The first nine years of my life, I moved like a charged particle: buzzing with energy, always in motion. Then the pain came. Within six months, the wildfire of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis had spread to nearly every joint in my body. The pain was horrendous. Its unceasing severity meant that within five years many of my joints were catastrophically, permanently damaged.
By ninth grade, my school day was exhausting. Most of my energy was spent dragging myself from point A to point B on crutches. The effort I put into short bursts of locomotion ground me down to a nub.
The simplest, most sensible solution would have been for me to use a wheelchair for mobility. But at that point in my life, it was unimaginable. Wheelchairs were only acceptable for the profoundly disabled and the elderly. If you drooled, wore diapers and spent your day making potholders, enjoy your seat on wheels. But if you were capable of anything more, you better get your ass up and move.
That same year, my ankles became so painful I had no choice but to have both of them surgically fused. My rehab was a long, painful slog to regain the ability to walk. It left me no choice but to return to school in a wheelchair.
My dad took me to school my first day back. The school administration suggested we come in through the loading dock, then pass through the boiler room. I was cargo to be unloaded, like a case of industrial-strength rat poison.
Most of my classmates had no idea I was returning to school at all, and I’d told o