The diagnosis – drum roll, please! Why isn’t she walking? She’s 18 months old. She should be walking by now. Well folks, it was 1949 and diagnosing moved slower back then. When I couldn’t walk by 18 months; they took me to a doctor to find out what was wrong. Why do we always assume something is wrong if you’re not on the “normal” continuum? I signed up for this! I wanted to experience density. How did they arrive at my verdict? I only grasped that my family was told that I had this thing called Cerebral Palsy. My mother’s fear ascends to new levels. My grandmother pursued ways to help me. Everyone else was quiet, not making eye contact, living in avoidance mode. I knew something horrible had happened to me but that’s all my little brain could absorb.
You see, in 1949, the thought was – that if you had Cerebral Palsy; you were retarded. Can I tell you how many IQ tests I was required to take? OMG. I can chuckle now at the thought of a test person thinking – wow this little one is a good guesser. So, the doctors would order an IQ test repeatedly. But I’ve never fit a mold. I didn’t fit one then. My parents lived in Maryland and mainstreaming was not an option. Even in pre-school, all special ‘needs children were in one room. There was no individualized training for a child who wasn’t retarded. Well, as you can imagine; Beulah was not having that. Yes, she was a force to be reckoned with for many; but she was my advocate from day one. Doesn’t mean I didn’t see the whole picture. I did. She was no saint, but she wanted me to be all I could be. Well, sort of, until I graduated from high school and discovered boys, but we’re a long way off from that.
Beulah and George lived in northwest D.C. at this time and Washington D.C. was much more progressive than Maryland. D.C. had a school called C. Melvin Sharpe Health School. – a school for handicapped children. It was progressive in that it separated children with learning issues from children without leaning issues. I remember being comfortable there because my disability was mild compared to most of the population at C. Melvin Sharpe. They even had a small pre-school program where I could get physical therapy and speech therapy. I was a star! But this meant my parents had to move across the state line into D.C. We lived in a military housing development in Rock Creek Park, the rent was low. They said they couldn’t afford to live in D.C. But it felt like rejection to this soon-to-be three-year-old me. The plan was to live with my grandparents during the week and go home on weekends. That was the plan, but the visits home became fewer and fewer. As this was progressing, my sister joined the earth school, my normal non-handicap sister. Well, it didn’t take long for little CherCher to surmise that she was being sent away and replaced with normal. The formation of “I am not worthy, I don’t belong” took hold and it has affected my life more than Cerebral.Palsy ever would.
I believed that being different was bad; wearing a brace on my left leg was bad, having involuntary movement in my hands was bad; having a voice that was tight and constricted was bad. I was inferior. No one told me that I was inferior, but I was a perceptive little girl and I read between the lines. When you’re three years old, you think everything’s about you. We are all little narcissists at that age. What I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t the only narcissist in this family. But that’s a story for another time too.
Did you grow up with a false belief about who you were? What was your false belief? I’m not important, I’m alone, I’m a burden, I’m not enough, etc.? In the depths of my being, I knew my job was to unify this family with love for this little bundle wrapped in pink. It never transpired. Why did I believe that I could unify this family. My birth actually divided this family but that was their choice. I was just there for the journey.