Breath & Shadow
Winter 2019 - Vol. 16, Issue 1
"Able-Bodied Pieces of Shit"
I often catch myself saying I’m lucky. I’m lucky compared to other people with
disabilities. I’m lucky my disability isn’t that noticeable. I’m lucky I can walk, even though
it took me 2 and a half years to learn. I’m lucky that I don’t get made fun of on a daily
basis for how I walk or hold my left hand. I often compare myself to others with a
disability and say I’m lucky I don’t have it as bad as them. But as I’ve grown up and
become more familiar with disability rhetoric and the community surrounding something
I’ve dealt with my whole life, I’ve realized I don’t need to say that. I can complain about
the things that suck about my disability, and especially the people who suck. Or, as I
like to call them, able bodied pieces of shit.
As someone born with Hydrocephalus, which caused Cerebral Palsy, having a disability
has become a part of who I am. My mom was in labor for 18 hours, and when I finally
came out my head was the size of a large cantaloupe. The fluid around my brain, which
caused the brain damage that Cerebral Palsy was a product of, had to be sucked out
with the placement of a shunt. CP affects my fine and large motor skills. I have drop foot
in my left foot and can’t do many tasks with my left hand.
Living with a disability isn’t easy. My body has to work twice as hard to perform normal
everyday tasks, and because of that I am often in quite a bit of pain. There were days in
7th grade when I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed and walk because my hip pain was
so bad, which is something the doctors still haven’t found a cause for. Motrin is my best
friend, especially on days like those. Walking long distances is something that is nearly
impossible. Walking with drop foot is like walking with only one high heel on. Driving is
also something that I can’t do, which is something a lot of people can’t seem to wrap
their minds around.
When I tell people I don’t drive some of them say “What?? How do you get around???”
To which I have to reply, “friends, my parents, and Uber.” Like it’s not something people
in big cities manage just fine. But then that’s something able bodied people just don’t
get. They don’t have limitations, and don’t see them as something that can be
overcome, while for people with disabilities that’s just our lives; learning to adapt and
figure things out on our own. After all, this world wasn’t built for us. Many buildings,
especially old ones, aren’t accessible, simply because disabilities didn’t exist back in the
olden days. So we have to get creative, turn into inventors and engineers to help
navigate this ableist world. And then sometimes we have to deal with shitty people on
top of all that.
For the most part, people are pretty understanding about my disability.
Kids are the most curious, and I usually just explain that I have weak muscles. Adults
don’t ask; they usually know that isn’t “politically correct.”
But then there are those people who are just ignorant, or in the worst case, seeking out
a way to hurt me. Like Griffin. Getting a boyfriend had always been something I’d
dreamed of. I’d been boy crazy for as long as I could remember, falling “in love” with just
about any boy that talked to me. So when Griffin asked me out in 7th grade, a time
when everyone else was beginning to get “serious” boyfriends and girlfriends, I thought
this was my chance. Here was a boy who was actually flirting with me, offering to buy
me ice cream at Dairy Queen, talking to me on the phone. He’d been persistent in trying
to ask me out, so I had thought it was the real deal.
It had to be.
Turns out it wasn’t. Griffin was only dating me as a dare. One week with me, and he’d
get all his friends’ praise. When he dumped me I remember feeling practically nothing. I
hadn’t liked this boy, had only said yes because I thought he must really like me
because he was so persistent. So I moved on rather quickly, taking that weekend to
grieve by locking myself in my room and not talking to my family. But then it was over.
He was out of my life, I moved on to other crushes. Until about 3 months after the
My neighbor Sydney and I were hanging out after school, laying on my bed when Griffin
came back into my life in an unexpected way. “Griffin started a rumor about you a while
back,” Sydney said.
“What? What was it?”
At this point I was intrigued, I’d never heard a rumor about myself before, and in my
naivety I thought it might be something good. I’d thought we’d ended things on good
terms; he had never given me a reason to think otherwise, I hadn’t even really known
why he’d broken up with me in the first place.
“He and his friends have been saying that your left leg is fake and that you can take it
off and masturbate with it.”
I went numb. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t, not externally. I just sat there,
completely in shock.
For a while after Griffin I closed myself off. I admired boys from a far (I even fell for a
couple of his friends before I realized the awful thing they did) but never put myself out
there, never even tried to get another boyfriend, too scared of getting hurt again. But
then I fell for Nick. This wasn’t like any other crush I’d had before, I’d gotten to know him
before I got feelings, we’d been friends for 3 years before we started dating.
At first, I was scared to open up to him. I wouldn’t let him hold my hand, especially not
lefty, because I knew it wouldn’t hold on tight enough and I worried about what he would
But now after almost 8 years together I trust Nick more than anyone else.
He likes to say that he helps me out physically, while I help him emotionally. He knows
when I need help without me even having to ask, but he also knows when to back off
and let me do things on my own. He holds my hand when he knows I’m feeling
unbalanced and opens pesky packages for me.
Now that we’re engaged, I have to think about how all this will transfer to our future.
How he’ll have to do a lot of the housework like vacuuming because I am pretty much
incapable. How he’ll have to do most of the work if we ever have kids. He’ll have to
carry the babies when they become too heavy for me; he’ll have to learn how to put hair
up into a ponytail if we ever have a girl.
Being engaged to my high school sweetheart means I missed out on the dating scene in
college, but I think that’s ultimately a good thing. I didn’t have to deal with fuck bois, or
anyone asking uncomfortable questions. I don’t even know which way you would swipe
on Tinder to say yes.
But just because I’m happy with Nick doesn’t mean I don’t think about the past and
Griffin and what he did to me. My friends don’t seem to understand why I still hold a
grudge. I can’t articulate the words that would help them understand how much pain he
caused me. How he made me feel like less of a person, and how now the fear that
people are always thinking the worst things about me and my disability is something
that is always subconsciously on my mind.
I now realize that despite how oversexualized and disgusting Griffin’s rumor was, he
was ultimately desexualizing me. People with disabilities deal with this form of
discrimination all the time. Abled bodied people don’t understand that we can have
sexual desires and act upon them. We are not all asexual. Griffin started that rumor
because he couldn’t see me as a sexual being, especially not with a partner, so he
created a ridiculous situation.
Ever since I heard that disgusting rumor those thoughts have been in the back of my
head, along with a small ember of rage for Griffin; it is a fire inside me that quietly burns
even to this day. Now it only flares up when I get drunk with my high school friends, and
I half-jokingly say “We should go egg his house.” I haven’t seen Griffin since senior year
astronomy (when I would stare at the back of his head hoping something terrible would
happen to him) but I often find myself wondering how he’s doing, and hoping he isn’t
half as successful as I am right now at Drake.
Speaking of Drake, I came here with the impression that I would never encounter
another Griffin. Drake seemed like a pretty accepting community, I was excited by the
small campus and the independence college would give me. And I didn’t encounter any
discrimination, at least not up until the fall semester of my senior year.
As a senior journalism major, I was a part of the publication Urban Plains for my senior
capstone. I wrote many articles centered around disability for Urban Plains, and I am
honestly super proud of many of the stories I wrote, it’s some of the best journalistic
work I’ve done so far. But my last story has been tarnished, dirtied by an unpleasant
experience that still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
I was back in class after just taking the photos for this story, which was about disability
and sex. The sun was out, I had gotten a wheelchair from Student Services, and my two
models looked like they were totally in love in the picture. I came back from that photo
shoot feeling good. I walked into the classroom and my editor in chief, Rogan, looked up
at me and said, “Hey Molly, how’d the pictures turn out for your story?” I was so
enthused about the pictures and the overall story; I gave him a big double thumbs up.
Which was a big mistake, apparently. I cannot make my left thumb straight when I give
a thumbs up, so it just kind of curls into my already made fist. To correct this I often
push my hands together and have righty help keep my left thumb up. But I was so
excited about my story this time around that I didn’t even think to do that, I just put them
up, a giant space in between and my left hand barely making a fist, my thumb half up in
the air like a deflating balloon. Rogan scrunched up his face, creating a look that was a
combination of amusement and confusion.
“What’s wrong with your hand?” He asked.
A simple question really. I had gotten plenty like it before. But to have it thrown at me at
a time of pure joy and pride threw me for a loop. The setting also shocked me. It’s
constantly talked about how Drake is such an open, understanding, and politically
correct environment, and I had never experienced anything that would say otherwise.
My college was one of the last places I expected to get this sort of question. These
factors, and the fact that he had been making many frustrating decisions I didn’t
approve of led me to blow up in front of this dude. The rage I felt inside was instant, like
a slap to the face. I stared at him, in shock, for probably only a couple seconds, my face
bright red, before I finally let out a verbal command that forced out all the anger I had
“Leave me alone.”
I felt release after I said it. All of my aggression let out. But then I thought it through. It
had sounded kind of jokey, which was good. I didn’t want to come off as harsh, didn’t
want to cause any conflict. So I did what any “good girl” does and immediately took
back my aggression.
“I have Cerebral Palsy.” I told him quickly, the explanation acting as an apology.
The next class period he pulled me out of the classroom and said “I wanted to apolo-” I
felt a rush of dread settle into my stomach like a bowling ball. My face turned bright red,
I couldn't believe he was doing this. I didn’t want an apology, I just wanted to forget the whole thing.
I cut him off, “No no no no no, it’s fine,”
Please forget it. Please.
He went on with his apology, wanting to make himself feel better. After he finished I
didn’t know how to feel. Should I thank him for the apology? Instead I walked back into
the classroom with this weird feeling inside. I’m still trying to dissect that feeling. Was I
uncomfortable simply because he acknowledged the fact that I am a person, and not
just a disability? Or was it simply the fact that he drew attention to something about me
when I, as a pretty introverted person, like to just keep to myself?
Today I shudder at the idea that I was trying to apologize in the first place. I usually just
tell people straight up, no thought to it really. That’s how I’ve matured over the years.
I’m able to be open with people about my disability now. But in that moment, I didn’t
want to explain, I just wanted to be, and he attacked me in that vulnerable moment.
I constantly retweet and share articles about disability in an attempt to get people to
understand. Behind a screen and with my friends I am a disability rights activist queen,
pointing out moments of discrimination or when people are being what I’ve coined “able-
bodied pieces of shit.” My voice is loud, but yet not loud enough when I’m being
I can’t stand up to people I see as having authority or people who are important to me. I
can’t tell professors that even though “differently abled” is technically politically correct it
makes me cringe with every part of my body. Although it is meant to help people not
point out the things people with disabilities -by the way this is the correct term- can’t do,
to me it feels like you’re shining a large spotlight on me saying “There are things she
does differently.” It’s like calling someone with a mental disability “special”.
While I’m on this rant of things that able-bodied pieces of shit do that may not seem like
a big deal, let’s talk about calling people with disabilities “an inspiration.” Don’t do it.
We’re just living our lives day by day, just like you. I can yell this at the top of my lungs
here at Drake and around my friends, but at home I am silent on this matter, simply
because of my grandma. Every year on my birthday I get a card from her, and while I
appreciate the money that comes inside, I hardly ever enjoy the message that comes
with it. It’s usually along the lines of “You inspire me every day. I know that if you can go
through life with your positive attitude than I should be able to, too.”
My grandma, my dad’s mother, has had a hard life. Being adopted into a family that
never seemed to love her, finding her biological siblings and then getting into a physical
fight with my great aunt years later, and ultimately losing my uncle to a drunk driver
when he was in his early 20s--all of this factors into her severe depression. Having her
first and only granddaughter be born with a physical disability and not knowing if she
was going to make it those first couple days also must have been difficult, so I
understand why she says what she says. I get that it’s simply a “I don’t have it as bad as
her” complex. But that doesn’t make it OK.
But I still can’t speak up to her. I don’t want to hurt her feelings.
I know I’ve been going on and on about people who have wronged me, but I’m actually
pretty lucky (there I go using that word again). I am lucky I haven’t experienced that
much discrimination or hostility. I’m lucky to have the friends I have; the friends who will
plan a whole school dance to get me technology that will help me walk better, friends
who will drunkenly yell at a guy who says “I want to be at her level” because he saw
how I was walking when I get on a bus totally sober. I am lucky to have gotten a random
roommate who understands when I might need help carrying stuff, or says she’ll drive
me to the hospital when I thought I broke my toe after falling off my lofted bed, despite
the fact that she didn’t have a car on campus freshman year.
Having friends like this helps me combat the shitty people in the world, the Rogans and
Griffins of the world, people who post ugly things on Twittter like “Handicap parking
should only be available 9-5” because obviously people with disabilities don’t go out at
night, but I also look for outside sources like comedians with disabilities to help me feel
better about having a disability when people have me down. Josh Blue is a great
example of this. Blue has CP just like me, and he uses his disability in his act. I actually
got to go to one of his shows and take a photo with him, in which we shouted, “Palsy
Power!” and lifted up our affected hands.
He has one particular joke that always hits home for me. In it he talks about walking
around the Mall of America and realizing people were giving him dirty looks. He soon
realized people thought he was making fun of another man with CP who had drop foot,
or what I call “the swagger” ahead of him. This joke makes me laugh every time, but it
has also helped me realize that people who don’t understand are going to think
whatever they want, and ultimately as someone with a disability you just have to not let
that bother you and keep living your life, swagger and all.
Molly Adamson is a recent graduate from Drake University where she received two
bachelor's degrees in Writing and Magazine Journalism. She wrote "Able-Bodied Pieces of Shit" during a senior year personal essay class. She is currently working for Meredith Corporation, a company that publishes magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens.
She is also planning her wedding to her high school sweetheart Nick and will be
marrying him in July 2020. She is very excited to have her first piece published by
Breath and Shadow.