My Peers are in their late 30s/early 40s.
Some have been to and graduated college or University.
Some of them are married. Some have children.
Many of them have careers that they either love or hate.
All of them are making it through the best they can.
And I am on the outside of their experiences, looking in, wondering what normal would feel like.
Some time ago one of my peers posted how their Parent had a cold and that they didn’t know what they were going to do because they were worried. It took all the goodness in me not to roll my eyes so far back into my head that I ran the risk of putting myself into a coma. I decided not to be an ass and tell them to show up for their parent and stop being scared – it was a cold. Get them some soup and cold medicine, go to the doctor with them if that’s what was warrented and stop being such a scared little bitch. That’s what I wanted to say.
Instead, I kept scrolling. I had to remind myself that my Peers are of the age now, where they are beginning to be caretakers for their aging parents. I had to remind myself that many of them had the fortune of having their parent or parents support them in their endeavors up to this age. I had to remind myself that this is new to them. I had to remind myself that not many of them had my life. I had to remind myself how hard it was when we had to go through the same thing. I had to remind myself to be kind.
And this is the point where I grieve twice – first for all the things I had endured in my early adulthood and second for all the cool, typical, mundane things my Peers got to experience that I never did or will. I often refer to my life as being lived in reverse: while my Peers were off in college or being young adults, I had a mortgage and siblings to help raise and my sole parent who had died. While they were in the midst of maybe their first serious relationship in their mid to late 20s, I was having my first kiss while in the full blown turmoil that was a midlife crisis. While they were beginning their careers, getting married and starting their families in their early thirties, I was in the messy throes of my first big break up – from my then partner and also my job. And now while their children are growing and they are traveling more, I am something like retired and trying to reinvent what my life should and will be for this leg of my journey.
I’ve experienced my life out of order as compared to the lives of my typical Peers. I get glimpses into the challenges they’re facing and I am constantly saying to myself, “Oooohhhh! They’re going through this NOW?! That happened to me when I was 23…” or 24… or 27… or 29. And where my compassion should live, there is instead this cold judgement that I am ashamed of, that I have to fight through, that I often have to silence and squelch because I don’t identify with the majority of my Peers. I don’t understand why their struggles are so hard for them, I look at their dreams with curiosity, I don’t understand why the things that are challenges for them are so challenging for them. I often feel like an anthropologist, surveying a cross section of a foreign population, to get the gist of what I am supposed to be feeling with them or where on the scale I’m supposed to be because my life curve stopped matching up to theirs about the time I was done with my first year of college.
And I know they don’t identify with me. I am seen as this disabled person, who I am sure they assume has been protected and sheltered all her life, who probably lives with Mom and gets a check from the government every month. An invalid who has never had experiences and who has never lived. They don’t know what to talk to me about because they don’t know how they should consider me. This is one of the bizarre intersections where I exist: this disabled woman, who’s had and lives an atypical life. Most don’t know what to make of me in general, much less when I start talking.
When I begin recounting The Story of Me, I often have to console them because the traumas I’ve faced are too hard for folks to hear. Let this happen enough times and you learn to stop talking about your Story. And I have, for the most part. But what’s happened to me covers so much of my life and is so much of who I am that my silence, in effect, makes me near unknowable. And I become this person with Peers that I can’t relate to and who have no idea who it is that I am or what all I’ve been through. Instead, I am this caricature of a stereotype who can be easily pushed into a corner and forgotten.
Except I’m not.
Not a caricature, not a stereotype and if I am in a corner long enough, I build entire civilizations in them, out of nothing, because I can.
This particular intersection (for there are many) where I exist is a place I grapple with often. Like most of my intersections, it has been a place where I live and die often. I live when folks or my Peers find me there. And I die when something in me reminds them of things they would rather not face or entertain. And I know that some of it is Them, not having grown up around disabled people or strong women or strong disabled capable women. But some of it is Me. The part of Me that never learned what it was to grow up in a group of Peers, the part of Me that felt too odd man out-ish, the part of Me that never learned where it was I was supposed to ‘fit in’, the part of Me that never could because Life never allowed me the space to.
I have to say, I haven’t been able to find a way through this divide. How to skillfully wade my way through my own muck to a place where I can meet my Peers on common ground. I feel like a perpetual traveler with a pack on my back and a destination that is always just beyond the horizon. I see my Peers engaging in their lives (or imagine them to be) and I smile, glad they’ve found their happy and wondering when I will unearth my own. I often wonder what my Mother thought life would be for me. Did she know I would be this single for so long? Did she just expect me to be because of my disability? Did she have hopes of grandbabies from me?
It shouldn’t matter because I am an adult who can make up my own mind as to how I want my life to be. But it matters to Me what outlook she had for me. It matters what kind of prayers she prayed (like many mothers do) over me, it matters what she hoped my life would be – even if I wound up doing the total opposite. It’s not about if she is proud of Me, it’s about what her intentions of and for me were as she held me in her arms for the first time… for my third birthday… after my back surgery at 12.
Things I will never know.
So I live my life in the jumbled out-of-order way It has been handed me and keep looking on at my Peers, wondering what ‘normal’ feels like.
But I do identify with you in many ways. No, I have not lived my life in a wheelchair, yet I have had many limitations and experienced things that others have not. I also roll my eyes and fight to find compassion for many things I hear from others. You are much more diplomatic than I am, I usually blurt out what I feel, to my own detriment. I simply don’t have much time/compassion anymore for people who complain because it’s Monday and they have to work…be glad you have a job and are able to work is what I think or the ones who are crying over their most recent split from their 3rd relationship in 2 months, give me a break. Just me I guess.
Not just you. I fight this constantly… but I think because I had no one to complain to about it, makes my Peer’s complaints seem like an indulgence.