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What a Mud Puddle Taught Me About Life With a Disability

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I was 6 when I fell face-first into a mud puddle. It wasn’t my intention to humiliate myself in front of my fellow peers. However, I was trying to prove myself to a bunch of 6-year-olds who didn’t possess the ability to understand what their words did to me.

“You don’t even have any toes, you toeless freak! You can’t run as fast as us!” one of the kids proclaimed in a high-pitched snarl. I heard my father’s voice in my head saying stiffen up that upper lip and prove them wrong. My mommy always told me the bullies were just jealous and I shouldn’t let their words rain an avalanche on my head. Why would bullies be jealous of missing limbs?

I stuck out my chin and forced the tears to stay in. Don’t show weakness, I told myself, and stood up straighter.

“I can run faster than you!” As soon as I said it, I knew it wasn’t true. My goal was to leave their faces in shock because the “toeless freak” outran them. I could taste sweet revenge in my throat. My old beat-up runners were ready to make me fly down the steep dirt hill.

“You’ll lose because you’re a loser!” snickered another fellow 6-year-old. My bottom lip quivered but I gulped down the tears.

I could do this, I could do this…

I rolled up my long-sleeved shirt and crouched like I was ready to sprint. My ears were greeted by the half-assed taunts and high pitched laughter from my peers. I tuned them all out and focused on the task at hand; to win. What would I win? My dignity? My prize would be knowing I could do it. Even something as trivial as getting to the bottom of the hill first.

And then I ran. I ran as fast as my toeless feet could take me. I ran as if my 6-year-old life depended on it. My hair was blowing behind me like a cape; I was flying like a bird. I had never ridden a bike before, but I imagined it would be exactly like this.

“Slow down, Chantel!” a teacher warned from the bottom of the hill. I was halfway there; I wasn’t going to stop for anything. I was determined.  I was stubborn. I just had to win.

“I got it!” I screamed back. I felt like I had no control over my legs anymore, as if they were about to leave my body.

I saw the mud puddle before I fell. I knew I was going to fall and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. In that moment, I wished I had listened to the teacher when she warned me to slow down.

I heard the splat. I felt the mud get in my nose. I saw nothing but darkness as I lay flat in the mud puddle like “Flat-Stanley,” my favorite storybook from grade one. It felt like ten minutes before someone helped me get up, but in reality, it was probably only a few seconds. But in those few seconds, I felt my whole world crumbling down around me. I had failed myself.

My plan may have backfired on me, but I did learn a few lessons. Just because someone says something to you or about you doesn’t make it true. Just because I can’t do everything someone else can, doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. My minor disability doesn’t stop me from writing stories or riding a horse. And as for proving people wrong… It may be satisfactory, but it won’t change anything. It is not your responsibility to change someone’s mind if it’s already set.

After the Mud Puddle Incident, I got right back up and faced the ridicule and laughter. But at least I tried, and that’s all that matters in my book.

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Originally published: February 9, 2017
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