There’s a quote that reads, “if you ever hear you’re about to be run out of town, get out in front and act like it’s a parade”. That, my friends, could be the headline for an article about my life. Most people that know me, when asked about my life, would say I turned lemons into lemonade, made something out of nothing, overcame my circumstances, or turned a negative into a positive. Well friends, I am actually not as optimistic as those around me. I consider myself to be a realist, and am quite stubborn, skeptical, and refuse to do anything I do not want to do. So, where some may see the parade quote as someone turning a negative into a positive, I see it as illustrating the power of a strong will…a person adamant about doing things on their terms. A person that voluntarily leaves, rather than gets kicked out. See, it’s all about perspective.
I can’t say I agree with any of those statements people have used to describe me. In fact, typing those words just now felt so odd to me. I’ve never thought of myself as resilient, an overcomer, or anything similar. In my opinion, I am nothing more than a person who wants to live and fights with everything in me to do it. So, if I had to use a single word to describe myself, “fighter”.
Friends, from the time I was placed in my mother’s womb…I fought to live. When my mother was around 8 months pregnant with me, she woke my father up in the middle of the night holding a butcher knife. She calmly told my father that there was a demon inside of her that needed to be removed. This demon had kept her up all night and seemingly wanted out of her stomach. Fortunately, my father had the wherewithal to have my mother committed to the local psychiatric hospital for treatment. With help, she was able to successfully carry me to term…but that was only the beginning of the fight for my life.
At 5, I came down with a very serious case of pneumonia that almost took my life. It was winter 1985, and my mom noticed that my breathing had been shallow and labored for several days. She had nursed what she thought was a simple cold for several days, without success. So, in the dead of winter, she bundled me up and walked with me on her hip several blocks to a bus stop to take the bus to the local children’s hospital. While most people believe 5 years old is too young to have memories, I actually remember this day very well. I remember struggling to breathe as the cold air rushed into my lungs as my mom carried me 2 blocks to the local bus stop. I remember sitting on my mother’s lap on the bus, and hearing the “snap” of the cord as my mother yelled to the bus driver “whoa, this is our stop”.
When my mother and I arrived to the hospital, I remember walking down a long white hallway with bright lights. I can still hear her telling the first nurse that approached her that I needed help. The nurse opened my coat and put her stethoscope against my chest and back…I can still see the nurse’s look of horror to this very day. The nurse abruptly snatched me from my mother’s arms and hurried us into a room with what looked like a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. As I was given an IV and placed in this modern day hyperbaric oxygen chamber like device, I heard the nurse tell my mom “thank God you brought her in when you did, one more day and your child would’ve been dead”. I can also clearly remember my 5 year old self defiantly telling the nurse “don’t scare my mother, I will be fine.”
At 8 years old I almost lost my right foot in a tumbling accident. Growing up I was a bit of a tom boy, and loved to tumble on dirty mattresses in the alley with the neighborhood boys. In my neighborhood, I actually became known for my tumbling move I called “the washing machine”. For the washing machine, I would pounce as hard as I could on the mattress to bounce as high as I could. Once satisfied that I had reached my maximum height, I would tuck my head and do a forward flip, followed immediately by a backwards flip. I would do this in rapid succession over and over again. When I really wanted to show off, I hit two forward rolls to end, then jump off the mattress with a backwards twist.
Well, one summer night after church, a few neighborhood boys decided they didn’t want a girl tumbling on their mattress. They decided they would teach me a lesson so I wouldn’t ever tumble against them again. The three boys knocked on my door, like usual, and asked if I would come out to compete in tumbling. Unlike most days where we simply competed for the title “the neighborhood best tumbler”, that day the best tumbler was to receive 20 dollars. Yes, 20 dollars, and back in the 80s that was a LOT of money. Do you know how much penny candy you could buy with 20 dollars in the 80s?
Still wearing my church dress and shoes, but not one to back down from a challenge, I ran out the house without even verbally responding to the challenge. I stood next to the mattress as each boy looked at each other then one by one turned to me and said “ladies first”. Amused, I said “ok, move back, I will go first but I’m sure you won’t want to follow this.” Still wearing my black patent leather flats, black tights, and church dress, I did a cutesy cartwheel onto the mattress and gave a big hard jump. I forced myself hard into the matters repeatedly to ensure I had reached maximum height before I started my routine.
Once satisfied with the height of my jumps, I started my forward and back flips as the boys surrounded me yelling “oh man, look at her go”. Impressed with myself, I decided this was a perfect opportunity to display a move I had practiced for several weeks. Rather than my usual ending using a backwards twist, I took one final hard pounce and ended with a double back flip. When my feet hit the ground, I displayed the biggest smile, and sarcastically said “not bad for a lady…top that”. Within seconds, my right foot became extremely hot. It felt as if it had caught fire from the inside out. Thinking I just landed too hard in my dress shoes, I started limping towards the 3 boys. Suddenly, one boy looked down at my foot and yelled “OH MY GOD THERE IS A NAIL IN YOUR FOOT”.
Yes friends, the boys had placed nails in the mattress to teach me a lesson. Horrified at what the boy was yelling, I frantically started inspecting my feet. I immediately notice a nail sticking out the side of the big toe on my right foot. Apparently I had stepped on the nail while performing my washing machine move, and my landing shoved the nail deep into my foot. It entered in the bottom of my foot, bent sideways, and came sticking out of the side of my big toe. 8 year old boys are evil snots.
My mother could hear my blood curdling screams from inside the house. As I laid on the bricks in the alley bleeding and screaming in pain, the boys scattered…which was smart because my mother would’ve likely killed them all. She quickly ran over to me and saw the nail without me ever uttering a word. Horrified, she quickly scooped me up, threw me into the back seat of her car, and rushed me up to the local children’s hospital. The doctors were able to successfully remove the nail, but advised my mom “she is very lucky, a few more inches to the left and we would’ve had to take her entire foot”. In case you are wondering, I did go back and collect my 20 bucks…on crutches. One actually took a pretty bad beating with my crutch when he wouldn’t pay up. See, what they didn’t know was while cute, I was the neighborhood fighter and tumbler. In addition to being paid to tumble, I was often paid to beat up bullies in the neighborhood. My mother grew up boxing and made sure all her girls could fight…and I mean FIGHT!
Looking back at these memories from my childhood, one thing is clear to me. I can’t take credit for developing into a fighter, overcomer, of whatever other word one would use. I was created and born this way. I was born with the ability to overstay my welcome with such ease that one would think I was still wanted there. I was born with the ability to cheat death and somehow always barely make it. I was born with the ability to walk into contentious situation with my head held high. Even though I may leave with hurt feelings or a hurt body, I come back for more until I decide I am done. See, I knew when the boys knocked on my door that they had something bad planned. But, in my mind, whatever it was wouldn’t kill me and when I finished showing my skills….they would be worse off than I was. Sticks and stones may break bones…but my trash talk sends people to theraphy. Dealing with chronic illness and pain, you have to be built a certain way…I was born up for the challenge.