It has come to my attention that I’ve more or less run out of excerpts from my memoirs to post to you. What this means is I need to get my act together and start posting new content on a more regular basis on the blog — and also to get moving on the memoirs themselves.
The entire conception of the memoirs was inspired by a particularly clever professor, my independent study prof I had down at U of I, where I majored in creative writing (separate from the Italian, as I still have yet to sit down and write a story in Italian). I have reasons to believe that these memoirs were “written in the stars,” so to speak, and this is because of the incredible fashion in which they became conceived. Let’s go back, shall we?
During the beginning of the penultimate semester of undergrad, I was thirsty for another writing class. Having already taken the intro to narrative, intermediate narrative, and advanced narrative series, I really missed the workshop classes where all we did was write stories all semester long and get feedback. Since the CW455 (independent study) class was being phased out and the only professor qualified to do it that I knew personally was an egocentric woman called Missy Le Peu*, whom I’d had for advanced narrative and had bumped heads with a lot, I figured 455 wasn’t an option. So I decided to try to retake advanced narrative to make up for the horrible experience from a year or two back.
The only open class was being taught by someone whose name I didn’t think I recognized, but the moment I stepped foot in that classroom my heart sank — who else but Missy Le Peu was standing there with those intense eyes of hers that suck the light out of the air around you (the only kinds of eyes I’ve ever seen that exceed the darkness of my own) as she said in accusation, “I know you.” Not even a beat later, she pretty much kicked me out of the room. I hadn’t even had a chance to sit down; I’d had to do a 180 and go straight upstairs because she was still deluded enough after working at the university for that many years to think that the head of the creative writing department, Al Sullivan, could magically create a new section of courses designed uniquely for one measly student (and this is a school of 30,000 undergraduates). Knowing better than her, I decided to go upstairs instead to the English & rhetoric advising department to ask what my other options were — what other sections or other classes qualifying for a rhet major could I take that fit into my very inflexible schedule (I refused to take Friday classes, for example, and there were a couple classes I HAD to take in order to graduate in this last year, so I needed to be aware of time conflicts as well).
There are two advisors in the department, a woman and a man. The woman was in, and told me there was nothing I could do. But then the guy advisor came in and said, “Let’s see what we can do.” After a million different suggestions that either conflicted with my desired schedule or didn’t interest me, I asked, “I know this is a long shot, but what if I did CW455?”
He replied, “That would be perfect. Do you know any professors who’d be willing to work with you?”
“Er — the only one I know qualified to do 455 is Missy Le Peu – “
“Well, given her reaction to your attendance to her class this afternoon, I’m willing to bet she’s a bad candidate. You’re not going to find anyone in the department who’ll do it with you unless they personally know you.”
He thought for a few moments. And then he said, “I might know someone you could charm into doing a 455 with you. Have you ever had Benjamin Barnes? He’s a bull in a china shop, but has a heart of gold. Now, don’t go advertising this to anyone else, since I don’t want to take advantage of him. But maybe we can catch him in his office.”
So we walked over to an office. The advisor announced, “I have a student here who’s just been kicked out of Missy Le Peu’s class — ”
“Oh, that’s a surprise.” (I liked this guy already.)
“And no other classes fit her schedule so we wanted to know if you might be willing to do a 455 with her?”
I poked my head into his office to find that this Barnes character is rather Santa Claus-esque, and gave him my most pleading eyes.
“Come in, why don’t you, instead of cowering behind the door like that?”
I walked in.
“Tell me why Missy kicked you out of her class.”
“Um . . . not really sure. She’s just always sort of had a distaste for me.”
“Well . . . I had her for 404 and she treated me like a liar. I once gave her a doctor’s note and she actually copied down his phone number, as if my neurologist — an MD/Ph.D — at the University of Chicago Hospitals doesn’t have anything better to do than to confirm he wrote a letter on hospital stationery regarding one of his patients’ seizure disorder.”
“All right. My office hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from two to four. Now, I don’t want you here every Tuesday and Thursday from two to four, but put a sample of your writing in my mailbox by next Tuesday and come in whenever you want.”
Thanking him profusely and mentally praising the name of goodness in this universe, I incredulously left his office marveling at the miracle that had just happened — CW455 was a course I was dreaming of doing for very literally years, and I’d been crushed to find out it was being phased out, but lo and behold, it was now possible! With a prof that didn’t even know my name!
Fast-forward to the first day of “class,” which was the following Tuesday. I came in, and he asked, “Do you mind if I close the door? I’m about to discuss with you something sensitive.”
I, of course, was a bit alarmed, but I agreed.
He shut the door and he said, “I need you to tell me exactly what happened between you and Missy Le Peu.”
After I tell him what I remember from that hideous semester with her and how she threatened to fail me for being late/absent (all things regarding my condition), he told me a story. I won’t repeat the story here, as it was told to me in confidence, but it involved one of his closest friends having survived a stroke.
“I haven’t thought about that day in fifty years, but do you know when I thought of it again?”
At this point, I was either crying or at the very least close to tears, so I shook my head.
“When you walked into my office the other day. [Wow!] So do you think I’m going to ask you for a doctor’s note?” (Let’s refresh: I’d only met him for probably less than five minutes that first day.)
He then proceeded to tell me that it is the creative writing department’s duty to create an open, welcoming environment for students to use as an outlet for their art, a haven if you will, where professors ought to be supportive of their students’ art. But unfortunately, some of the professors in the department are too selfish to follow their observations — as writers, it is their duty to observe their students, in strengths and weaknesses both, as people and as students in order to teach — but since he along with Missy’s favorite Al Sullivan co-head the department, he is not unfamiliar with the multiple conflicts Missy Le Peu has had with other students. (He then later on in the semester concluded that the reason she had issue with me is because I “have attitude,” which I maintain there’s nothing wrong with — which she likes to snuff out of her students.) Many students have gone running to him to complain about her, but unfortunately she is probably tenured and not able to be dismissed.
Eventually he asked, “What would you like to write this semester?”
Sheepishly I introduced an idea for a paranormal novella I’d been formulating in my mind for the past few months, acknowledging that the department usually preferred realistic fiction, and he said, “Well, I’ve read the story you left in my mailbox. I can see that you can write, so I trust you now. You can write whatever you want in my class, but as long as you agree to also work on another project that I’m going to assign you. You have been through a huge experience that many people will never experience in their lives. I want you to write something that explores and shares the knowledge you’ve gained through acquiring your condition and having been through it at such a young age. It can take whatever form you want, but I want to see something that imparts what it’s taught you.”
And thus, the memoirs were born. I remember sitting down on my grey, variegated couch in my apartment with MacBook on my lap, typing more cathartically than ever in my life. I found in the exploration of my experience that putting its various aspects into words was not only therapeutic, but necessary. Words are how I best express myself, and it was through this project that I was able to begin addressing hidden layers of this entire thing that had happened in my life. By writing about it, I was able to analyze myself from a newfound position of awareness and almost complete novelty. In retrospect, I suppose I’d been hiding from addressing disability acquisition, ignoring it as though it wasn’t there. But that was silly, because it was so blatantly there, not necessarily visually but always within me.
The memoirs are still totally unfinished, in rough stages and completely unorganized, but it is the product of a lot of love and labor — of sweat, tears, and catharsis — but I share them with you in hopes that it may help you to understand some important things. I plan to get it published, so I do need to continue working on it. It’s a personal exploration of how acquiring disability can completely alter your life in every possible way — from the way you physically are to your perception of yourself, your family, and your friends. Its purpose is to spread awareness to those who’ve never experienced it, but has also taught me a lot about it from exploring it in depth despite having been the one to go through it personally.
And in a way, this blog is also an extension of said purpose — to reach out to others in similar situations, invite them to also address their current state, learn from it, and share what they’re learning with others.
*Names, besides my own, have been changed (obviously).
To our healing,