Every day from about the age of eight I would put on nice trousers, a collared shirt, and when appropriate, grey suspenders. I would take that month’s newest pair of shoes and I would begin the arduous solo journey down Hyde Ave and up Grandview Road hill, taking every shortcut I mapped out, till I reached my destination; The Nawton Salvation Army Church. Once there I would do all the normal things someone does at a church, talk to my friends, paste on a semi pleasant smile and be polite to the older parishioners. And spend the better part of two hours being embraced by all the belonging and acceptance the church could offer me. What I didn’t tell anyone, why I would spend my time obsessing over on my walk home was my secret mission. See, I was determined to find out what God’s grand plan for me was. I was sick of all the “mysterious ways” bullshit and instead was sure that one day, hidden in some secret Psalm or more ironically in Revelations I was going to uncover why God chose to ruin my life in approximately seven and a quarter seconds.
For six or seven years I carried out my undercover operation. Eventually, moving to the City Church to complete my espionage. My parents and siblings, while supportive of my new found faith, didn’t exactly share it. They would however allow me to keep going every week, and to youth groups, camps, choir, even vocational training in case I ended up a priest. But, as time wore on I lost faith, both in God and in my search for an answer. It seemed that there was no rationality or reasoning behind the fact that (according to a simple estimate) my brain was deprived of Oxygen for around seven seconds and I was to spend the rest of my life with spastic quadriplegia or Cerebral Palsy.
Don’t get me wrong, my childhood wasn’t exactly a Dickens novel. I grew up in an upper-middle-class family, with upper-middle-class parents who to this day still both love each other very much. I have three siblings and am on speaking terms with all of them. And by any broad definition, I am a qualified miracle child. A kid who defied the odds and didn’t just escape the confines of a wheelchair but carried on to become, seemingly fully mobile. And I hated all of it for a really long time.
See, my story isn’t all that unique. I mean the religious stuff makes for a captivating hook but doesn’t really speak volumes about the science. The qualified miracle happened after extensive surgical procedures that included two operations to my hip and groin and three each to my Achilles tendons and hamstrings. I should have, by all accounts shut my mouth and been happy with my lot in life. But I wasn’t. I was determined to find a purpose, and if Religion couldn’t provide it then the answer must almost certainly lie in academia.
I became the classic example of a wheelchair kid, eventually without a wheelchair. I consumed books. By eight I was reading Dickens, by eleven it was Chaucer. I was transported everywhere my body refused to go from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory to Jane Austen’s England. I even visited all the parts of Seussville including the now shunned racist district. When I wasn’t reading I was playing Chess before Netflix made it cool, or football and cricket, both in ways that absolutely let down a team of slightly angry but ultimately sympathetic eleven-year-old boys. And for a while, that was my life. Determined to be the smartest person in the room. Determined to knock people over with it. In the hopes that it would stop people from seeing the way I walked and instantly being compelled to talk slowly to me labouring under the misapprehension that I walked funny so I probably was mentally impaired.
It was about this time, I really became aware of my body. Not in the same “used sock” way that every boy becomes aware of his body, but aware of every scar, every imperfection, every line and every story it told. In some ways that is why I am writing this piece now. I mean sure the real reason is that Troy Anderson told Hannah he could write two pieces and is absolutely tanking them both an hour or two before the deadline. But the OTHER reason I am writing this is that someone asked me the other day why I never wore shorts and it made me reflect on it. It isn’t because of shame, or a hatred for my body. In fact, in some ways, it is the opposite. For the better part of my teens and my 20s, I treated my body like an amusement park trying every single substance, experience or stupid act of alcoholic inspired nudity available to me. I don’t like showing my scars for the same reason I prefer to write about the trivial and non-autobiographical. I get sick of the explanations. Sick to death of telling the story that I myself don’t really understand.
See when neither Jesus nor Marcel Proust could give me the answer I craved I did what every brooding teen does and sacrificed one noble quest in service of another. Instead of wondering why I gave up and tried to do everything I could to be popular enough to get laid despite some glaring flaws. One day I noticed the class clown in my year nine was getting popular by making jokes about me with the refrain “He doesn’t mind” the truth was I did mind. Not because he was making fun of me but because he was doing it badly. I didn’t mind the construct but the jokes were rubbish and everyone was laughing because, well, teens are dumb. So I started doing it. I put him out of the cerebral palsy business in a few days and then moved myself into the spotlight. No topic was taboo. Whether it was jokes about the parking or the idea that I could be an Olympian, I was in the self-depreciation business, and business was good. Speech competitions, debates, anywhere I could find a stage. I wasn’t a crying clown so much as a sociopathic one who had left his feelings behind in service of the greater good. And it worked.
Now there are a lot more volumes to this story. Mild depression, anxiety, the feeling of responsibility I still have that my constant desire for attention led to some horrific behaviour along the way and resulted in friendships lost, and some decisions that I will never truly reconcile or square the ledger for but with a word count approaching I wanted to get to a summit of some description.
Today. I am still not great at being disabled. I am not the kid who looks at others and thinks it could be worse. Or I’m lucky. I still don’t walk over the bridges at the Uni without handrails or stand too close to edges on buildings. Not because I am scared of heights but because I can trip over my own feet on flat ground and it’s both theatrical and comical so the thought of doing it from four stories up terrifies me.
My point is, my story is mine. It’s complicated, it’s unreasonable and the best chapters of it, are left for a day when I am telling it for the right reasons and not (just) because Troy is a slack bastard with a high opinion of the speed he can write. It is important because it is a reminder that we all have scars. Whether we let others see them or not. I haven’t found any reasonable explanation for the seven and a quarter seconds that defined my life. I am relatively certain it wasn’t to waste my potential writing last week’s brilliant horoscopes or the five worst New Zealanders. Maybe I will never know, but maybe the point is that I don’t need to. It’s up to you who you show your scars to, as much as it’s up to you which seven and a quarter seconds you allow to define you and how you react every moment after that.