I don’t tend to think of myself as disabled, but then I’ll be out with friends, and I’ll notice that oh, sure as heck, I’m– Is that the word?
When I was sixteen, I was in a motorcycle accident with my boyfriend; we hit the back end of a car that pulled out in front of us, flew over the car, and hit the pavement.
Instantly, I couldn’t feel my left leg, and distinctly remember asking M if he could see my leg. Where had it gone? It was there, he assured me, and then passing motorists had stopped, summoning help, one putting his leather jacket under my head.
Sprawled in the street, there was no pain. In the ambulance, that’s when the pain kicked in. In the hospital, I could see the x-rays, my left femur broken neatly in two. M broke his in two places.
I had to learn how to walk again — but couldn’t put any weight on the leg for three months. Doctors put a metal rod down the center of the bone, and any weight on it might bend the rod and break the bone all over again. (M broke his femur again when he tried to walk too soon.)
I was excessively good about not putting weight on the leg. Being out of school for so long, I had a tutor who would bring me lessons as I attempted to keep up, but when I got back to school, still on crutches because I couldn’t walk without them, I discovered I might not graduate anyhow. I had a gym requirement to fulfill.
That was a strange experience — who doesn’t graduate because of gym? Obviously, all worked out — I was encouraged to do what I could, because they didn’t view me as disabled. It was all only temporary.
But it’s not, of course. My leg will always be with me.
When I was in sixth grade, I broke my right ankle; that’s a break that has never given me trouble since, and usually I’d say broken bones are like that. They hurt like fuck, but your body does an amazing job of healing and moving on.
But then you take a bone like the femur and everything’s different. You can’t stand, you can’t walk, and when you learn to walk again, you feel like a huge toddler; you hold on to walls, onto tables.
Your leg never feels quite right. It’s always weaker. You find you’re more flexible on the side where you were broken, because the other side never relaxes enough to quite let you go; the other side of you is going to hold you up come hell or high water. You’re uneven.
My left leg is shorter than my right; not by a lot, but enough to make it noticeable to me when I’m wearing long pants. I am certain no one else has never noticed. The scars from the surgery — those have been noticed.
It’s worst in the winter. When it’s cold. You’d think that being encased in the middle of my bone, that rod wouldn’t bother me or get, of all things, cold, but it does. The whole leg is cold and never works right quite; the knee doesn’t have all its feeling; the joints are cosplaying the Tin Man and are in dire need of oil.
And this changes the way I walk.
I walk a lot — I love walking, let me put some music on and go. But in the winter, when it’s colder, I slow down.
This weekend, my friends outpaced me as we walked the city streets. I felt a little ridiculous, going slow and falling behind and walking alone, but also knew not to push the leg. Pushing the leg makes it tire, and makes the knee more likely to give out.
I’m slow in winter, and when it came to doing flights of stairs at the end of a long day, I opted for the elevator. Two flights of stairs, but I knew my leg would be aching for it. I couldn’t keep up.
And I felt different for the first time in a long time. Unable.