I was brought up in a Baptist church here in town. When I was very young, from around second to fifth grade, there was a kid who went to that church who had some kind of disability. I have no idea what it was. His face looked all roly-poly kind of like a Pug, and he couldn't speak. He didn't have Down's syndrome - I know what those kids look like. This was something I'd never seen before, and have never seen since. He also had these weird little tiny clammy hands, like they'd stopped growing when he was about six years old or something. I know they were clammy because in spite of his disability, this kid always seemed like he was really happy to be there, and when it came time to "shake hands with those around you", he shook every hand he could get to.
He was a couple years older than I was. The church kids who were actually trying to be good would make sporadic pity-inspired efforts of exaggerated enthusiasm to be nice to him or include him in things, but he always seemed to either not notice or ignore the fact that the kids didn't appear to be genuine, and he always grinned and jumped at the chance. But it always looked to me like kids just doing what they were "supposed to" be doing, rather than any genuine concern. (Yes, I was cynical even then.) You know - one kid has this great idea of how he can look good or curry favor with the Sunday School teacher or maybe even God or something, and he turns to this guy and says something like "come on, come with us!" and then all the other kids, seeing the benefit of this, all chime in afterwards, "yeah, come on! yeah!" It always seemed completely disingenuous to me.
And he loved it, he loved being accepted (I don't think he cared or wanted to know whether or not it was genuine). But he never spoke.
He would, on occasion, randomly and spontaneously lean over to the person closest to him, put his mouth next to his neighbor's ear and cover it with his hand, and pretend to tell some secret or joke or something. The recipient of the Secret Joke would always lean in and pretend to listen, because what else could you do? Then he'd look at the person to whom he'd just "spoken" and do his best impression of a laugh, which wound up being more of a back-of-the-throat snicker, like "ck-ck-ck-ck." And you could always tell that he hadn't really said anything, because of the surprised, unsure and embarrassed reaction of the other person. "Oh, oh yeah! Ha, ha, ha," always with a slightly horrified expression peeking out from beneath the pretend expression of big laughter.
Sometimes he would even do this at "inappropriate" times, like when we were supposed to be singing or praying or listening or something. It was always noticed a little more during those times.
I always dreaded the day when I would be the recipient of the Secret Joke. Seeing the surprised and embarrassed reactions of other Secret Joke recipients, I clearly never wanted to be in such an awkward situation.
But one day it happened. It caught me completely by surprise, as I hadn't even noticed he was standing beside me. He quickly leaned in, and when I looked over to see what was approaching my head at such an alarming rate, I saw that it was a person who wanted to tell me something. I turned my head back to the front, offering my ear, and as I did so, my mind processed the recognition of just who wanted to "talk" to me. Sure enough - it was dead silence. Then he stood back up straight, looked at me, nodded with glee and said "ck-ck-ck-ck!" And I reacted just like everybody else, "Oh, oh yeah! Ha, ha, ha." And secretly (or maybe not so secretly), inside, I was horrified. It had happened. I'd just been the recipient of the Secret Joke.
As I glanced around to see who had noticed, I was pleasantly surprised to catch a few knowing looks being sent back my way.
I wonder what ever happened to that guy.