"My work may be garbage but it's good garbage." Mickey Spillane
I have said many times that growing up I was obsessed with a need to pass for ‘normal.’ I had learned to hide my limp by the time I was 13 by concentrating on my feet. So long as I paid close attention to my bad leg, I could walk as if there were nothing wrong with it. Concealment is an art. I practiced it daily.
While I periodically tried to attend public school, I always ended up being home schooled through a California state program that sent a teacher to the home four days a week. My learning was mostly self-directed. I was a stubborn person, even as a child, and always wanted to do things my way and on my own terms. I was reading eighth grade level in third grade. My first home teacher, surprised at how well I read, brought over a stack of books, one for each grade level to see where I was at. We hit the eighth grade books before he found a single word I didn’t know.
Low split rail fences were very popular in suburban California in the 1960s. The neighbor kids liked to jump over them because they were no challenge to get over. I never jumped them. It meant pushing off with my good leg and landing on my bad leg and I did not want to chance it.
Every day I watched the other kids doing it and many times, not knowing about my difficulties, they would encourage me to try it.
I was left home alone a lot, since Mama and Papa both worked. One day I gathered my courage and jumped the fence. When my weight came down on my bad leg, it crumpled. I lay on the ground for hours, my bad leg totally unresponsive until Papa got home from work and found me. He carried me inside and it was several days before I could walk right again.
My pride hurt worse than my leg did.
When I was roughly thirteen, my physical therapist put me into karate to interest me in a physical activity that would help my leg. He was getting frustrated with my dislike of routine physical exercise.
It was 1968. I was 13. I studied Kenpo for five years with a sensei who had worked with other disabled people, both adults and children. He modified kata to help me use the strong muscles to compensate for the weak ones.
When I was 15, I jumped that little low fence again. And I didn’t fall down afterward. The exultation of victory is something that I will never forget. I could do things then that most people take for granted and I got some odd glances as a result. Because I was successfully passing for normal, many people could not understand the source of my joy.
But the joy was still there and it was mine.