[I wanted to post this on December 3, but couldn’t, and things happened since that make it appropriate to post now as well.]
The other day I found the poem that the linguistics professor showed me the day I tried to explain how I read – what written language was where I come from, how beautiful it was, like having a ghostly second set of senses. The poem was indeed Seamus Heaney, because it jumped out at me when I saw it: “Blackberry Picking.” I didn’t read it only for the senses of the letters; that wonderful ghostliness has faded a little. (Or a lot – at this point I have to wonder if what’s been going on has killed the alphabet too.) I read it because I needed to remember, again, when someone tried to see as I see. He couldn’t read the way I could – the words didn’t do the same thing. But he found me a poem and tested it out so that he might understand at least a little.
I didn’t know him nearly as well as I knew some of the other professors, and yet there was that. And yet he was the one to say, of his relative and of me and the whole you plural of people like us, “You deserve help from the world.” I still think “help from the world” is the best phrase anyone gave me to describe the part of disability that no one talks about: the intangible, invisible, abstract, communicative – the human. On human:
I remember the professor who broke the page count for me so that I could communicate via the papers I handed in each week. Who gave me an introduction to disability politics because xe knew something about it. Who saw me unexpectedly sick with god knows what before I could hide, my voice gone and my limbs and head spastic until the spasms brought sobbing from my eyes and chest as more spasms, who watched me hand xyr the assignment that was due that week after I had slackened. Xe was staring at me as I held out the paper.
Xe was horrified.
Xe was also, inexplicably, grudgingly, grinning.
“Shades of that thereof,” xe said, and quickly pursed xyr lips. By that xe meant stubbornness. By that xe meant xyrself, too, xyr own. Resilience. Fight.
It was good company to be in.
Ess, I whispered. Yes. Hell yes. And I left, and got the paper back next week as ever and the week after that.
I need, now, to remember that. Today the last of the past few months and their henchmen, which had worn on my body for a while even longer, caught up to me and twisted me and tripped every ugly nerve and bone as if to gloat for one last time, just before I could say it was over. It’s gone now. But it left so much damage, on me, between me and other people, that it nearly stupefies me with grief. And maybe I should let it, just once more just now, because I know from here on all I’m going to have is the That Thereof.
I was proud, once, of the That Thereof. And now I will need every unquantifiable bit of it I have in me, because there’s nothing else now. I’m thankful, almost unbearably, that my That Thereof was first named a good thing by someone who knew what it was. I didn’t grow up around disabled people, nor was I much included (in spirit) with nondisabled people. But college was my safe home, and there I raised myself as one because there were others. And some of them even helped me along, even as stunted as I was – not just stunted because of my body or brain but because of where I grew.
So now I have to take the gift of my shared That Thereof, which made me an equal that time instead of an outcast, and start over. I’m still stunted, but it will have to be enough. But at least I have a tool with which to do it, because there were helpers in the world then. Here’s to anybody with the great That Thereof – happy belated International Day of People with Disabilities. Disabled Persons. Disabled People. You know what I mean.