In the beforetimes, I took a risk. Social isolation is not something that is new to me as a disabled person. When I think back on the course of my life, the majority of it has been spent in isolation. This isolation is due to no fault of my own, it is just a function of ableism in this country. Yes, we talk about the Americans with Disabilities Act and civil rights, etc but at the heart of it, no one gives a damn about the young Black disabled queer girl in Marysville, California, wishing that she could be something more than what the world had to offer or see of her–if they ever saw her at all.
Thinking back to my childhood, I didn’t get to go to parties. There was no such thing as accessible playgrounds. In fact in the United States, I do believe there’s less than 100 accessible playgrounds for disabled children to play in. And yet, recently, an article came out about hide and seek: about rats, cute little rats, who want to play hide and seek and giggle with joy when they’re found, or when they found the scientists. The scientists wondered, “Oh, if we do not have access to play, how does that impact development? Does it cause a child to become depressed?” But of course, we do not need a study on rats, we just need to look to the people that we refuse to see in the first place.
Why couldn’t I be where they walked and ran? Why couldn’t I enjoy the same things that my brothers enjoyed, what was wrong with me? The depression grew, the self-loathing grew.
Growing up in Northern California, where the sun would get so hot you could fry eggs on the pavement, me by my lonesome, reading the days away. Libraries were often places full of adventure! Hundreds of thousands of books, places known and unknown, real (and maybe they could be real if my imagination allowed for it), but the depression, self-loathing was real.
Why couldn’t I be where they walked and ran? Why couldn’t I enjoy the same things that my brothers enjoyed, what was wrong with me? The depression grew, the self-loathing grew. It was in my 20s I found myself in a HUD subsidized apartment looking around in a state of abject poverty–because when you’re disabled it’s OK to only earn $748 a month. You can live on that right? But of course, we protest about a $600 stimulus check.
When I think about that time in my life wondering whether I should end it all, because who cares? All of my friends enjoying travels, going out to parties, having sexual experiences, while I kind of withered away into nothingness. Nobody saw or even cared that I existed.
But yet in college, as I was washing my hands after biology class, I was approached by this random woman saying, “Come follow me.”
Now, as a Black girl I know not to follow white people into unknown spaces, but she insisted, “No, you can trust me.”
“But I don’t know you.”
“Please, just come follow.”
And of course, as I dried my hands and eyed her suspiciously, something said, “Take a risk.”
I followed her down the basement hallway, down dark sideways, and through the tunnel system of Rochester Institute of Technology, where we happened upon her office. She said, “I have an opportunity for you. I think for some reason you need this.” So we went down and on the piece of paper it showed, oh hey, a trip to Costa Rica! Well I had never really traveled in my life and so Costa Rica?! What?!
But of course, I could not afford the ticket costs on my measly income and so I lamented to my therapist at the time who said, “I think you need this opportunity. Your depression is not just because of your brain injury but because of a society that refuses to acknowledge that you deserve and have every right to move in the same ways as other people.”
So she paid for that ticket. And for the first time I was able to fly and experience. I was thinking about all the times that I missed school field trips, etc. “No, she cannot do this, oh it’s too much work, oh you’ll be a burden to other people.” As I soared through the skies looking down at the world below, saying goodbye to my burdens and hello to myself, that trip to Costa Rica is one that I will never forget. Particularly, when we were able to hike up to the mouth of an active volcano. I remember looking at the magma as it kind of oozed and writhed, and smoke billowing up into the sky, and saying: I did this! Me! This disabled broken body did this!
And so the biggest risk, I learned, is the one that you take to see yourself, to honor yourself, to give to yourself, to pour into yourself. And on that day the confidence, that I always wished I had, began to ooze out like that magma, and I began to see myself in a whole new light. I took a risk.
Photograph by Erica Jae
All audio, text and images are under copyright © Neelum Films LLC