“Is that your bad arm?”
I am five years old; a Big Girl, about to go to Big Girl school with lots of other Big Girls and Boys. I’m meeting my new teacher, and my new principal, who has just said this to me.
Is that your bad arm?
I don’t see you as “bad,” left side; empty or blank, maybe, but not bad. What I do see are lots of people trying to make you “better.” The physical therapist grabs my arm and leg and pulls them, bends them in all kinds of directions they aren’t supposed to go in. It hurts. I don’t tell her no: my physical therapist is nice, and only mean strangers can touch kids in bad ways. My mother, too, stretches my left leg out and kneads it with her hands–making dough. Pain-itching-prickliness shoots up my spine, a silent scraping of fingernails on a chalkboard. And all I can do is laugh.
Is that your bad arm?
My mother is always telling me to keep you down so you can sway at my side like my right arm does, like all the other people’s left arms. But then I don’t know where you are. So I hold you snuggled against my ribs. My cousin sees us together like that and says, “You walk like a snob.” I yell at her, and make her cry.
I yell at her because, over the years, I have learned to be ashamed of you. You aren’t like other left sides. Doctors call you hemiparesis; they also call young med students over so you can grip their index fingers and show them how weak you are. You are the reason we quit piano lessons; the reason we lost all those spelling games in school. (“Now write on the board with your left hand!”).
But you are also the reason we wore that awesome brace in fourth grade; I wore shorts and knee-length pants to show it off, and some of the other kids thought it was cool, too. Unfortunately, the doctors couldn’t get it to fit right. Like most of the things adults did to you, it hurt.
I’m sorry I let people who don’t know you tell me you what you are. They don’t know how good it feels to twist your fingers as hard as I can with my right hand, or to let them dangle in mid-air. They cannot feel the music in the ka-THUNK! ka-THUNK! ka-THUNK! when we walk together. They cannot know the way you feel to me, the way you affirm your difference from my right side in ways I can’t explain.