To the Boy Who Stared at Me After I Fell on My Crutches
Of all the times, why did you walk by me at that moment?
I had only bought my crutches two weeks prior after months of denial about my deteriorating condition. I’ve had them for two years now, but on that night, I was still getting used to walking around with them. They represented a disability I could no longer hide, and I wasn’t used to that.
I was self-conscious enough before you stared at me, kid. I was already watching strangers’ faces when they walked by me, trying to determine if they were staring at me like I was an exhibit at the World’s Fair. When they looked too long at my crutches, I would glare at them menacingly. I showed them my tough guy face. Underneath, though, I was fragile. I was sad.
The night I fell on my walk home you were several feet behind me, walking hand in hand with your mother. You came up to her waist so you couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4. What you saw, and what you couldn’t take your eyes off of, was me tripping over a brick. You have to watch out for bricks; they blend into one another yet sneak up on you without warning. You saw me trip and stumble into the wall of the building I was walking next to. I fought gravity as hard as I could to stay upright, but I lost. Someday you’ll learn about gravity.
By the time I got up with the assistance of strangers, you had just walked by me. Your mother kept walking but you — you stopped to turn and stare at me. She basically had to drag you to keep going.
What did you see? You saw a young man struggling to come to grips with his new life. You saw someone who was vulnerable, who could no longer make sense of what has become of his body. You saw someone who was afraid after falling.
Look, I know you’re a kid, and you don’t see too many people fall for seemingly no apparent reason. You may have seen people fall in an action movie, or in a soccer game on TV. But I bet you probably never saw someone take a step and fall into a wall before.
But your stare hurt. It doesn’t matter if the stare is from an adult or from a kid. Your stare was still enough to remind me that I am different now. You confirmed my gnawing fear that I had become an outcast in an able-bodied world.
That day, you made me realize that I couldn’t go back; that I couldn’t go back to being strong and energetic, and, most importantly, anonymous. I couldn’t go back to my past life, one where I stepped over jagged bricks without thinking twice. That life is over no matter how hard I want it to come back.
Your stare hurt, but I’m not mad at you. If I let each and every stare affect me, you would have probably seen me roll over into the alley, withdrawing from society like I want to do every so often.
You’re young. You’ll learn soon enough that turning around to stare at a stranger isn’t a very nice thing to do. I know it was an innocent mistake. I’m not going to curse at you or tell you to turn around. I’m not going to wish harm on you or hope that someday you find yourself in my shoes, a young soul in an old body.
You just caught me at a bad time, kid. But I hope, when your eyes were fixated on the curiosity of my embarrassing situation, you saw me get back up. When you looked back, I hope you saw me looking forward.
I sincerely hope you never have to encounter disability or any health challenge. But if you do, do me a favor: don’t look back. Not because it’s rude — I told you, we’re past that, and I’ve already forgiven you. What I mean is, make sure that you keep your eyes forward, focused on the future at all times, on the open doors that can only be seen when you are looking straight ahead. You are going to stumble and fall in life, and it’s going to hurt. Doors will close on you. I learned the hard way how to respond, through trial and through many errors. I don’t want you to go through any of that, so please listen to my advice.
If you turn around and focus on what has already taken place in your life, if you dwell on the skeletons of broken dreams and frustrations and pain that might one day litter your past, you’re wasting your time on something you can’t change.
You may not know what any of this means now, but you will someday. Falling happens to everyone. And when it does happen, I hope that you learn how to keep your eyes focused on what is ahead of you, not behind you. Looking forward is why, despite the embarrassment and the sadness, I wiped the blood off my hands and walked home.
You see, it wasn’t too long ago I was your height and age. I stared at strangers who looked different, too. But here I am, 25 years later, disabled, fighting the stigma of disability, both physically and emotionally. But if you look forward long enough, you will find the purpose to your life. Surround yourself with people who love you, like your mother who was holding your hand, and you can bear anything.
Time goes by too fast to look behind you. So promise me that no matter what happens to you, even if you become the stranger that little kids stare at because you’re different, you will keep your eyes forward.
Don’t look back, kid.
Don’t ever look back.
Follow this journey on Sidewalks and Stairwells.
The Mighty is asking the following: “Staring” is a topic that comes up so much in our community. Tell us about one unforgettable “staring” experience you or someone you love had that’s related to disability, disease or illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.