I’m a rather timid person. I’ve been this way for a long, long time; apparently I was a rather gregarious child, but that seemed to change – and change quickly – once I emerged from the Children’s Hospital when I was five years old after a two month stay. I literally couldn’t talk at the time, but even when my voice returned I was no longer the same person I had been before I became disabled. My body was different, that was for sure, but I – as in daughter, sister, niece, cousin, granddaughter, friend – was also different.
I struggled with this new me for a long time; in some ways, in fact, I’m still struggling. I wonder about this new person that emerged – this new disabled person – and whether/how much she differs from the person I was until I was five years old.
I think I know the difference – I’m pretty sure that’s when the timidness crept in – but then, you never know. In some ways, it seems inevitable that my personality would change once I was no longer considered “normal” in society. But in other ways, I wonder if I was always meant to have the personality I have today, whether disabled or not. I certainly hope that’s true – I’m definitely a fan of who I am now, for better or worse.
But that gregarious child, the one who some part of me remembers being and yet my memory has blurred out the edges of – I wonder about her every once in a while. For better or worse.
One of my oldest friend’s mother’s – who also happened to be a teacher’s aid in my elementary school – recently described one of the first times I independently fed myself out of the hospital. It was chocolate pudding. I successfully spooned mouthfuls of delectable chocolatey goodness into my mouth, most likely with the aid of an adaptive spoon that I could easily grip with my semi-spastic right hand. I was then shown my reflection in a mirror; when I saw that I had chocolatey goodness all over my face, I immediately burst out crying. I laugh at that image now, as I know exactly what I must have been feeling at that moment: that it was so totally, utterly unfair that other kids in my class could eat chocolate pudding without looking like they had face-planted in it, and I, apparently, couldn’t.
I’ve often thought of that girl with chocolate pudding all over her face. She had no idea that her life would turn out so good – after all, she just wanted to be like everyone else. That girl didn’t know that her voice would come back, eventually, so that she didn’t always have to burst into tears when she couldn’t find the words to express herself (but she often did anyway). She didn’t know that she would come to identify with the stories she read on the bus on her way to school in ways that felt as real to her as time spent with family and friends. She didn’t know that she would graduate high school, and then university, with an innate sense of expectation and accomplishment that would spur her on to learn new things every day, often choosing to retreat into language over interacting with others.
She didn’t know that she would find a voice, another voice, which was ultimately more powerful than any other physical voice that came back to her. And she certainly didn’t know that, twenty-three years later, other people would be paying attention to what that voice had to say.
That timid little girl with pudding all over her face was afraid to put herself out there, because if she did, she was afraid other people would laugh or feel sorry for her. She eventually did put herself out there – slowly but surely – and some people did laugh, and others did feel sorry for her, but those reactions only made her stronger; they did not break her. And it was scary (it still is). She often wishes it was easier, and she still feels like crying sometimes. For the most part, though, the benefits that have come from putting herself out there have far outweighed the negatives.
She chooses to remember that little girl when she goes to sleep at night. She also didn’t know that that gregarious little girl – the one she thought had been lost – would come back to her one day.
That, really, she had never left.
“Maybe there’s something you’re afraid to say, or someone you’re afraid to love, or somewhere you’re afraid to go. It’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt because it matters.” – John Green