My story begins in 1984, even though it was supposed to begin in 1985. My mom, six months pregnant, decided it would be a good idea to move furniture. In her womb, I decided it would be a good idea to move the fuck out.
And so there I was, three months early – 3/4ths of a pound – screaming that maybe I made a mistake; I wanted to go back in.
It didn’t happen. I was put in an incubator for three months, and survived.
My dad says that around the age of 2, he noticed something might have been wrong with me. My right eye wasn’t focusing correctly; I walked on my tip-toes.
A doctor visit – and subsequent doctor visits – confirmed that I had cerebral palsy. A mild case of cerebral palsy, but I had it.
Ask me today what cerebral palsy is, and I couldn’t really tell you. I might have known expertly once, but that knowledge is long gone. I have difficulty moving at times. My muscles are extremely tight. My right eye is lazy – absolutely noticeable to me, not so much to others anymore. My right side, in general, is somewhat weaker than my left.
I had surgery done on my eye as a toddler, to try and correct its laziness. Years of eye patches followed, mostly resulting in me trying to hide my eye patches because I didn’t want to look like a goddamn pirate in front of people.
I had surgery done on my right heel; the doctors had to stretch out my Achilles tendon. For some period of time (I think three months), I was in a full body cast. I don’t remember much of this, except that I drank a lot of chocolate milk, lay in a crib with a poster of a monster behind me, and told my dad a lot: “Daddy, I’m stuck.” My family likes to tell me that when they brought me home in the body cast, the phone rang. Having no where to put me and needing to answer the phone, they leaned me against the wall. I think this is where my abandonment issues stem from.
From there came hours of physical therapy. Here’s what I remember: a nifty move called “the pretzel,” which I hated, where I was put in a tube and made to scrunch my body up by sitting cross-legged so that my head touched one side of the tube and my butt touched the opposite side. I remember having to chant, “Heel, toe. Heel, toe,” in order to learn how to walk correctly. I remember leaving classes in kindergarten and first grade and going to the library to do PT on the floor. I remember I never really got things right and that the word, “streeeeeetttttcccccchhhhhhh” was an ugly one to my ears.
Later, my dad and stepmom would find a program in Philadelphia; we called it simply “The Program” (though it may have had another name) which was supposed to help my coordination abilities, as well as help my younger sister, who suffered from seizures. Her seizures went away for a period of six months. I can’t tell you if I ever “got better,” but I do remember having to do a series of exercises – belly crawls, crawling on hands and knees, and a lot of walking. I hated doing all of it – it was stupid, it caused horrible rug burn, other kids weren’t doing it. Once, I had to walk around a park near our house. I became so self-conscious about it that I pretended I had simply forgotten something and walked along one side of the park – back and forth – talking to myself about what I had forgotten so that other kids might not notice that I was (gasp!) exercising. It was 10-year-old logic that made me seem crazy, but whatever. Exercise was for people who needed to lose weight. I was a skinny little thing. And I wasn’t about to tell anyone that I HAD to exercise.
At cheerleading practice, our coaches would say, “Arms length apart!” and then say, “Amanda! Arms length!” because while I was stretching as far as I could, my arms wouldn’t go straight. Neither would my legs. I shrugged. There was nothing I could do.
Later, in high school, it became something of a cool trick. “Look,” I’d say. “My arms,” or “my legs don’t go straight,” and I’d stretch out my leg as far as I could until the muscles started to shake from exhaustion. Some people appreciated my lack of flexibility. Others called me retarded.
Now, as I get older and am more physically active (who knew?) I begin to think from time to time that there might be some wisdom in this whole “stretching” thing. However, it doesn’t take long before I think, “I am NOT fucking doing pretzels!” and the wisdom goes far, far away.
Not that it doesn’t still affect me. I’ve tried yoga a handful of times – and every single instructor comes over to me during downward dog. “Can you… can you make your arms straight?” “No,” I reply, already starting to wobble, and slowly coil down into child’s pose. If I have two things in my hands, I have trouble moving my legs – my brain cannot connect that it is okay and entirely possible to move. If I am holding onto something, I forget that I can let it go – my keys, for example, will be clutched in my hand for a block or so before I realize I can put them in my purse.
And now – irony of all ironies – NOW the stretching has come back to haunt me. This morning, I went to a physical therapy place to see what was going on with my nagging shin splint. I feared that I was wrong, that it wasn’t only a shin splint, but symptomatic of something else. Like my years of CP had aggrandized and I would be rendered immobile immediately. That I was putting too much pressure on my left side, because my right side is weak.
Instead, I was told – in no uncertain terms – that I had to stretch. My calves, the therapist told me, were on fire. My hamstrings were tight. My hips were weak. We did a series of exercises, testing this, stretching that – and it all hurt like a bitch. She instructed me to lift one leg parallel to the table that I was lying on – she was going to push against it, and I wasn’t to let her push my leg down. My leg went down without so much as a tiny yelp of protest.
So, I guess I have to give up NOT stretching. I have a marathon to run, and I have a leg that doesn’t want to heal any other way. Even if it means 20 STRETCHES A DAY (waaaaaaaaaaaaa), I guess I’ll do it. And I guess a yoga class wouldn’t hurt.
Just, seriously, if anyone makes me do pretzels, I’mma throw a tantrum my six-year-old self would be jealous of.
Have a good day, everyone. AND STRETCH!