Scene 2: Cinnamon Rolls with Tammy
During the rest of the day, Kitten greeted each experience as it arose. She did her best not to project negativity. She completed her class work and then pushed her friend Tammy’s wheelchair through the line of students that passed down the hallway to the cafeteria for their mid-morning snack.
Tammy was a charming girl with a bouncy blonde ponytail, but the effects of her cerebral palsy were even more pronounced than Karen’s. Her arms and legs were beyond her control, and they flailed wildly unless they were strapped down to her wheelchair. She always held her head high because her full-body brace forced her to sit upright in the wheelchair. Her speech was so garbled that, while Karen could understand her, to the other children and to most adults her words were incomprehensible.
The line moved forward until the two girls reached the cafeteria door. Behind the counter, the hot cinnamon rolls smelled wonderful. Mrs. Pearl, who served the food, asked them if they wanted oatmeal or cinnamon rolls. Karen and Tammy both smiled, and Mrs. Pearl knew exactly what they wanted.
“Why don’t you push Tammy over to a table, and I’ll bring the cinnamon rolls to you,” she said with a laugh.
Karen positioned Tammy’s wheelchair by a table and put a napkin into her lap. No sooner did she finish than the cinnamon rolls appeared. Both girls thanked Mrs. Pearl, and then Tammy looked up and boldly asked Karen for help. Karen tore off a piece of warm cinnamon roll and held it to Tammy’s lips. Tammy ate eagerly and looked Karen in the eye.
Kitten said, “Tammy! It’s so good to see you, again! I missed you over winter break, and I’m looking forward to turning your pages in class for you.”
Slowly, with effort, Tammy replied, “Oh, yes! Me, too! You were so kind to turn the pages of my books for me and to help me with my schoolwork. Of all the children in the school, you are the only one I think of as a true friend. ”
After nibbling her own cinnamon roll, Kitten confided in Tammy.
“Every day, we break through the limits that the experts set for us, whether they think so or not. I have to tell myself that, each and every time things get hard! This darn geography is very hard for me to understand, and so is the math. One night before the holidays, I spent over three hours pulling my hair out over some stupid math that I could not get into my head. It was like torture to me! It made me so angry and upset at myself because I could not grasp any of it! I was in a blank state of mind. Nothing stuck or made any sense. Every time I tried to see it in my mind, all I saw was a blank. The math just was not there! What’s so frustrating, Tammy, is that even though it does not make any sense at all to me, I keep trying, and trying and trying. I never give up, and I keep hoping that someday, maybe, I will find the key and unlock all this knowledge!”
Tammy frowned and replied, “I know what you are going through, Kitten. I go through the same thing, and I wish I could help you. It is agonizing to say the least. People don’t understand how much effort we put forth. They think we are playing games, when we work twice as hard and three times longer on our academics than other kids do. I’m like you, in that I never give up, but unlike you, I am ashamed to ask for help when I need it. Perhaps this is because my disabilities so pervade my life that I need help for even the most basic acts, such as feeding and toileting myself. And, of course, even though I have a perfect memory and academic understanding comes easily to me, due to my speech difficulties and inability to hold a pencil, I am apparently incapable of understanding anything, whatsoever, in the eyes of our instructors. At least, you can walk and talk.”
Their eyes met, again, and the bond between the two girls grew stronger. They continued their conversation until time for them to return to class. Kitten left Tammy waiting for her adult attendant, who would take her back to their classroom.
As she left the lunchroom, Karen thought, Tammy really opened up to me. She’s like me. She can feel what’s in people’s hearts. I really want her as a friend. We will build bonds and, as Mama says, we will break the conventional wisdom that experts try to limit us with. If I keep to the truth of who I am, who knows what kind of people I might meet? Who knows how or when I am going to change the global definition of the disabled, but I will. I am going to do it—one day at a time, one opportunity at a time, with love and unwavering concern in my heart.
Original text ©2022 by Karen Lynn-Chlup. All rights reserved.