This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.
After working with the Disciples of Ammon to fight the Vachryn, Merry feels more confident about herself and her abilities, but her work places her back in the situations which caused her so much trouble before, and she can feel her old mindset waiting to trip her again.
I smiled and accepted the thanks along with the others, but inside I was shaking. Too many people crowded me, their curious and sometimes pitying looks sending barbs into my heart. There was nothing nasty or rude behind their expressions, but it felt like I was right back at Madam Francine’s, with the girls giggling about me behind my back.
I’d thought I was done with that part of my life. The Disciples didn’t look at me with those all too familiar expressions. I’d thought I wouldn’t mind them anymore. But here I was, with the old mask creeping back across my face to hide the feelings that welled up inside.
Nothing had changed. I’d just been avoiding the realities of my life for the last couple months.
I wheeled myself out of the crowded house and into the crisp night air. I stopped at the edge of the light spilling from the windows and tilted my head back so I could see the sky.
A step behind me made me turn, and I saw Whyn coming toward me from the house.
“You left the party,” he said. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I said, avoiding his eyes.
“No, you’re not. I saw the way you looked back there. What’s wrong? I thought things were better.”
“It’s nothing, okay? I just don’t like people.”
“You like us just fine,” he said, not letting it go. “You like most of the Disciples.”
I looked away. “They don’t act like I’m some kind of abomination.”
Whyn nodded. “We treat you the same as everyone else. They treat you like you’re different.”
“It’s not their fault,” I said, realizing I believed that. “They’re not used to seeing someone like me.”
“If you understand, then why were you so upset?”
“I can’t help it. I understand, but I still don’t like it. I don’t like who I am when I’m around other people.”
“Who are you?”
“Someone who’s always angry. I want to be mad at everyone else in the world because they can’t possibly know what I’m going through. I hate them for not understanding. I hate them for being able to do the things I can’t, but in the end I hate myself more.” Tears pricked my eyes, and I blinked hard, trying to get rid of them.
“Marion.” There was a catch in his voice that made my heart jump. He crouched in front of me so he could take my hands and look straight in my eyes. “You shouldn’t hate yourself.”
“But I do,” I said. “I shouldn’t feel that way. I know better, but I can’t help it.”
The light behind me illuminated his face. There was no pity there, only sympathy and understanding. “I think I know what you mean,” he said. “There really isn’t any kind of shouldn’t or should when it comes to feelings. They are what they are. But sometimes we can steer them in another direction. When we first met you, I concentrated on one thing, and that was finding and destroying the Vachryn. I was so single-minded I shut out everything else, including my friends and everything I’d ever enjoyed doing.
“I didn’t even realize what I was doing until Lans told me they were going to leave me at the Refuge the next time they went out hunting. My whole life had revolved around this one thing and suddenly it was taken from me. Without it I had nothing, and I realized I didn’t like what I’d become. You said I was holding onto my grief to avoid living. Called me a coward.”
I gasped. “I said no such thing.”
He smiled. “No, but that’s what I heard because that’s what I was.” He pulled something out of his pocket and looked at it for a long time. When he passed it to me, I saw it was a child’s jumping jack. The paint was worn thin and the wood was smooth, as if it was handled every day.
“That’s Gisa’s,” he said. “I gave it to her the day she died. I used to hold it when I got upset or overwhelmed. When the memories were too much, feeling it under my fingers would help calm me down. After you told me to let the wounds heal and leave grief behind, I used it to remind myself to be patient. Now every time I hold it I remember the life I’m supposed to be living and the person I want to be. It’s helped me get there. You helped me, Marion.”
I couldn’t look away from his earnest eyes, and my breath caught in my chest. His hand pressed the toy into my palm.
“Maybe it can help you now,” he said. “Any time you start feeling like you’re that person you don’t like, hold it and take a deep breath. Concentrate on it rather than the irrational reactions and when you have yourself under control, remember who you want to be.”
I didn’t know what to say. His confession and his gift had left me breathless with emotion. I didn’t want to consider the way my heart pounded against my ribs, or the way the light caught the white streaks in his eyes.
He squeezed my hand and stood. I watched as he walked back into the house, leaving me sitting in the dark holding a child’s toy.
I’ve had a really hard time explaining what I was feeling the first year or two after my injury, but Merry’s confession comes pretty close. It’s frightening and depressing to hate the complete stranger who opens the door for you just because he can’t possibly know what you’re going through. Maybe part of it was that I felt so isolated. I was facing something none of my friends or my family had ever had to deal with and in a strange, twisted way I felt entitled to my pain and anger. Look, I have a right to be pissy, so just back off and let me wallow. But since then, I’ve realized I’m not the only one who’s ever hated themselves for something they can’t control, whether it’s frightening emotions, mental illness, or just the shitty situations life sometimes deals out.
I don’t have any pithy advice for the people who feel like this. I don’t know what it was that helped me crawl out of the mire. It probably wasn’t any one thing but several. I do know that at some point I realized if I hated who I was, there was absolutely no reason I should keep being that person. Easier said than done, right? But it’s the first step. Knowing you have a choice. And knowing you’re not alone.
As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?