chinese of course, about the ancient history of his country.

But he had one bad habit; he loved to play computer games. At that time, 1988, few families had computers in their homes so on many street corners were computer coffee shops where for so much money you could play games for an hour. Children were not allowed in these places, meaning anyone not having graduated from high school, but the owners got around that rule. Usually they had a curtain at the back and behind it were computers set up with games for young students.

Dickie became hooked on the games. In fact, he rode his bike there straight from school and played until he had to be home for supper. Of course these games cost money and he didn’t have a job nor even get an allowance. He borrowed from friends until that ran thin, and then started raiding his mother’s purse. There were no checks or bank cards at that time in China, you just used cash. Therefore a mother might have lots of money stashed in her purse at one time, and probably wouldn’t miss a few bills from time to time.

But as Dickie’s grades fell lower and lowe,r the mother started looking into where her son was after school. Almost all women work in China, so Dickie was to go home from school and study, but at that time there were no cell phones and often not land lines so she couldn’t check on him.

One day she came home early and he wasn’t there, so she went down to the corner computer shop. There parked besides the building was his bike. She was furious and went in and bodily dragged him out.

That incident made her more aware of what was happening almost daily. She started counting her cash and discovered missing bills at least weekly. She asked me if I had any suggestions, but I didn’t want to become involved in family affairs.

She finally took the bull by the horns. She told Dickie if she found him playing games again she would torture him. All this floated above his head like clouds in the sky, but she was serious. When she found him next time, she brought him home and began her treatment. She got the pin cushion and jabbed several pins under his finger nails. He was so stoical he never even let out a whimper.

Satisfied with her work, she pulled the pins out and told him next time there would be more pins, so he’d better straighten up.

But Dickie, being Dickie, refused to give up his love of games in spite of his failing grades at school. Finally the school told his mother they could no longer keep him. He would have to transfer to a private school.

Luckily she found a school to accept him, but of course she had to pay an enormous sum to get him in. But he still did poorly. The new school suggested he go to the medical university and be tested, maybe he had a brain abnormality or something. Because I was teaching at that university she asked me for help.

I lined up a psychiatrist, but first that doctor wanted some background information on the family not only from the mother and father and Dickie, but also from me. These were to be private interviews so I had no idea what the family members might say, but I tried to be reasonable in my opinions. I had first asked Dickie how he felt about all these tests and he told me if I stood by his side, he'd be okay.

The doctors tested Dickie’s IQ which way above average; checked if he had dyslexia which was a positive no; checked to see if he was bipolar, also a no. She gave him an array of tests and all of them showed that Dickie was brilliant, so probably bored in school. He needed an accelerated program but few were available.

His mother decided to see if he could skip the rest of his primary school and go straight into middle school, meaning the ninth through the 12th grades. The school acquiesced and Dickie became another personality entirely. He started being interested in music, in how to change sounds through the keyboard. He even stopped spending time at the computer outlets and concentrated on preparing for high school exams for entering college, always such a challenge for students as there are so few openings.

When I last visited Beijing, Dickie was enrolled in college studying music theory and conducting. He’d lost weight, joined in sports and had a really happy disposition. But, I thought, how many other students are lost between the cracks because they have no one who believes in them?

I’m proud of Dickie and know that he and I have formed a strong bond that will last a long time. He trusts me to help him out of troubles, and I will hopefully always be there to help him.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


If you never did another thing in your life, this one would be enough. Bravo.

You have saved a life.

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