On “Different-ness” and Denial

I just watched a show in which a black guy admitted that he never told his adoptive white parents that he struggled to find his own racial identity within theirs and I found myself crying at the end. I identified with the reality of keeping a secret, a bedrock one, from my family. I identified so much that my face is red and my nose is stuffy right now.

I can’t tell you the precise moment I learned my “differentness,” but it was early. Maybe it was in kindergarten when I pooped my pants because I couldn’t get up off the floor to ask the teacher to go to the bathroom. Or maybe it was a year or so later when an older boy announced to me that I wasn’t using my crutches right and pulled them out from under me to demonstrate. I ended up on the floor that time too. The floor and me, we’ve had a long-standing relationship.

Regardless of when it happened I did learn quickly that I was different. I was pulled out of class early every Thursday to be stretched, poked and prodded by physical therapists. Sometimes they would have students come to learn from me. That was when I would be “put through my paces” with them trying to test the limits of my capacities and then talking about me like I wasn’t even there. Even a five year old can know different-ness… and objectification.

I knew all that, but I knew something else too. I knew there was nothing to be gained by being too open about the struggles I faced. My mother’s guilt around my disability came off her in waves and it was my job, my vocation as a small child to keep her from feeling worse. So I lived in my family, seeing the constant stares but pretending I didn’t, avoiding the rejection of the popular kids. I existed in a fantasy state where reality was plainly visible but rarely acknowledged.

The pain of life was not to be avoided. I can’t say whether or not having a safe space at home to vent about it would have mattered. What I can say is that I grew up persevering. My parents worked hard to give me opportunities and moved heaven and earth to make the world as accessible as possible, but they did not seek to eliminate the pain. All my life, I’ve assumed that was because they didn’t know about it. But looking at it now I wonder; was it more that they knew they couldn’t change it?