This particular anecdote has been swirling around in the back of my head. It’s hard for me to discuss because it’s a bit painful but I think I should, if only because it’s important especially since it occurred at the age where I was reconciling with being disabled and figuring out how it’d fit into my life.
So, flash all the way back to middle school. I was young, awkward, and shy as hell. On the warmer days, I’d go to the park with a friend during lunch. We were chatting, minding our own business, when another student came up to us. It was the same student I described in this post, who mocked my gait for his own amusement. He was a complete jerk, to be tame. I don’t remember our exchange word for word but for the sake of this post, it went a little something like this….
“Can you walk?” He stared at me. I stared at him. My crutches rested beside me on the bench. I was confused. He’d seen me walk.
“Prove it.” He motioned behind him to a fence and shrubbery several feet away. “Walk over there.”
Yes, he said that with a straight face. Obviously, he was a bully. A bully with nothing better to do than bother me during lunch. I knew this. I wish I had told him to go away and leave me alone. In the version I’ve replayed in my head, I did this. I told him off, maybe even cursed at him if I got angry enough. Then I’d go back to the conversation with my friend like nothing ever happened.
Except in real life, I didn’t. Didn’t live up to the version of myself I’d built up in my head. Instead, I got up and walked to the fence and back. Without crutches. You’re probably wondering why. I still wonder why. Guess part of me wanted to prove him wrong, that I could walk. The bigger part of me felt so ashamed. Ashamed that I gave into his bullying, put myself in that position to begin with. Y’know, the one where I’d have to prove anything. I really should’ve known better. I should’ve been braver. Brave enough to stand up to him. Defend myself. Really, though, I can be hard on myself any day of the week. Whatever. Happens a lot. The real problem is that this bully picked on me. Bullying is not ok. Ever. It’s disgusting. Let me be loud and clear about that and about this: I shouldn’t have had to prove anything at all. Being disabled is a part of me. It just is. Nobody, and I mean nobody, should have to believe it is the case. Disability is not performative and shouldn’t be subject to judgment or critique or criticism from anyone.
It’s several years later. As an adult, I honestly don’t remember the kid’s name. I shoved him and that incident into a box in the back of my head until I made it very small, smaller than how he made me feel that day. I’m proud of that. Except, when things are quiet and not much is going on, I still think about the whole thing. Just every once in a while. When the thoughts get too heavy, I kick myself for walking that short distance just because some boy demanded it from me. Never really talked about it until now because I wish it never happened. Being humiliated like that was horrible. It was embarrassing. I want to forget about it. I thought writing about it would help me put it away for good, as it usually does. I have bigger concerns and bigger stuff to deal with. So, I wrote it down and put that nameless bully back into nowhere, where he belongs.
We know by now my abilities have fluctuated. I used to walk independently for short distances and now I’m more dependent on my crutches. Point is, my disability isn’t up for debate. I use crutches. That’s not up for debate. No matter what. My word is just as good as that of a non-disabled person. If you’re non-disabled, remember this. Don’t bully us. Listen to us. Listen to disabled people. Believe us.