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To My Husband, Who Always Knew My Disability Wasn't the Most Important Part of Me

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Dear Jerry,

I met you at my sister’s house two days after one of my high school teachers referred to me as a “cripple.” I was a strong, brave kid, but that man’s remark shocked me and almost stole my confidence. I remember my class members seeming startled when the teacher called me that word; they seemed embarrassed for me, and they treated me with pity.

You know me so well now, and you know how much I dislike pity. When you met me, however, you didn’t know this about me. Nevertheless, you didn’t offer me pity. In fact, you didn’t seem to think that my disabling conditions were very interesting. It wasn’t that you didn’t see my scars, or my wheelchair, or the splints and pressure bandages. You simply didn’t think that those things were more important than my personality.

For years, we would seek each other out for conversation when we attended parties or cookouts. You always wanted to know about what I was studying in school. You would ask me about my friends and encourage me to tell you funny stories. I was always excited when I was invited to go someplace where I knew you’d be. I remember that your face would light up as soon as you saw me, and you’d make sure we could sit near each other. In my memory, all other conversations that took place around us sounded like the grownups in the Charlie Brown cartoons, because all I remember hearing was your voice and your goofy laugh.

A few weeks before my 23rd birthday, my sisters and I had a pool party. I know now that you felt awkward when you showed up to hang out with my sister’s husband, because you didn’t want to get in the way of my sisters and me having fun with each other. You know now that I grabbed a shirt so that I could cover my scars when you arrived, but then I decided to be brave and let the scars show. I asked you later if you noticed how ugly the scars are; you said, “What the heck are you talking about? All I could think was that I better not make an ass out of myself in front of this gorgeous woman.”

How long did you and I spend in that swimming pool with each other? Do you know? I don’t. We talked, we laughed, we swam, and we didn’t get close enough to touch each other. Then we realized everyone else had gone inside, and the sun was going down. Our fingers looked like raisins, and we both had sunburns, but we didn’t care.

Five days later was our first date. Two months after that was our wedding. Once we’d settled into our home and started our life together, I asked you to teach me to mow the lawn. I’d never been allowed to do it before, because even when I wasn’t in a wheelchair, my family was afraid to let me try. You said, “Of course,” and taught me to use the lawn mower. You understood my sense of pride and accomplishment each time I cut the grass. You would give me your simple, sweet smile but not make a huge deal out of it.

For 25 years of marriage, you have never tried to hold me back when I felt I could do something challenging. Heck, you didn’t even argue when I insisted we train on Superstition Mountain so we could hike the Grand Canyon! You also have never tried to push me to do more than I felt capable of doing, and you have never become annoyed at my limitations. If I am having one of my rough days, you shrug and push me around in a wheelchair. When I enter a room, you say, “Hey there, beautiful!” You see me, the real human being, and you make clear that you love this human being. You don’t sugarcoat criticisms of me when I get on your nerves, either! With you, I am a real, whole person. I’m not my disabilities; I am someone who happens to live with disabling conditions.

Jerry, I often thank you for activities such as vacuuming, or working on a car engine, or buying groceries, or bringing flowers to my mom, or fixing my dad’s computer, or taking our granddaughter to the park. But do I thank you for how you nurture the core of our bond? Do I thank you for always seeing me as a person? Do I thank you for the fact that you still sometimes express amazement at how lovely you think I am? I don’t know if I thank you enough for the deep stuff.

Thank you, my love. Gracias, mi amor. I fear that the words don’t do justice to my gratitude, but you’ll know how much I mean it. Why? Because you truly know me.



Originally published: August 23, 2016
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