At dinner, my mother slowly lowered her hands to the table and stared at me with disbelief while I glared at my slab of steak: ‘You want ME to cut your meat for you?’
‘Yes!’ I cried, wiping the grease off of my shirt from my failed cutlery experiment. ‘Whenever I try to hold the knife it slips and-‘
‘Well, what are you going to do when you’re older and out of the house? Just get married and make some MAN do it for you?’ *
Stubbornly, I stabbed the steak in the middle and picked it up whole, balanced it on the points of my fork and began gnawing at it like an animal. ‘No,’ I muttered. ‘I’ll become a vegetarian.’
I never did become a vegetarian, but I did get used to the idea that my family would never treat me any differently because I had a ‘disability’ – let alone use it as an excuse for not being able to do something.
To do something that others expect you not to be able to do is an act of rebellion. That sounds high and mighty, but it reconciles with having a punk-ass attitude as a little kid. I played soccer as a kid. Makes sense, a game where you don’t use your hands, right? Except I was the goalie. A grade school gym teacher tried to tell me it was OK to sit out the baseball segment of class since I couldn’t wear a mitt and throw- I spent the next two weeks with a stinging and bruised palm from bare-handing baseballs after telling the the teacher (in 8-year-old speak) to go screw himself. He didn’t mean poorly, he just made an assumption and thought he was doing me a favor.
I never got teased by other kids. I don’t know why. I wish I did, so that I could pass on some sage advice to differently abled youngsters that might be getting teased or bullied now, but it just didn’t happen. It was usually only adults that would try to tell me what I couldn’t do – the gym teacher above was immediately rebuffed by my classmates who told him ‘That’s stupid, of COURSE she can catch a ball. Duh.’ The only thing I can think of is that because I was PROUD of being different, other kids respected that. Plus, Robot Hand. Instant winner.
(Robot hand, fanny pack – ain’t no one messing with this brat.)
Being disabled or handicapped or crippled – those were words and phrases that never entered our family lexicon. I had a ‘little hand’ (my stump) and a ‘helping hand’ (my prosthesis). As I got older and was too cool for a helping hand, I upgraded to calling it my Fake Arm. Blunt, to the point – that was our style. My friends would hide my fake arm as a joke. My brothers would make elaborate costumes for me for Halloween that involved either a bloody stump or an arm falling off mid ‘Trick-or-treat.’
When applying for college, I saw lots of forms that had a box to check if you were disabled. ‘Dad,’ I asked one night, ‘Should I be checking those boxes?’
He thought for a moment, then said ‘You know, you may as well – there might be extra scholarship money in it or something. But you’re not really disabled.’
Adversity is only an obstacle until you embrace it – then, it just becomes a regular, boring part of your life. Laughter and humor will always be the fatal blow to unfavorable situations. Just because there is a box that other people are trying to force you into, it doesn’t mean you have to check the box.
Above all, learn to cut your own damn steak.
Photo by gbh007/iStock / Getty Images
*Not to detract from the point of the story, but my first year in college I met my husband and he’s been cutting my steak for ten years.