Breaking Barriers

Breaking Barriers

“Mom, can you drive Jamie and me to the movies tonight?”

“Rachel, you know I can’t, your brother has baseball practice at 6:30 and I can’t be in two places at once. Can’t Jamie’s mom drive you just this once?”

“NO. This isn’t fair, he is involved with so much and I never get to do anything!”

“RACHEL, now you know that is not true and I have done a lot for you. I am doing the best I can, but I’m only one person and I need you to work with me and help me, not make things worse by complaining all the time.”

“Whatever, I don’t care. I didn’t want to go to the stupid movie anyway. Maybe I should go to the dumb practice too, and just have no life; that’s what I’m supposed to do right?”

I stared at her waiting for a response to my question. Waiting for sympathy, something, anything. But there was nothing, a sigh, a tired look, but no sympathy. I stormed from the kitchen, racing up the stairs, the hallway shaking as my door collided with its frame. I jumped onto my bed, face down in the pillow, angry at the world, and feeling helpless. I did care. I cared that I couldn’t go. That feeling of guilt and disappoint in myself began to grow and I could feel it building up, slowly rising in my throat. I was being selfish and unreasonable, but I didn’t care. I wanted to wallow in self pity. Selfish thoughts flooded my mind. It’s not my fault that she is a single parent. She should figure out a way to be in both places at once. She’s supposed to be able to figure out everything. I always have to come second to sports, and jobs, and errands. Those may seem like priorities, but I think some of them could be rearranged. My life sucks. There is no one here that I can run to and ask for a favor, no grandparents, or aunts, or uncles. Just my mom, brother, me, and three cats.

After a few minutes, I get off the bed and reach for the faded burgundy photo box that I kept in the top of my closet. The handle is falling off and the box is scratched and faded. That is what moving a lot does, scratching and beating up anything of importance. Inside there is a collection of photos all mixed up of me as a baby stretching through to the last couple of years. Fragments in time, little pieces of my life. I pull one from the bottom of a pile and stare in wonderment at the picture perfect family dressed up and perfect for Christmas. The husband and wife, two kids, quaint little ranch, complete with swing set and golden retriever.

Pictures lie. They don’t show the husband who cheated on his wife, or the dad that is never home, and therefore does not even know his daughter’s best friend’s name, that she’s had since first grade. Pictures do not show the heartache and the pain caused when the man leaves in search of greener pastures, not only divorcing his wife, but his kids as well. Writing everything off as “baggage” he no longer needs. They do not expose the tears, the depression, the move, the selling of the dog and the swing set. No pictures ever show this. It is funny how any picture I pull from the photo box appears happy, free, and perfect. I guess that is true for most pictures. People do not normally take negative pictures.

My dad left the day after Christmas 1993, for another life he already had waiting. Another life, another woman, no kids. We were never first to him, actually not even a close eighth to be honest. I do not remember that day very vividly, perhaps the pain was too great, or perhaps I just did not fully comprehend the situation. I was only eight, my brother was four. I do remember my mom going into a depression and having to take care of my brother all the time. I was still a child, but as my mom says, I was also always a young adult. I remember one day when I knocked on my mom’s door. No answer. I opened the door and light flooded the dark room. “Mom, are you going to make dinner? I’m really hungry.”

“Not tonight honey, mommy needs sleep.”

“That’s all you ever do,” I mumbled. She rose up from the flattened pillow as if she were going to finally drag herself out of the bed, then turned towards the door and screamed, “Rachel, shut the door and get out. GET OUT, AND LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!”

I quickly shut the door, wiping away tears. I just wanted my mother back. She never would have spoken to me like that in a million years. I did not understand at the time that this was her way of dealing with the hurt, the rejection, the loss, the anger…her broken heart.

My dad’s leaving forever was not so much the reason for the depression as was the fact that she knew her life was changing forever, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She knew we would have to move and give up the life we were so comfortable with. She knew that she would have to get a full time job and that having the time to devote to my physical therapy and Travis’s sports would be hard to find. She knew she would have to fight like hell to survive, and make my dad pay the money he should. She knew my dad would not be involved in our lives. She knew…and it was this unshared knowledge and understanding that nurtured her depression. As the saying goes time heals all wounds, and eventually my mom found a way to pull herself out of this hole and return to the mom who had such determination, such fire.

For me my dad’s leaving was complicated. We were never very close. He worked twenty-four seven and was gone before we woke up, and came home after we went to sleep, usually drunk with some women’s number in his pocket. The main things I remember is that he loved watching football; eating potato chips, grapes, and cheese. He also drank a great deal, and often came home completely wasted. He was never there for the awards or the performances; that person was my mother. I can only remember him being at like two special school events in my life. He fought with my mom a lot, and left whenever he was “sick of all her shit and the damn kids.” Many times when they would fight my mom would take us and leave, going to a friend’s house to stay, so he could sleep off his drunken stupor. As we walk out the door, he always yelled, “Go on. LEAVE. No one’s gonna want you, you and that crippled child.” I was hurt and angry with him when he left, but I am still not sure if this is because of actually missing him, or because I saw what he was doing to my mother. Once he left we were no longer needed or wanted; nuisances, reminders of his past. We see him maybe three times a year. He comes spends the day, and takes us to a movie, apparently that one act should make you father of the year. He calls even less. I think truly all we are thought of is a debt, something he begrudges having to pay for. Throughout my whole high school graduation he just kept saying, “Oh, yea wouldn’t have missed this for the world. One less child to pay for. One down and one to go.” That is all I am to him, a thorn in his side, something he has to spend his precious money on.

Most of my young life was spent at the ballpark since my mom and my brother are both big sports fans, and very heavily involved in sports. One evening after my brother’s game was over we decided to stay to watch the game that followed his. I really had no desire to stay and was slightly annoyed, but the ballpark or the gym were my mom’s stress outlets, so I tried not to protest too much. My brother and his friend Cameron were proceeding to torment and tease these two other girls that were hanging around the field, and had been successfully doing so for the last thirty minutes. They were chasing them, and pretending to try to hit them with a tennis ball, since that is what you do when you are eight years old and like someone. I was making an earnest attempt to read some for my class, but was failing miserably.

All of a sudden I heard my brother yelling, “DON’T YOU EVER TALK ABOUT MY SISTER LIKE THAT!!! I turned and immediately knew what had happened. My brother was shorter than the girls at the time, and was standing on his tip toes, leaning in towards the two, so angry that the veins in his neck were popping out, his tiny little hands clinched into tight fists. The girls looked so scared. I jumped up from my chair knocking my books and papers to the ground, running towards my brother and yelling his name, “TRAVIS! TRAVIS DON’T! STOP!!!”

By the time I got there the girls and my brother’s friend had run off. My brother was leaning his head against the chain link fence with his back to me. When I turned him around, he had tears streaming down his face. The look on his face broke my heart. He hugged me as tightly as he could and continued to sob into my shirt, mumbling, “They were talking about your leg Rachel. They were making fun of the way you walk. They were talking about your leg.” I did not know what to say, ignorance like theirs is something I deal with on a daily basis. My brother is always looking out for me, ready and willing to take on anyone who hurts me, even if they are twice his size. He seems to live by the rule that he can make fun of me anytime that he wants, but if anybody else tries it they better watch out.

I have a disability. I have Spastic Diaplegia Cerebral Palsy, it is not as bad as it sounds. Cerebral Palsy, also known as CP, can not progress; therefore all you can do is continue trying to improve the muscles affected. CP is a disorder, not a disease, and not something one can cure. Spastic CP means that my muscles always try to stay in a contracted state, and therefore make stretching, walking, and growing a difficult process. Diagnosed at the age of two, I have spent most of my life having surgery and in physical therapy to strengthen my muscles so that I could first walk, and then so that I can walk better. I am one of the lucky cases, my case is very mild, and mainly affects my legs. I have learned how to walk now three different times, and it is a lot harder than it looks. I walk better than I used to mainly because I have had nine corrective procedures on my muscles and bones to try and make them work as close to “normal” as possible. People always ask what is it like to walk like that, and I can not really give them a true answer, because I do not know what it is like to walk any other way. My mom and my brother are very supportive, and always push me physically, even when I do not want to be pushed. Without my mom’s strength and determination I probably would never have learned to walk. My family’s strength and bond is what enables us to overcome so many obstacles in our lives.