My Whole Expanse I Cannot See…

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Archive for December 3rd, 2008


December 03rd, 2008 | Category: Life

So, I had a friend, Stuart. We met in middle-school, he was in 8th-grade, a year ahead of me. Back then I was in special-ed, where Florida likes to stick any kid with any disability, cognitive or physical. For pretty much all of grade-school I was always the only kid in class without a cognitive disability. I’d get “mainstreamed,” sent to a period or two of regular-ed, but I was mostly alone in both sides of grade-school academia. I was the “really smart different kid,” never picked on, but always an outsider. I made friends with my teachers, but until Stuart I didn’t have any peers. Stuart was better at math, and I was better at English, but we were basically a class of two doing the same work. We liked the same sci-fi and video games, we got to play trivia during last period. It was fun having Stuart around, school was less lonely. 

The difference between me and Stuart was that I was socially apathetic, while he was painfully shy. He could drive his own power-chair and write with a pencil, he got mainstreamed a lot more, but he had a really hard time socially. Kids tease each other innocently and not-so-innocently, but Stuart couldn’t handle either. Of course, this made him great to tease. I could take any joke, and give one back if I felt like it, but Stuart just couldn’t. He once came back in tears because someone kept making fun of one of the bumper-stickers on his chair. So, we got along because we were both very smart, had things in common, and I never picked on him. I mean, I can be cruel. I’ve said just the right thing in just the right way to make someone sob. Yet, I’ve had the same done to me. I watched my parents do the same to each other for over a decade. So, I try very hard not to use that weapon on other people, especially people who are unarmed.

Stuart went off to high-school and things didn’t go so great. All the clicks and social groups only made him more sensitive. I guess I saw him as a mirror of everything I didn’t want for myself. I wanted to go to regular high-school, not mainstreamed high-school. I couldn’t imagine being so socially paralyzed by my physical disabilities. It was awful of me, but I cut back on hanging out with him. I avoided going to his place and invited him less to mine. He just acted so much younger sometimes.

We grew up rather differently, his mom left when he was really little because she couldn’t handle a disabled son, so his dad over-compensated by completely sheltering him from practically everything harsh, and never instilling the idea that Stuart was different and that there are awkward facts about being disabled, but facts are facts. His dad wanted him to feel too normal. We’re different, we can’t go to the wash-room alone, we can’t feed ourselves. None of that is “normal,” so you do your best to accept the awkward things and live.

I had a much rougher family, intact, but completely unfiltered. I also have an able-bodied brother, and growing up our differences were never made into a big deal. Fact: I couldn’t play baseball with him. So, we’d play video games. Stuart was raised in such an idyllic way that he broke if he didn’t fit “normally.” I’ve had over a decade to come up with my own definition of normal, and I still don’t have one that’s entirely comfortable, but even as a kid I knew what I didn’t want, I didn’t want to be Stuart. Still, I should have been better to him, he needed company that made him comfortable, maybe I could have helped him. I try to be better today, stronger for people who need it. Obviously, I still fail sometimes.

Anyway, Stuart was my only disabled friend. One weekend he got a flu, and a few days later he died. I was his best friend and I failed him. Apparently, nobody really knew him. I went to his memorial service only to find out that Stuart kept hidden journals and notebooks. He wrote sad poetry and nobody knew about it. He had all that stuff in his head and it died with him.

So, when I almost died a couple of years ago, I had all sorts of thoughts in my head, but I was too afraid to express any of it. I had all kinds of worry that I couldn’t tell anyone, not even Sara. I’d always held things inside, still do sometimes, but for the most part I’m a pretty open book now. When I met Ira Glass, I decided that between that episode of TAL and my blog, nothing would go unsaid. Anyone who wanted to know me, depressed or otherwise, good or bad, could just look and see. I have a constant and honest record of myself. Absolutely nobody has to read it, but it’s here. I don’t want to go out like Stuart, unknown and misunderstood.

I just want at least one person to really see me, I don’t want to wind-down feeling alone. That is part of why I blog so unflinchingly.