Well I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday
We danced to Meat Loaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light, and sung along until our throats were sore. It was the last song of the night, but we didn’t want it to end. Not yet. Not now. Just one more song. We drew out time as long as we dared, until it snapped back into place and the clock continued ticking.
It was one of two proms I had, and though I’m sure I had a fantastic time during the second one–with the friends I’d made back in the “real” world, with college acceptance sorted, with the midnight blue dress that made me feel pretty despite the fact that medication caused me to lose so much weight that strangers on the street offered to feed me–the first one sticks in my mind.
By that time, I’d been living in the youth group of a medical rehabilitation facility for almost a year. One of many children and teens who had genetic or congenital disabilities, developmental disabilities, acquired disabilities, chronic illnesses … we were a collection of all sorts. Our school was a special school.
And I’ve always wondered what it would’ve looked like to the outside world, this dance of ours. (Would we be pitied?)
When I first got to that facility, at fourteen, my condition was such that I spent my days bed-ridden, reading.
By the time that dance came around, I’d found my way back to school. I spent my afternoons horse riding and swimming and other things that classified as physical therapy. In fact, I went to a plethora of therapies–and hated them all. But they were an integral part of daily life. Classes were scheduled around our therapies–not too hard in a class of four.
When I left at fifteen, I was sure I’d made friends for life. Because that’s how you feel when you’re fifteen. But at the same time, we all knew better.
During that year, we lost friends. Death was a part of life too. And sometimes it felt like the ones who finished their therapies were the ones that got away. Because it’s young-adulthood compressed in a year. Safe and scary and always in transit.
But sometimes we had moments when time stopped for us. (And sometimes, we didn’t want to grow up quite yet.) That night it felt like there were dozens of us. And at the same time it felt like it was only us. (Neither was true.)
When I got to the facility, it seemed overwhelming and threatening. I was an Aspie living in a group home.
Long, long before the dance it felt like the safest place on earth. Because within its walls we could be ourselves. We were all different. We didn’t have an understanding of normal, because there simply wasn’t one. And yet… We complained about the food. We complained about the curfew. We had competitive, kamikaze-like wheelchair games. We pulled pranks.
To the dulcet tones of Meat Loaf, it didn’t matter if you danced on two feet, two wheels, crutches. (Who cares, anyway?)
When I left home, it felt like such a different world. Not one I was used to–the walls and the bed and the occasional fragments of outside. The world I was used to only existed in books. They were my escape rope and my lifeline.
I learned only minutes after arriving at the facility–where I came home, too–what a thousand books hadn’t told me.
That we weren’t Other. That we weren’t different. But that we were there, that we were us.
And that we existed.
And in that moment, I swear we were infinite. (Thank you, Steven Chbosky.)