Current Issue

Memories of disability

Illustration by Gretchen Schaefer

When I was 5 or 6, I met César, a kid from Mexico with a huge cowlick and only one hand. Nobody spoke of his punk hairstyle or of the missing hand. The only creature that overtly acknowledged his disability was my grandfather’s horse, Frank.

All the kids rode the ancient Percheron without incident; they hung on and Frank just put up with it as if it were an assigned volunteer duty. But, the torment of it all must have gotten to him at some point, because by the time César came along and couldn’t vault onto Frank’s back without climbing onto the fence first, Frank knew who to get even with.

Nobody had ever known Frank to crow-hop, nor had they any idea that he could lift one giant hoof more than two inches off the ground. César made a valiant effort to hang on, but Frank showed awesome determination as he hippety-hopped closer to the stock tank — filled to the brim with muddy water — and deposited César head first.

César emerged, cowlick intact, reminding me of a doused rooster. He hiccupped a couple of times and climbed out of the tank. By this time, all the kids had witnessed at least some of what had gone down, and I may have been the one who started to laugh. Within a nanosecond, the whole gang was overcome with shrieks, laughing until their sides ached. César joined in.

We hadn’t anticipated my grandmother’s arrival. Normally a quiet soul, she rushed to César’s side and enveloped him in her apron. (I personally thought she might smother him to death.) “Shut up!” she shouted. “I ain’t agonna listen to this. Y’all oughtta be ashamed of yourselves, making fun of this poor crippled boy. Now y’all get outta here — I ain’t a-gonna put up with y’all smirkin.”

I think bits of both César and me died a little right then. He had been relegated to the status of poor and crippled, and I was astute enough to realize that I, too, most probably fell into that category. We had been banished from the kingdom of equality.

Maria Armstrong, who has cerebral palsy, recently retired after working in DU disability services for 25 years. She was DU’s first director of disability services and most recently served as the University’s compliance coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Comments are closed.