Fight In The Belly
I don’t remember what her face looks like.
I remember that she had brown skin like mine, that she was wiry, where my own Mom had not been and that she had this boundless energy that I could not for the life of my five year old self, understand.
What her sole mission seemed to be though, was to make me walk from one end of the hallway to the next, despite myself. At first it seemed simple enough: she had me stand up from my small push wheelchair on my own, my stomach taking the lead, my steady waddle accepted so long as I made progress. She’d bring the chair to me, allow me to sit, back the chair up to the hallway end again and we would repeat. Each time though, she would stand a little farther back, increasing the distance, adding instructions on how I had to not lead with my stomach (though this would disrupt my weak-muscled center of gravity), how I had to stop waddling and lift up my feet: heel toe, heel toe (though it was all I could do to get my muscles to comply) and most maddeningly, that I had to keep on going, long after my muscles became wobbly and burned.
Unable to comply, I broke. The steely resolve of commanding my body to perform in ways it simply could not, gave way to my full, tear-streaked cheek screams of “I CAN’T! I CAN’T! I CAN’T!” at the top of my lungs. Despite what she tried to say, in spite of how she tried to console me and urge me on just a few more feet, I continued with my mantra, the pain wild in my eyes, the panic of possibly falling fast on it’s heels, the last shreds of my composure unfurling.
I CAN’T I CAN’T I CAN’T!!!
My cries bounced off the ceiling and back into my ears as I reached the pit of my meltdown, allowing myself to understand what it felt like to not be heard nor saved. She grabbed either side of my face, calling my wild eyes to hear her voice,
“SANDRA! What is wrong?!”
“MY LEGS BURN!! THEY HURT!”
“Listen to me: I don’t ever want you to say ‘I can’t’ – say what’s wrong but never say ‘I can’t’. I’m going to get your chair, hang on…”
My knees began to buckle as the chair arrived, the pain refreshing anew as I sat down, eliciting more wounded sobs. The soles of my feet in my orthopedic brown boots greeted the pin pricks of a thousand stinging ants. My sobs doubled over. How could she let me suffer so? How could she make me give more than what I could? Why did she ignore my cries?
I became crushed and inconsolable.
“Listen! Listen to me… there will be lots of things in life that will be hard for you but don’t ever say ‘I can’t’. You rest, you take your time, but you ALWAYS keep trying – you hear me? You understand me?”
I wonder if she knew what she had done to me? What fight she helped to ignite in my belly that miserably, painful day?
As a kid, how that fight helped me to make it through abuses, big and small, slight and overt.
That when I became a teenager, how that fight put me at great odds with my Mother, who didn’t know or understand why I was so disobedient, headstrong, determined to assert myself.
How the fire of that fight in my belly helped to save our family after our Mom died.
Does she know how that fight keeps me now, from falling too far into despair? How it keeps me always finding a way, how it simply keeps me?
“Your legacy is every life you’ve touched.” – Oprah Winfrey