The sun lightened the sky as I sat drinking tea, eating toast, and scrolling through e-mail. Now morning overtakes my neighborhood. I can see clear down the block behind me, Charlotte Street, maybe seven or eight houses north. The pattern of home varies little through the row. One has a back awning, another stands behind a new picket fence. The gabled roof of one faces vertical; of the next, horizontal. But otherwise the houses echo each other, and mine, in this few square blocks of bungalows.
A notice from "The Facebook" tells me that the latest craze in dolls presents little feminine replicas of disabled children. I find this ironic. Row after row of comments praise this development but I'm skeptical. All my life, I've wanted to be able-bodied. I understand the yearnings of a small girl, gazing at perfect dolls, wishing to be like them. I can't imagine wanting a doll that looks like me, with crooked legs that barely work. Will she come with her own InRatio machine? A set of orders for monthly labs? Please.
Still, I applaud these companies to the extent that they have given little girls someone "Just Like Me"; I'm glad for the girls, the ones with the walkers, the wheelchairs, and the cochlear implants.
I'd be even more glad if children who didn't have disabilities bought and played with them. I'd crow if nobody noticed the differences between us -- or, God forbid, celebrated the diversity. I saw a commercial for Barbie-dolls with different waist sizes. That's fine, as long as little girls don't buy them and role-play attending a Weight Watchers meeting.
Maybe I'm showing my age. Maybe my patience wears thin.
The three-story law school which I attended had a private elevator for staff. I struggled on the stairwell for three months before someone intervened. I fell three times carrying an armload of books and no one helped me. They all trundled past, rushing to class, averting their eyes. Law students! Finally one of the professors saw me out of breath and disheveled as I entered his lecture hall and took me aside. He explained about the keyed elevator which only professors and staff could use, but that our classmate in a wheelchair had been given a key, and he thought that I would qualify.
That was Professor Crandle, who taught contracts. He called on me every blessed day. When I asked why, he said, Because I know you are always prepared. I told him, Well not any more, I won't be! He laughed. Now I will call on you every day just to make sure you KEEP preparing.
I've typed his name three times, trying to remember how to spell it.
He took me to the office and handed me to the assistant dean, who issued an elevator key to me.
Only two of my classmates questioned my special status. One, who shall not here be named, followed me to the elevator one day. She said, How come you get to use the elevator? I told her, The stairs are hard for me. She rolled her blue eyes, tossed her blond hair back on her shoulders. Well you don't look too bad off to me. When the doors opened, she trounced past me. As I walked to class, I recalled that she had enrolled in "the 90 hour program". Technically this would have been her fourth year of college. She's still young, I told myself. She's never had to struggle; she doesn't know what it's like.
Halfway through the first semester of my second year, another classmate asked if she could ride the elevator with me. I'm so tired, she explained. I knew she had three children and no husband, on the heels of a divorce. It stood to reason that she might be too tired to climb the stairs. I would have let her follow me anyway; I liked her.
We got on the elevator and I activated the keybox. She said, this is really nice, I wish I could have your key, you're really lucky! I felt that knot in my stomach which sometimes precedes a struggle to be courteous. She continued. I wish I got special treatment like you. There. Breathe, I told myself. Just breathe. I did not mention that I knew she had been on academic probation for our first year; that she had a terrible college GPA and substandard admission test scores. She had gotten special treatment. Two other students, with better grades, had been released from our class at the end of first year.
We got to the third floor and I stepped aside to let her exit. I had managed to keep smiling. But in parting she turned and said, Pretty nice deal you got for yourself, and my determination snapped. I tell you what, I answered, using her name. You take the key, and you take what got me the key: The pain, the falling, the ugly shoes, the fatigue, people's stares, and every damn part of it. Take it the key but take it all. Just take it, I'd love to be rid of the burden.
She hurried away.
I don't know about disabled kids today. Are they taught that their disabilities just count as another physical trait? Blue eyes, red hair, twisted legs? Or do they hesitate, say, You know I walk funny right? Is that okay? As I do. As I feel I must. Otherwise, I am taken to task. Why didn't you tell me? What about today's kids who don't have hearing impairments, or Down's Syndrome, or Aspergers? Do they feel superior? Experience pity, as my generation did and still does, if what they articulate to me is any judge? Or do they consider those "disabilities" to be "normal" -- like one's shoe size?
I've had people tell me: I thought it about; I decided I don't mind if you're disabled. I guess I'm supposed to be grateful. I feel like saying, I've thought about it, and I very much mind that you're so arrogant as to think you have to give me permission to walk funny in your presence.
I know that I still get stares. I still have people describe my limp before they describe my smile. Someone whom I love dearly once warned others who would be meeting me that I had "a gimp in [my] getalong". I nearly vomited when I heard this. What about my caring nature? My wildly curly hair? My great writing? Why did you feel it necessary to warn people that I limp? Just a half-dozen years ago, this was. Not last century. Not 1950. Don't be startled by the way she walks. Don't gasp. I pity today's disabled children, if the adults their friends will become feel compelled to warn others about them.
Guess who's coming to dinner. Maybe they will use old "Just Like Me" dolls to illustrate.
So I ask again, Will able-bodied children play with these dolls? And not play "hospital", but play going to the prom, getting married, "house". Nothing that has to be specially scripted. Just Like Me.
The neighbor's dog barks to be let into the house. He's a little eponymous miniature poodle. Scott and George, the married couple who own him, sometimes get his curly coat of hair chalked. He looks adorable with a shock of orange. I see one of them open the back door and let Poodle into the house. The sun has fully risen now; a gentle blue settles over our block. Two houses north, a pile of cinder blocks stands against the fence. I have not noticed it before. I wonder if the new neighbors will be building a shed. If they start now, it could be finished by spring.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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