Tag Archives: Childhood

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.

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)

Try like hell.

27 Sep

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been born with Cerebral Palsy. I wonder if I would have decided to be a dancer or maybe an athlete rather than an aspiring psychotherapist and a writer. I wonder if I would have spent my childhood climbing up into trees to read books rather than becoming all too familiar with hospitals, surgeries, and physical therapy. I wonder if I would have had a big group of friends throughout middle school and part of high school rather than coming home every day crying because I had no friends due to my differences. I wonder if I would have spent my time hiking beautiful mountains rather than having to wonder if I’d have the stamina to make it up the next hill.

Earlier this week, my dad said, “Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if you hadn’t been born with Cerebral Palsy. You could have had a wonderful life. You wouldn’t have had to struggle so much.” Though in the moment I wanted to interject and say I have had a wonderful life, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say the words. As soon as I wanted to say something, the memories all came back. I saw myself sitting in a hospital bed screaming out in pain because of the spasms that wouldn’t stop. I saw myself in kindergarten getting my hair pulled every day because I was the one child on the playground who was unable to run away. I saw myself shaking as my classmates pelted me with doge balls during middle school gym class because I couldn’t move away quickly enough. I saw myself crying as a girl I didn’t know imitated the way I was walking and then said she did it because it was a “class assignment.” I see myself at 21, struggling with depression and still not being able to truly accept and be comfortable with having a physical disability.

You would think after 21 years I would be used to the cards I’ve been dealt in this life. The truth is, I’m not. Every day of my life is a challenge. On top of having to convince myself to go to class when my back and my muscles hurt, I have to try to convince myself to get out of bed and face the day even though I’d rather sleep to escape the overwhelming sadness and hopelessness that hovers over me like a dark cloud.

I’m trying to learn to hold on to the good moments, though they are few and far between. The color of the changing leaves during autumn, the few (but true) friends who have been by my side through all of this darkness, a dad who has never given up on me, a smile from a child fighting cancer after completing an art project I taught her. In the darkness of depression, it is very hard to remember those good moments, especially when the bad days outnumber the good. However, I’m trying. It’s all any of us can really do. We try like hell, and hope against all odds that we can kick this life just as hard, if not harder, as it kicks us every single day.

To those who taught me to dream.

2 Jul

When I was little, I wanted nothing more than to be a ballerina. Around Christmastime, my grandmother would take me to see The Nutcracker at the Koger Center. As I sat up in the balcony in my checkered dress and patent leather shoes, I stared with admiration at the character of Clara. I imagined myself twirling around in my own leotard with a toy nutcracker in my hands, lost in the music and a dance that was all my own. When I got home from seeing The Nutcracker, I’d put on my leotard and tutu, grab a favorite stuffed animal at the time, and twirl in circles to the music only I could hear.

It was in those moments, in the safety of my childhood bedroom, that I began to dream, imagining doing things I knew I wouldn’t be able to do in reality due to my disability. I imagined dancing with a grace I had seen only in ballerinas. I put on my ballet shoes and twirled until my unstable balance got the best of me and I fell to the floor in frustration. I even remember asking my parents if I could take ballet lessons, determined to learn how to create the beauty I had seen in the character of Clara. The opportunity never arose though, simply because I didn’t have the balance to be a ballerina. Despite walking on my tiptoes, twirling around in circles on those same tiptoes was out of the question.

As I got older and I filled my head with more realistic dreams, I never stopped imagining doing the things I’d never be able to fully experience. I thought of dancing to the music of my world. I imagined running down the street and feeling the wind on my face as I chased the orange and red sunset I saw in the distance. I pictured myself climbing the huge oak tree in my backyard, wanting nothing more than to find a sturdy limb I could sit on so I could rest my back against the tree’s broad trunk and escape into my favorite book. The creative imagination I possessed placed me right into the worlds I dreamed, though I knew I was so far away from actually experiencing them.

I am forever grateful to the people throughout my life who have encouraged my imagination and dreams. Though I was constantly reminded by other kids around me of the things I was unable to do, so many of the adult figures in my life understood the importance of believing in my creativity. Because of those individuals, I have learned what it means to still hope and strive for the things that still seem a bit out of reach. Through my ability to dream, I developed a determination that has propelled me through my life, despite stumbling again and again. While I may not have had the chance to be a ballerina who twirls endlessly with the grace of a perfect melody, I have sung my heart out at a voice recital, capturing an entire room with the simple sound of my voice. I have participated in theatre productions, achieving my moment in the spotlight by being Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz. I have written of specific moments of pain during the months following intense operations, creating the same tears in the eyes of my readers that I possessed during my moments of defeat. Though I may not have had the chance to live the experiences I longed for, I have continued to move to the song of my own life, continuously grateful to those who taught me to dream and create my own destiny.

A conversation with my younger self: Part 2.

1 Jul

Eight months ago, I wrote a blog post titled “A conversation with my younger self.” In this blog post, I talked with my 7-year-old self and tried to tell her the things I imagined she needed to hear at the time. Things like, “You are not alone,” “The pain won’t last forever,” and “I love you.” More recently, I’ve come to the understanding that I need to become closer with my younger self. I need to sit down and talk with her again to find out what she needs. By doing this, I might be able to figure out what it is I need right now. That younger self is a part of me (though she may currently feel very far away), and I think she might need me as much as I need her right now.

I’m standing in front of a hospital room door in a place that is all too familiar: Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Greenville, SC. I spent enough time here as a kid, and the familiar sights and sounds are a tad too close for comfort. However, the distant hum of the air hockey table in the lobby brings a small smile to my face as I remember how, on the good days, I played as many games of air hockey as I could before becoming too tired.

Nurses walk past me bringing various things to other children on this hall. I look at the door I am in front of, knowing I am meant to go inside. I place my ear against the door to try to hear any kind of conversation, but all I hear is crying. I take a deep breath to try to calm my nerves. My younger self is inside that room, and she needs me. Before I can talk myself out of it, I turn the knob and walk in.

Upon entering the room, it appears that all the lights are off. It’s not until I make my way to the far left corner of the room that I see a fiber-optic Christmas tree radiating different splashes of color onto the wall behind it. My younger self is curled up onto her side and watching the colors change. She holds her stuffed hippo tightly against her chest, her arms constricting and relaxing around him as she cries.

“Hey Amelia,” I whisper as I stand at the end of her hospital bed, hoping I don’t startle her.

She looks up, blinking a few times before making the connection, and then turns back towards the red and green lights.

“You told me before that it would be okay,” she says.

I look down at my feet, remembering the first conversation we had in the park when she was 7. I didn’t know how to discuss it then, and even now when she’s 12, I continue to find myself at a loss. How is it possible to discuss a pain so raw and true while at the same time trying to be comforting and reassuring?

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to scare you,” I tell her.

She glances quickly towards me, and before she turns away, I notice the tears in her eyes. I sigh, knowing her pain so well. I walk around to the side of her bed, pulling up a chair so that I can sit beside her.

“The nightmares are almost as bad as the actual pain, and then the spasms wake me up, and it’s like I’m living the nightmare,” she says.

“I know it’s scary, and I know it hurts. But it’s okay to cry. I’m right here.”

Without thinking, I place my hand on her head, carefully brushing back her curly brown hair so that I can see her face, her blue eyes. As I look into the eyes of my 12-year-old self, I see it all: the pain, the loneliness, the fear…and for a few seconds, I feel every piece of it all over again, even the spasms that seemed to come out of nowhere. I touch my own scars as I remember, and it isn’t until I feel the pressure of her hand wrapping around my wrist that I look up. She’s staring right at me, and her hand is wrapped around my wrist so tightly that I can tell she’s trying to picture the long road ahead of her.

As her eyes move back towards the changing lights on the fiber-optic Christmas tree, I crawl into her hospital bed, allowing her body to curl up against my own. As she holds tightly to my hand and we stare together at the lights changing from red to green to blue, I hug her against me, remembering how much I longed for an older sister who would hold me during those scary and lonely nights of spasms and nightmares.

The pre-surgery nightmare.

4 Jun

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a nervous person. Along with those nerves, I was also very scared, especially as a kid. Rather than using the word “fears,” I was simply told by my parents and my doctors that I had a “vivid imagination.”

Because of this vivid imagination, I remember one specific time when my parents waited a while before they told me about a specific scheduled surgery. I understand now that they didn’t want to alert me to it too far in advance because they knew I’d essentially be a nervous wreck right up until I had to go in for surgery. Though I can understand this now and I know it was a protective measure, I didn’t see it that way when it happened. I remember the night my parents sat me down to tell me about a surgery that would be occurring in about a month. I couldn’t exactly comprehend at first that my parents had waited to tell me, but once I did I immediately started to worry. Not long after that moment, the dreams I would always have leading up to a big operation started. The most common, of course, was the dream in which I woke up during surgery.

Due to my “vivid imagination,” my dreams were exceptionally vivid. In my dream, I was lying on the operating table. My eyes were open, and I was seeing everything. The doctors had the femur of my left leg in their hands, and they were twisting it to the left in order to straighten it out. Though I couldn’t feel any pain in the dream, I could imagine it, which was almost as bad. I looked at the doctor’s gloves, which were covered in blood, my blood. In a room as white as the operating room, the red seemed out of place. And yet, there it was. On the doctor’s hands was the blood that ran through my very veins. As I watched the doctors attempt to “fix” what was “not normal,” I tried to scream out. My mouth opened to make any kind of sound, but nothing happened. I tried to move. I focused so hard on trying to simply raise my right hand off the table, but it was too heavy. The doctors had to know I was awake. If they knew, they’d stop. If they knew, it would all be over. I just needed to do something to get their attention, but they were so focused on my legs. They didn’t even glance up towards my face, not even once, to see the fear and the anguish that was mirrored in my eyes. I wanted nothing more than to get as far away from that room as possible. I wanted to get away from the dead quiet that enveloped me like a blanket that was too heavy, practically suffocating me. The moment I closed my eyes to escape the horror I was seeing, I woke up.

When I woke up from this dream, I felt like I could barely breathe. Without even giving it a second thought, I yanked back the covers to look at my legs. I touched them to make sure they were still intact, still closed up tight. I looked on my legs, my hands, and my sheets for the blood. The blood that had been so incredibly red, so out of place in that white room. With my sweaty palms resting on my knees, my emotions took over. I cried out, knowing that tears couldn’t do this type of fear justice. I rocked back and forth, holding the stuffed teddy bear that was tucked into the bed beside me, and knowing as I started to shake that the tears were coming. When my body finally allowed me to cry, I curled up on my side, hugging the stuffed teddy bear to my chest like a shield, and let my tears speak for me. After the immediate emotion passed and I was curled up into the tightest ball I could form, I began to hum. I hummed the lullaby that my dad so often sung to me when he’d rock me in his mother’s rocking chair on the nights I couldn’t sleep. Eventually, sleep tugged at me again, and I opened my eyes for a pleading moment as I looked into the darkness, knowing the dream was waiting for me.

The Disability Fight: It Never Ends, Does It?

23 Jan

I am still incredibly self-conscious in regards to the physical aspects of my disability. Though I may have reached a point where I am able to talk about my disability with more ease than ever before, I still haven’t developed a sense of confidence when it comes to the physical differences related to my Cerebral Palsy. I shrink away from the differences, silently wishing they were a part of someone else and not me.

When I see the severe curvature of my lower back in a mirror, I cringe. In the summer, when I give in and put on a bathing suit because of the heat, I hate to look down and see the scars on my legs from my intense surgeries. In just one moment, I am transported back to my intense surgeries, all the physical therapy I endured following those surgeries and the nights I’d wake up screaming and in tears because of the pain that seemed to come from everywhere all at ounce. When I am about to walk inside of a building and I see the reflection of myself in a door, I look away. I don’t have to look at my own reflection to know the way I’m swaying side to side as I walk with a visible stiffness in my legs. I don’t have to look at my reflection to know the way my knees still knock inward and the way I’m up on my tiptoes despite the operations I had to straighten my femurs and try to decrease the spasticity in my legs. I can formulate a picture in my head of myself walking that’s so accurate I want to scream. I’d give anything to not know every single detail of how the way I walk is different from how the average person walks. A part of me hates myself for my self-consciousness in regards to my walking. I spent my entire childhood going through intense surgeries and 15 years of physical therapy to reach a point where I could walk on my own without assistance and be as independent as possible. It’s not that I am not proud I can walk. I am. I know I should be jumping up and down on a daily basis because I am able to walk. But I don’t. I just can’t make myself do it.

If you were to ask me whether I’d choose to have CP over not having it, I’d say I’d rather have it because it’s made me into a much stronger person. But if you were to ask me if there’s anything I’d change about myself, I’d tell you that all I want is to look like everyone else. I don’t want to always be the target of stares from toddlers, and even adults, in grocery stores. I want to be able to stop having to cringe at the severe curvature of my lower back or look away from my scars and the pain I remember and still feel. I want to stop having to look away from my reflection because my knees are knocking together and I’m up on my tiptoes. In a way, that’s what all of the physical therapy and surgeries were for. It was to get me as independent as possible, or as close to being like everyone else as I could get. But even with all that work, I’m so far from being where I wish I could be. My balance sucks. I can’t go up or down stairs without a railing. I can’t put on a pair of pants without needing to be in a seated position. And on the days when I think of the things I can’t do and I’ve fallen more than what is normally expected of me during the course of a day, I cry. I cry because it is so, so hard to keep fighting this. No, I am not faced with a life-threatening health problem, so I’m not fighting for my life necessarily. But I’m still fighting just as hard. And it takes every ounce of strength in my body to wake up every morning and make the choice to face it all…again and again, even though all I really want to do sometimes is pull the covers over my head and hide.

New traditions are bittersweet.

23 Dec

Though I love that my parents moved up to NC in May of this year and are now only a 45-minute drive away from me, the “big move” involved selling the house I grew up in until I was 16 years old. Though I was ready to get out of my small hometown as soon as the opportunity presented itself, I loved growing up in the house that I did, and I am very fortunate to have been provided with a house that was full of love, comfort, books, and many memories.

Every single holiday memory I have took place in that house, and this year will be the first time I will be making new traditions in a different house. I’m happy with how things are now, of course. I love my parents’ current house more than my childhood home in SC, but my childhood home holds every single memory of my life up until the age of 16. Decorating the Christmas tree with my mom and getting nostalgic when pulling out the hand-made ornaments from when I was 5 and 6, making Christmas cookies in the kitchen, and putting up my own little fiber-optic Christmas tree (which came into the picture many years ago when I spent the holidays in Shriner’s Hospital for Kids and wanted something to make it feel more like Christmas in my hospital room). Even though the majority of our holiday “traditions,” or just how Christmas Day would pan out, are easy to duplicate in a different house, I think the kicker is also the realization that we will be opening presents and stockings in a different house from now on. The Christmas tree is up against a wall of windows rather than being set in a corner with two couches nestled around it. Since we have a wood stove, there is no fireplace to hang our stockings, and for the very first time, we will only have 5 stockings as opposed to 6 (since we lost Roxy, one of our springer spaniels, this year). Despite that sadness, Hoss, Roxy’s son, will be getting plenty of treats and as much love and attention as we can possibly show him. Needless to say, he’ll definitely be a happy camper on Christmas morning.

I don’t doubt that this Christmas will be just as special as previous holidays. However, I know that for me, it’ll be an emotional adjustment. I know that this year when I wake up on Christmas morning, I’ll be picturing the tree nestled in a corner…stockings hung up on the fireplace…and Hoss and Roxy sitting around my parents, my brother and I as we open stockings and gifts in our pajamas. And maybe, for just a few seconds, I’ll feel a bit sad about not getting to experience another Christmas in my childhood home, but then I will be sure to understand how fortunate I am to even have the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with my family around me.

Janine Shepherd TED Talk: A broken body isn’t a broken person.

6 Dec

Janine Shepherd TED Talk: A broken body isn’t a broken person

Despite this TED Talk by Janine Shepherd being her story of recovery after getting hit by a truck during a training bike ride for the Olympics, it is also an incredibly inspirational story about the power of the human spirit.

Even though my Cerebral Palsy wasn’t something that “happened” to me and rather something I was born with, I can relate to so many of Janine’s feelings that she expresses during her journey of recovery. Despite Janine’s accident, she eventually finds something that allows her to find a new, if not better, dream. In many ways, I can relate to the idea of having a situation allow you to discover something you never thought possible before. No, my Cerebral Palsy is not an “accident,” but through the slow process of learning to accept it (as well as all the emotions that go along with it), I have discovered that I want to help others realize that they too can have dreams despite their disabilities.

Writing is and has always been my dream. Though there was a period of time that I took a step away from it, I came back…as all true writers do. I took a break from it because I realized I was beginning to feel as if I was writing for others instead of myself, which was taking the joy and love out of what I was doing. However, I’ve come back to it…in a much different way, but with so much more gusto. During the years of my surgeries and intense physical therapy, I did write about what I was facing. I came across the original copies of those stories last year when my parents were getting ready to move from my childhood home. As I sat on the bedroom floor of my childhood home, I was transported back into the mind of an 11-year-old girl who was feeling so many different versions of pain, and yet was still able to describe what she was feeling and seeing with uncanny accuracy.

Even though the early stories that I wrote regarding my surgeries lacked the level of understanding that I have uncovered over the last year, they have provided me with a way to remember the details. I often forgot how much we are able to take in during our younger years, and through reading my own life experiences through the eyes of my 11-year-old self, certain details came back to me: details that will do nothing but increase the level of authenticity within my memoir. Yes, the raw truth with which I wrote when I was going through my intense surgeries was hard to take in all in one sitting. However, it was necessary. Reliving it all is honestly what the process of writing my memoir and sharing my story is all about.

Maybe I will share one of those stories with all of you one day. But for now, they are for me. They have provided me with the perspective of my younger self, and there’s something truly special about having that ability. Incorporating the perspective of my younger self with the understanding I have now is just going to make the journey of sharing my story with the world even more powerful.

“Mommy, why does she walk so funny?”

9 Nov

I don’t remember the day when I became uncomfortable with myself. I just know that I went from being a kid that wanted to experience every part of life with no regard for the opinions of others to a girl who viewed herself based on the ways others thought of her and treated her. Though I may not remember the specific day when my attitude about myself began to change, I know that it started with the staring.

Being physically different from your peers is especially hard for an obvious reason: since you’re not like your peers, you’re “different,” and being different isn’t “the norm.” Even though I find it sad that the concept of being “different” is primarily a culturally constructed concept that is perpetuated by societal attitudes, it’s not surprising. Due to “differences” being culturally constructed concepts, it makes sense that the act of staring is at the center. The center of making those who are different actually feel different, even if they may not think they are that much different from those around them (at least in the beginning). Having others openly stare at them automatically separates them from the crowd that they are trying so hard to fit into.

In the early days of noticing how others would stare at me, it felt like a punch to the gut, causing me to feel like the easy target, unable to move or even breathe. The moments that hurt the most were those in which my differences were noticed through staring as well as through vocalization. I remember one specific day that I was in the grocery store with my mom. As we came to the isle of milk and eggs, there was a little girl who walked past us with her mother. I watched the little girl as she moved past us, knowing that any second she’d turn around and her eyes would lock with mine, her mouth hanging open in shock and surprise. The girl saw me as she was walking towards me, and the staring began. The stare started at my feet, and the girl noticed the way that my feet pointed slightly inward as I walked. The girl then looked at my legs, focusing on the way that my knees knocked together as I walked. Eventually, the stare landed on my face, and the curiousity that I saw in her eyes was mirrored in my own. By the time the stare reached my face, the little girl couldn’t look away, not even for a second. Even as she and her mother walked past me, she would turn around and look back at me, still holding her mother’s hand but so engrossed in me that she wasn’t paying attention to where she was walking. Then, ever so slowly while trying to keep her eyes on me, she’d turn to her mother and ask, “Mommy, why does she walk so funny?” The words stung, and I walked away before I could hear the mother’s response. I followed my mom through the grocery store, thinking back over and over to the little girl’s question, wondering what the answer was. That simple question as well as the sadness and uncomfortable feelings that were associated with the staring has come back to me on a daily basis throughout my life, and even now, it’s no less painful than that early memory in the grocery store.

In the early days of the staring, if my mom caught someone staring, she’d look at them, smile and say “Hi, how  are you?” Even though I knew that my mom was implementing the “Kill them with kindness” approach, I could never make myself do it. For reasons I can’t quite explain, the stares were such a shock that I couldn’t even speak. Over and over, the stares of little girls and boys, and even adults, seared into me, searching for answers. Since I was as far from the answers as they were themselves, I looked away, not wanting anyone to see the pain that was reflected in my eyes. It wasn’t until I was home in the comfort of my bed with a stuffed animal in my arms that I allowed myself to cry. I allowed the tears to fall over and over, hating the kids who stared at me so much and hating myself for letting their stares have such an effect on me. After I couldn’t cry anymore for the night, I’d look up at my ceiling fan, watching the shadows of the blades reflected on the ceiling, wondering if there would ever be a day when I’d feel normal.

Even today, at the age of 20, the stares still affect me. Though I no longer cry at night because of them, they make me angry. Angry at the people who can’t accept that there are people in the world who look different from them, angry that the parents of kids who are gaping at me don’t explain to their children that it’s not polite to stare, angry at the adults who are in their 40s and still gape at me from across the grocery store, not even trying to hide their surprise at the way I walk. Angry at myself for still being so far from the answers as I was as a child, silently hoping that one day it will all make sense.