1989. Disney released a movie that, little did I know, would be the first movie that I could relate to. It was a movie about dreams and the lengths some take to see those dreams become reality. I’m sure there was lesson in there somewhere about being careful what you wish for…and consequences but, really…I wasn’t paying attention to that. That movie was The Little Mermaid.
In case you don’t know the story, Ariel is a teenage mermaid living in, I assume the Caribbean.
Like in her popular song, I thought she had everything. She was rich – she lived in a palace after all. She could breathe under water. She was independent. She could move freely.
My point is Ariel had everything, in my opinion.
But, Ariel wasn’t happy. She wanted more.
She wanted legs. Like a real person. She wanted to jump and dance and stroll and walk. Like a real person. I watched Ariel on the screen in my children’s hospital multi-purpose room. I loved her, instantly. Was it because she had everything? Now that I think about it, no. Six-year old me loved Ariel because like me, Ariel didn’t have legs. Ariel couldn’t walk. Ariel couldn’t do what the humans on land could. At that moment I decided I
wanted needed an Ursula in my life. Ariel gave up her voice. She was willing to be silenced to fit in. I gave not one thought about what I’d be willing to give up to get what I wanted – to be “normal”. I was just sick of pushing, ready to stand.
A six-year old me, new to swimming, recognized in my six-year old way the freedom I had in the water. In the water, I could jump and dance and stroll and walk. In the water, I felt just like everyone else. A six-year old me would have gladly traded places with Ariel. If I couldn’t get my legs back, then give me a fin, I’ll swim forever in the open water.
I told you before how I got my legs. (Hint: It didn’t involve trading in my voice). And you’d think, now that I was “fixed” I could be normal too! I could be a part of the world, just like Ariel wanted. If you only read inspirational stories, you might even think that now I could jump and dance and stroll and walk – just like the other kids. You can think that, but you’d be wrong. I could walk, with cuff crutches. I could dance – if that’s what you called the wiggling I did. Jumping? Jump rope was out. I was always the turner. But I always won at hopscotch.
2017. What was I thinking?! I was thinking I needed to be fixed because society presents happy people as the able-bodied of the world. If you are disabled, you are helpless. You aren’t the leader, you are the one who needs to be taken care of. It’s a stigma that persists today.
But here I am today. I don’t even use my “legs” anymore. So I’m not jumping and dancing and strolling. But I am standing. Not on two legs. I am standing using my voice. The one thing Ariel was willing to give up is the thing I am using to take a stand for people like me. The disabled. Women of color. Disabled Women of Color.
I learned (slowly) that what makes me different is what gives me my power. It’s what gives me life. I still love the water and the freedom it gives me. But I wouldn’t trade my wheels for her fins anymore.
And I most certainly will not trade in my voice to be a part of anyone’s world.