Wouldn't It Be Funny To
see Her Run
The world changed when I was seven years old. This is when I began treatment for Leg Perthes disease. I started to wear a halter device that removed from me the weight bearing function of one leg. I used a pair of crutches to get around. A few years later I switched to using a leg brace. Except for a couple of weeks when a kid who used a wheelchair was in my class, I was the only person with a disability in my school, on my street, in the city. The other student left one day and never returned. Even now I think he was a very smart person. He got out before they could get to him.
I look back on my early educational experience and wonder just what did I learn? My memories come back to me as small vignettes of experiences. They are difficult to sort through, to figure out how they affected me. What was I really learning at school?
You're faking it
The majority of my peers were quite convinced that I did not need crutches, that there was nothing wrong with me and that I just wanted attention. They reminded me of this on a daily basis, as often as possible, mostly with sneers and ridicule. I was quite confused. Who is right here?
Them, or my orthopedic surgeon? The surgeon convinced me that I really did have a disease and that the extra apparel, which the recess crowd found so offensive, was necessary for healing.
I learned to stay in my corner. I learned to watch. I learned to accept cruelty as the school yard norm. I also learned that there were exceptions to the norm. Today I wonder what made those three children, my chums, so exceptional. Why was their behavior different? Was it the kind of parenting they received or their own individuality that allowed us to be friends? Why weren't they afraid of me? I also wonder where was the school yard monitor?
If they understood what they were doing they wouldn't treat me this way
I found myself repeating this phrase over and over in my head, wherever I went, whatever I was doing. By the time I was nine years old it had developed into my defense mechanism. It would be there in my mind when someone demonstrated ballistic behavior. It was my mantra. It allowed me to be and function in hostile environments: at school, walking down the street, at church... Today I am really quite impressed with myself for adopting this survivalist tactic in response to un accepting societal norms. I suspect that it also allowed me to suppress my anger at unjust behavior. Today I hope that children know that they have the right to speak and the right to challenge abusive and exclusionary behavior.