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.
Afer finding her home in shambles and her father almost dead, Merry travels with Lans, Vira-we and Whyn to the Refuge of Ammon. Whyn is making a concerted effort to understand Merry and help her through pain.
“You’ve never had a hug from a friend?”
I looked away. “I’ve never had a friend.”
“Maybe because you’re always making that face.”
I turned to glare at him. “What?”
“You go all cold and angry. Your eyes are saying ‘stay away from me’. You don’t do it to Lans or Vira, but almost every time you talk to me you look like that.”
I blinked. No one had ever said anything about my mask before. No one had ever realized that it was a mask, that there was a real person underneath.
“Look, you don’t have to tell me anything. I know I haven’t been all that nice to you so far, but I’m trying to do better. I thought maybe you were sad, so I tried to make you feel better, but now you look like you want to bite my head off. What did I do?”
“You didn’t do anything,” I said. I wouldn’t have responded at all, but I was worried about the fragility of our new relationship. We’d been getting along, and it looked like I would be the one to ruin it if I didn’t at least try to explain. “The face… it’s a defense.”
“You don’t want pity?”
“No,” I said, wishing I was in my chair so I could run him over with it. “Would you?”
“I guess not.”
“Just because I can’t walk anymore doesn’t mean I’m useless.”
“I don’t think you’re useless.”
“Well, a lot of people do. I can’t go anywhere without someone staring, or telling their children to feel sorry for me, or something. I want to keep people from coming up and saying stupid things, like asking if I need help.”
“Wait,” he said and shook his head a little. “You’re angry because people want to help you?”
“No, that’s not-” I took a deep breath and thought about how to explain the rage. “I’m angry I need help. I shouldn’t need it. I should be able to do everything by myself, like everyone else in the world.”
He cocked his head to one side, and the corner of his mouth turned up. “You know that’s kind of silly,” he said.
My jaw dropped, and I stared at him. I’d never told anyone about the anger before, and when I finally did, he laughed at me?
He looked over and saw my face. “No, wait, hear me out. I’m saying it’s silly to be ashamed to ask for help. No one can do everything. I’m shorter than most men.” His ears turned pink. Funny, I’d never thought of that shade of red as endearing before. “I can’t always reach the books on the top shelf of the library, so I have to ask Lans to get them for me. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s who I am; I’m not ashamed of it.”
“I bet Lans has never had to ask for help in his life,” I said, crossing my arms, but I was surprised when Whyn actually laughed.
“You wouldn’t win any money with that gamble. Lans can’t read Valerian.”
I raised an eyebrow. “But he speaks it so well.”
“Speaks it yes, but he’s been too busy to learn to read and write it. He’s not ashamed of it, but if we get a missive or have to send one, he gets Vira-we or me to do it.”
“Oh.” Big strong Lans had to ask for help? It made my concerns seem a little ridiculous.
“So, let me see if I have this straight,” Whyn continued. “You don’t want to have to ask for help, and you don’t like change.”
I pursed my lips. I should have known Lans would blab to his partners.
“Basically, you hate feeling out of control. But it sounds to me like your problem-” He made a vague gesture at my legs. “Is controlling you.”
“Well, you’re letting it get the better of you. If it’s always making you worried or angry, then it’s the one in control of the situation… hypothetically speaking. If you let it go, accept there are some things you’ll always need help with, then you can concentrate on the things you can do, the things that make you happy and feel in control.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding. Through most of the conversation I’d wanted to hit him with something, but now I took a moment to think about what he was saying. Maybe the reason I was so miserable all the time was because I was only thinking about the things I couldn’t do. His reasoning made sense and struck a chord within me.
There was still a piece of me that was resentful. I didn’t want him thinking he knew everything and could fix the problem just like that, but maybe his idea was valid.
“Perhaps…perhaps you’re right. But you do realize that’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”
“Of course not. It’s a decision you’re going to have to make, probably every day for the rest of your life. I imagine it’ll be really hard, but it might be worth it.”
Could it be? By doing it my way, I spent most of the time angry and miserable. So much so I didn’t want to be called Merry anymore. Did I want to be miserable for the rest of my life? Well, the answer to that was easy. No, I didn’t.
I had this conversation with my husband maybe two years after my injury. His words seemed harsh at the time. I was letting my injury control me? I finally realized he was telling me I had a choice. I could choose to focus on the things that made me miserable. Or I could move on and find joy in the things I can do, the things I’m good at. It’s a thought that changed the way I look at my injury, the way I look at life.
The choice may be easy but the practical application is a lot more difficult. Like Whyn says, it’s a choice that has to be made every day. I was ready to accept the difficulty. But is Merry?
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?
AE: Familiar Struggles AE: A Risky Kind of Fun