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A Special Kind of Love

6 Nov

I promised myself I’d write about you eventually. I knew I would need to give myself a certain closure, while also leaving plenty of space for you in my heart, a space you will occupy for the rest of my life.

You carried me through my childhood. You saw the way people treated me, and you acted as a buffer between me and the rest of the world. When we were kids, I needed that buffer. I needed a safe space to go where I didn’t have to be face to face with my situation, while also not having to completely face the blows of reality either. You provided me with that space. Your presence in my life when we were kids was like a bubble I never wanted to leave because it was the one place I felt cared for, the one place I felt safe. Now, I’m no longer inside that bubble, but I find comfort in knowing it’s always a place I can still go if I am in need of reassurance.

Your presence in my life brings me to tears, both tears of joy and tears of sadness. I wonder how I ever got so lucky to have a friend as rare as you in my life. Someone who has known me since we were kids. Someone who knows everything I went through, and loves me just the same, if not more. Someone who has acted as my protector for as long as I can remember. Someone who took me to my first dance, who took me to my prom, and who would drop everything to be there for me. That kind of friendship is so incredibly rare, and the wonderful thing is how safe and cared for I feel, even when I’m just thinking of you. Therefore, my deep love for you makes sense. It brings me to tears because I know my love for you is not the same kind of love you have for me. It breaks my heart, but it doesn’t take away how I have always seen you. Truthfully, my feelings for you make sense. They truly do. I don’t know of anyone who could be cherished the way you cherish me and not develop deeper feelings.

Your belief in all that I am propels me forward. It gives me the strength to keep going when I feel like giving up, and it shows me there are people in this world that would do anything just to see me happy. Though I know that has been true for a long time, it took numerous deep conversations with you until I started to see it with my own eyes. You’ve allowed me to feel a kind of love I thought I’d never find. Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened between us if I would have recognized the love sooner. However, I don’t want to spend my life backpedaling. From this point on, I want to go forward. Forward towards a kind of love I will find one day. A kind of love I now know exists because you have shown me that even though certain forms of love are rare, they do exist.

Yes, I love you. I love you with all that I am, and I truly believe I always will. That’s the thing about first loves, right? They stay with you forever. Though you have not been my first love in the traditional relationship sense of the world, I think 15 years of friendship is a very special, though unique kind of relationship. And it’s been a special kind of love. The kind of love that has allowed me to grow and has given me support all at the same time. The kind of love that has provided me with a true sense of feeling safe, a sense of knowing I matter. The kind of love that is so rare, and yet so beautiful in all that it means.

Yet, because your presence in my life has brought me love, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that one day I will find the kind of love I wish you could show me now. Because in so many ways, you’ve done the best thing for us. Our friendship is too precious to take the risk of a relationship. You told me you vowed to never put yourself in a position where you might leave (since you had seen so many “friends” leave me, and knew how much it hurt me when they did). In its own way, that shows just how much your cherish me, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

I love you, and I always will. Your presence in my life has lifted me up while also breaking me down. Though that may sound sad, it’s good. You’ve helped me to experience an emotion I never thought I’d understand. Granted, though I am no closer to understanding it, I finally know the feeling of loving someone so much that it seems as if your heart might burst from happiness. And now, in this moment, I know what it means to love you, while also allowing other people in. For a while, I was afraid giving myself the opportunity to move on would mean I had to let you go, but that’s not what it means at all. It means loving you, keeping you in my heart, but making space in my heart for new possibilities. It means it’s possible to hold all kinds of love in your heart at once, and knowing there is always room for more.

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My First Speaking Event: Cerebral Palsy and Bullying

30 Oct

Last Thursday, I had my first speaking event. I spoke to an elementary school book club in Asheville who had read Out of My Mind, in which the main character in the novel has Cerebral Palsy, the same disability I have. I was asked to come and speak about being bullied in school because of my Cerebral Palsy.

Below is the talk I read to the students and their parents of the book club (disclaimer: I have changed the names of people in order to protect confidentially):

When I was 7 years old, I played on a coach’s pitch baseball team, and there is one game I’ll never forget. I was up to bat, and my coach, Mr. Mark, stood on the mound smiling at me. He pitched the ball, and even though I hit the ball, it didn’t go far. It landed close to Mr. Mark’s feet. There was a player from the other team standing behind Mr. Mark, but Mr. Mark grabbed the ball and kept it away from the other player. At first, as I was running to first base, I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that the first baseman hadn’t caught the ball yet, so I kept running. As I was almost near third base, the biggest grin spread across my face as I realized what Mr. Mark had done: he was giving me my very first home run. I remember running as fast as I could from third base to home plate, and as soon as my feet touched home plate, everyone in the crowd jumped to their feet and cheered for me. In that moment, I got to be a normal kid, and I got to feel the happiness that comes with completing a home run. If only for one night, I wasn’t a girl with Cerebral Palsy. I was a baseball player, a team member, and probably one of the happiest people in my hometown, if only for a moment.

Just like the character of Melody in Out of My Mind, I have Cerebral Palsy. Though I am not in a wheelchair or unable to talk like Melody, my Cerebral Palsy affects the way I walk because my muscles are really tight and because I don’t have very good balance. Because of being physically different, I was always an outcast in school. I had trouble making friends, and it was hard not having someone who knew what I struggled with on a daily basis. When I walk, it is very evident that I am different, and because of my visible differences, I was an easy target for bullying in school.

I had my first bullying experience when I was in kindergarten. At that age, I had to use canes to help me walk. Because of having to use canes, I wasn’t able to walk very quickly, and there was a girl named Ashley who enjoyed picking on me because she knew I wouldn’t be able to run away. Every day on the playground during recess, Ashley came up behind me and pulled my hair. It wasn’t a friendly pull either. She grabbed a fistful of my hair and yanked as hard as she could, laughing as I screamed in pain. She pulled so hard that I couldn’t even try to get away from her. Every day, I came home crying, and every morning, I woke up dreading having to go to school and see Ashley on the playground. I felt like crying when I realized I was completely alone. No one was sticking up for me, and it made me really sad. One day, my teacher, Miss Sandy, came up to me and told me to hit Ashley with one of my canes to help her realize that what she was doing was hurting me. See, Ashley was mentally disabled, so she didn’t know any better, and hitting her was one of the only ways Miss Sandy knew to make her stop. I never did hit Ashley though. I couldn’t do it. Hitting her would make me just like her: someone who wanted to hurt someone else. I don’t think Miss Sandy really wanted me to hit Ashley though. She was just trying to teach me the importance of trying to stand up for myself. In many ways, it felt impossible. How was I supposed to stand up for myself when it felt like I didn’t have a friend who would stand up for me?

I’ve struggled with forming friendships my entire life. As a kid, I wanted friends more than anything. I think that is the reason I never told a teacher that kids were making fun of me. I became afraid that once I told a teacher, the people who picked on me would call me a “tattle-tale” and the other kids would distance themselves even more. Because I was so physically different from the other kids in my class, all I wanted was to feel like I fit in. In my early friendships, many of the people who became friends with me were my friends out of pity. Even though they didn’t specifically tell me that, I could tell it was true. I could tell by the way they looked at me that they felt sorry for me. When I was young, I kept those friendships anyway because all I wanted was a place where I felt like I belonged. Many of those friendships didn’t last long though because most of the people who had been spending time with me left when they got tired of pretending to be my friend.

It wasn’t until I became friends with a boy named Tommy in first grade that things began to change. Tommy was the first person to visibly stick up for me. He confronted the people who picked on me, telling them it wasn’t okay to pick on someone who couldn’t help that she was different. Tommy’s friends laughed at him for sticking up for me, but he didn’t care. He stuck up for me anyway and was there for me no matter what. Tommy also saw the numerous people who became friends with me because they felt sorry for me. He knew how much that hurt me. Even though Tommy wasn’t disabled, he saw how I cried day after day when another person I thought was my friend just got tired of trying. Tommy’s presence in my life didn’t stop other kids from picking on me, but I began to feel a little less alone. Even now, I don’t have many friends. However, the few friends I do have are incredibly close to me, and I am happy to say that one of those friends is still Tommy.

When I was in fifth grade, I took a required PE class. In my PE class, dodge ball was typically the game of choice. Every week in PE, I was chosen last for dodge ball. I even remember one particular day when one of my friends, Allie, was the team caption. This made me excited because I thought: Yes, finally! I won’t be picked last because Allie will choose me since we are friends. The team picking began, and I waited with excitement for Allie to say my name. I looked towards her with a smile on my face, and my smile faded as I realized she was picking everyone else but me. Finally, it came down to Miranda, a girl who had just broken her leg, and me. It was Allie’s turn to pick, and I started to inch towards her. And then you know what happened? She chose Miranda over me! Miranda, the girl no one liked because she was so mean, and the girl who couldn’t even move as well as me because she had broken her leg. I couldn’t believe it!

As I got older, I thought the bullying would stop, but it didn’t. The summer after my sophomore year in high school, I attended a creative arts camp. One day I was walking back from a creative writing class, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a girl named Lauren imitating the way I was walking. I turned to her and said, “Hey, what are you doing?” “Imitating the way you’re walking,” Lauren said. When I asked her why, she explained that she was supposed to observe people as an assignment for her theatre class. Even though I told her she hurt my feelings, Lauren didn’t listen. As I walked away, I watched as she laughed and continued to imitate me. I ran back to my room and cried, so sad and frustrated that I was still getting picked on. Even at an older age, getting picked on hurt just as much, if not more. Lauren knew what she had been doing. She saw how I cried in front of her, and yet she still continued to imitate me and laugh at me. I couldn’t understand why she would be so mean on purpose. I ended up telling a staff member about what happened, and she contacted the teacher to find out that it was never a class assignment. The next day, though, something good happened. Lauren did the one thing I never thought she would ever do: she said she was sorry.

Being bullied, either physically or emotionally, is hurtful for anyone, but it’s especially hurtful if someone bullies you for something you have no control over, like a physical disability. My bullying experiences have affected me my entire life. I remember the details of every bullying experience I’ve ever had. I remember how alone and broken they made me feel, and how it seemed like the bullying would never stop. Typically, kids in school try to be different because they don’t want to blend in with the crowd. For them, it’s important to stand out. In my case, I have always been incredibly different, and all I have ever wanted was to be normal. My differences have never stopped me from trying to be as independent and normal as possible though.  I have Cerebral Palsy, and I am a survivor.

Speaking at this event was an incredible experience. I was nervous to speak about my bullying experiences since they were a part of my life I had never verbally discussed before. However, it was such a relief to finally talk about being bullied, and it gave me a sense of closure. It was also wonderful to hear from the kids in the book club and answer their questions. One girl in particular asked what my best grade in school was and what was my worst. It truly made me smile because I realized how wonderful it is to hear questions from kids. They make connections many of us as adults seem to have lost as we have gotten older, or maybe kids are just never nearly as shy to ask whatever seems to pop into their head. Either way, it was a great evening. I have even been asked to come back to that same elementary school to speak to the fifth graders, and my contact information has been passed on to two other elementary and middle schools in Asheville. I suppose it’s time to make myself some “business” cards!

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Finding Determination Through Fear.

19 Oct

A few days ago I was talking with a friend of mine, and he asked me to explain my absolute worst fear in life. Though some classic answers popped into my head, like ending up alone and losing the people I love, I knew my absolute worst fear. I tried to say it, but couldn’t. I felt like I was about to cry. However, after a period of silence stretched over us like a blanket, I finally spoke.

“I’m afraid of the day when I’ll no longer be able to walk.”

I spent my entire childhood learning to walk so I could be as independent as possible, despite my Cerebral Palsy. Before my intense operations, I learned to walk in my own way, my knees knocking together as I put one foot in front of the other. During the years I spent on a t-ball team, I loved the feeling of running to first base. Even though I typically got out before making it to first base, I ran with all my heart just like everyone else on my team. I ran in my own way, but it never stopped me from trying.

After my first operation at the age of 10, I had to completely relearn to walk after having my femurs straightened out and kept in place with rods. One year later, when I got the hardware removed that was placed during my first operation, I had to relearn to walk yet again. See, not walking was never even an option for me. I wanted to be like the other kids my age, and to do that, I had to be able to walk. I had to be as normal as I possibly could. Even when I was faced with physical pain that made me want to curl into myself and give up all together, I kept going. Every day, I literally walked towards my own independence, one step at a time.

Because I spent so much of my life struggling, and ultimately succeeding, to walk, the thought of reaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to walk is completely terrifying. In so many ways, when I reach that day, it will feel like a kind of giving up. Though I plan to walk for as many more years as I can, I am scared of the day when the pain will just be too much, when walking will be putting too much strain on my body. It’s especially frightening because I know how much physical pain I’m in on a daily basis currently. The realization that I am in so much physical pain and I’m only 21 is terrifying. Trying to imagine my level of pain when I reach age 30 is nearly impossible.

That is one great thing about fear though. It has the ability to help us find the determination and strength we didn’t know we had. Yes, my worst fear is seeing the day when I will no longer be able to walk. However, I’m not there yet. I am a long way off from that day. Today, I am able to walk and do the things I love, despite being in pain. Today, I am able to push through the pain, because the result…the view at the top of the mountain…is worth it. The happiness, joy, and pure bliss of the destination weighs so much more than the pain of the journey.

The fear lingers in the back of my mind, the fear of knowing one day I won’t be able to get to the top of Max Patch, my absolute favorite place in the world. However, the fear also gives me the strength and determination I need to continue doing what I love. Yes, one day I may not be able to walk because of the amount of pain I am in. But I’m not there yet. I’ve still got plenty of fight within me.

At the top of Max Patch (October 2013)

At the top of Max Patch (October 2013)

Washington state bound!

27 Dec

By the time most of you read this, I will be heading west on a flight to Washington state. The roommate I had while studying in Ireland this past summer, Alex, lives there, and I am so excited to be able to spend the next 9 days with her. It’ll be the first time we’ve seen each other since Ireland, so this is an anxiously awaited reunion for sure. Though we won’t be in Ireland, I’ve heard Washington state has very similar scenery and weather, and I think that’s as close as one can hope to get without actually going to Ireland.

Since I will be posting tons of pictures while I’m in Washington state, I thought I’d post a few pictures of Alex and I from Ireland. Though we won’t be in the incredible city of Galway together, I am excited to experience Alex’s home state and get to know her family and friends. Though I have been to Washington state once before, I was only about 8 or 9 years old, so I don’t remember much. Therefore, it will be like I’m going there for the very first time, which is always exciting! 🙂

In Galway, Ireland.

In Galway, Ireland.

 

At Bunratty Castle.

At Bunratty Castle.

At the Roisin Dubh in Galway.

At the Roisin Dubh in Galway.

Stay tuned for pictures and bits and pieces of my adventures in Washington over the next 9 days! 🙂

Dedicated to my three favorite fellow bloggers.

25 Dec

After yesterday’s post on all that has happened over the past year regarding beginning my memoir and dealing with the emotional side of digging up all the memories from my past, I know that I have the support from my fellow bloggers to thank. Though I do want each and every one of you to realize how much I appreciate all the support you have given me since I entered the world of WordPress in November of 2011, there are three specific people I’d like to thank.

  1. Arianna of Arianna’s Random Thoughts: Arianna’s blog consists of posts she shares to empower people and help them be the best they can be. In the beginning, I received huge doses of inspiration from her posts, but it wasn’t until I truly started getting to know Arianna herself that I began to truly learn from her. I think the most wonderful thing about the friendship we have formed through blogging is how we have ended up helping each other. Since the very beginning of my blog, Arianna has been a huge supporter of my decision to share my story, and there have been many nights spent talking over Facebook chat about life, the difficulties we face, and what it means to overcome it all. Though Arianna has told me I have helped her to become more vulnerable in her writing, she has helped me in the same way. It means so much to know there is someone who not only supports and reads my writing, but someone who is willing to sit up with me at night (though she lives on the other side of the country) just because I may be having a bad night or may need someone to bounce writing ideas off of. So thank you, Arianna, for being no one but yourself and for helping me find the strength I have had all along. Your friendship means so much to me.
  2. Cassie of Books & Bowel Movements: Cassie’s blog is centered around a topic we both love more than life itself: books. When I first came across Cassie’s blog, I’m pretty sure I laughed for a solid minute and a half as I stared at the title of her blog (Books & Bowel Movements). Now, though sometimes I still giggle when I come across the title of her blog, it’s become normal. Though it still is funny, it’s also just….Cassie. I have loved having the opportunity to connect with Cassie. Often times, I feel like her love of books and my love of books holds a similar weight, and it’s so much fun to come across people who love the concept of reading, books, bookstores, words…and everything bookish…as much as I do. In Cassie’s most recent post, in which she discussed the amazing feat of reading 120 books this year, this is how she describes readers (and this is yet another reason why I love Cassie. Her way with words is truly amazing): “Like oak trees that carry equators of history in one chopped stump, we carry words.  We are the people that will carry history all the way to our grave stones.  When we’re asked by grand children, small children, dwarves in the woods, about our world we’ll be able to tell them with eloquence and grace whether we start with “Once Upon a Time” or “It was a dark and stormy night.”  We carry the voices of generations in our wombs and for longer than nine months, for life times.  We’re women made of hair, water, and syllables.  They kink in our hair, leave freckles on our cheeks, sunburns, hang nails, wrinkles at the bed of our palms.  We’re not made of water, fire, earth, or wind, but stories, paragraphs, sentences, ink.  The next time you wonder why you picked up that book instead of turned on that television, remember the gift that you’re bearing because not a lot of people are given this gift.  We’re the minor few.” Cassie, your words are completely and totally beautiful, and they never cease to amaze me. I truly can’t wait for our book reading party in the future! Thank you for the amazing friendship you have given me. I truly appreciate your support and friendship more than you know.
  3. Mackenzie of whatever, gatsby: When I first came across Mackenzie’s blog where she described herself as a “twenty-one year old floridian prancing about the northeast in knee socks,” I knew we’d be friends. From Mackenzie’s posts where she shares her favorite bits of poetry by Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Emily Dickinson to her frequent playlists of her current music and her many adventures around the city of Boston, I have begun to realize the critical importance of embracing all that I am, no matter how weird or awkward that true self may be. I owe it to Mackenzie for helping me realize what it means to truly be myself. I don’t know if anyone has ever said the statement, “Weird is beautiful,” but it’s so true and so fitting for life in general these days. I have no doubt that Mackenzie would agree. I also love reading of her many Boston adventures, and since Mackenzie loves to travel as much as (and probably more than) me, I’ve begun to understand that if I want to go somewhere, I should just go while I’ve got the chance. Life is just too short to allow those kinds of opportunities to pass you by. I came across this quote by Anais Nin that seems to sum things up (and Mackenzie, I thought you’d appreciate it): “I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”

In conclusion, I appreciate the three of you so, so much. You have each become wonderful friends to me, and I am so grateful for the laughs, the support, and the love. From your love of books and the printed word in general, I have found the bookish friends I have been searching for all of my life. Little did I know that you each resided in this supporting, loving, and beautiful community of WordPress. Thank you for giving me the sense of belonging I have searched for throughout my entire life. I love each one of you so much, and I am so incredibly happy to call you my friends. 🙂

Books, books, books galore!

17 Dec

Currently, I am visiting a friend in Virginia, and for Christmas she gave me a gift card to an amazing used bookstore in Lynchburg called Bookshop on the Avenue. Since this wasn’t my first time in this particular used bookstore, I knew my way around a bit and was able to navigate from the classics section upstairs to the abundant general fiction section downstairs that held my heart and soul.

I love everything about used bookstores. The smells, the way the books are even in piles on the floor because of the lack of shelf space, and the way it’s possible to find some really great treasures if you’re willing to take the time to dig a little bit. However, this particular used bookstore adventure was even more amazing because rather than spending my own money on books, I had a gift card. Yes, I was going to get books, and they would be free.

Here are the treasures I found:
1. Run by Ann Patchett– I have read Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, and I loved it. Since Truth & Beauty is probably one of the best books I’ve read in a while, I’m excited to enjoy another great read by the same author. When I found this signed first edition of a book I haven’t read by Ann Patchett for only $5.95, I definitely couldn’t pass it up!
2. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See– I’ve read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan as well as Peony in Love by Lisa See, and they have both been absolutely amazing, so I knew that I couldn’t pass up another great read. I can’t wait to read it.
3. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers– I was excited to find this treasure since I have been wanting to read it for quite a while. A friend of mine read it a few months back and said she thought I’d like it, so I can’t wait to see if she’s right.

At this point, it seems as though I have more books in my To Be Read pile than I know what to do with. However, since classes of the spring semester don’t start back until January 14th, I figure I have plenty of time to at least make a good dent into my constantly-growing pile.

All hail spontaneity!

11 Nov

Today when I left Blacksburg, Virginia after a weekend with my best friend, Skidmore, I made a spontaneous trip to Roanoke, Virginia to see my other best friend, Kayley, and her daughter, Clara. Though Kayley doesn’t live in Roanoke, it was the halfway point between where she lives and Blacksburg, so it seemed like a good compromise, especially since I also had to drive back to Asheville today.

I hadn’t seen Kayley since February, so this spontaneous trip was much-needed. It just seemed to work out that I was in Virginia on a day that Kayley didn’t have to work. Therefore, we took advantage of our relatively free schedules to catch up with each other after not seeing each other for so long. Even though all we did was eat lunch and go to Barnes and Noble, it didn’t even matter because we got to spend time with each other (and I got to go crazy over the adorableness that is Clara). That being said, it was pretty much the perfect weekend!