When Everyone is Waiting for You to Fail

The high school cafeteria swarmed with new and unfamiliar faces. Teachers milled about but only for the sake of being there because everyone knows that this is the place where every teenager is for him or herself. As a 9th grader I was a new student, but I was totally new - my family had just moved into town during the summer between 8th and 9th grade, I knew no one and more importantly no one really knew me.

On the first day of school my aide had already embarrassed me. While everyone was getting their lunch she had launched into her "this is where there's pizza and here's the salad bar.." I saw kids glance at me from the corner of their eyes what is wrong with that girl? She doesn't even recognize basic food? As if the wheelchair wasn't an already obvious sign, my aide's explanation of what was obvious further highlighted any invisible impairments I didn't actually have. So on this second day of school I told myself that yesterday's fiasco would be avoided at all and any costs. Today I was going to get my own lunch, to heck with her job description, my coolness factor was at stake! 
She strutted in front of me but I swerved from behind her, grabbed the lunch tray and scooted into the line for pizza. It was the first time that I had held the lunch tray on my own, and in my rush to make a statement with my coolness factor and independence, I hadn't factored in how exactly I was going to hold a lunch tray. 
For other kids trays dangled from their hands, others spun lunch trays on top of fingers, a group of kids tried balancing trays on their heads - there was no technique that they already had to figure out. They just did it. My dominant hand (lefty!) was already preoccupied with the wheelchair's joystick, my right hand was holding a binder that I hadn't put in my backpack from the class before. As someone who has shorter stature, my lap has only enough real-estate for a stuffed animal and a Harry Potter book; needless to say I fumbled a bit. 
So maybe this wasn't such a great idea I began thinking to myself. Maybe the school was right, maybe I do need someone to get my lunch for me. But I looked around and saw the faces and other kids who I saw no difference between myself and them; I wanted no difference to exist, and at the time if it came down to slightly struggling with holding a lunch tray then so be it! 
It was my turn at the pizza bar, (the seat of my chair didn't elevate at the time)... I looked up at the mountainous plexi-glass-like window that separated me from the lunch lady slapping on slices of pizza on passing trays. For a split second her line of sight continued looking glazed over and seemed frozen at the same height of sight forever. Quick thinking told me I had to get her attention. I clattered my lunch tray down onto the metal serving stand, the noise got her to look down and I could tell that she had thought some bratty kid has caused a mess again. I could tell from her face that she wasn't expecting me there, waiting patiently for a slice of pizza on my empty tray. She reached over the glass window and plopped a slice of pizza down onto my tray; at this point I had slid my binder behind me, I then gripped the edge of the lunch tray with my right hand and balanced the other end on my left forearm. When I exited the line my aide stood there looking at me, hands on her hips, astonished. 

I got my milk, and had to adjust the weight of the tray in my hands - making sure to put the milk carton on one end and the pizza on the other to have the weight evenly spread. Despite my caution, the whole time I was paranoid that the lunch tray would somehow slip from my newly untrained grip; in my mind I saw pizza landing cheese side up on to the ground, lunch tray clattering, and milk splashing all over the place. In the faces of the kids around me, and the reaction of my aide told me that everyone else could see this image too; everyone seemed to be waiting for me to fail, waiting for me to admit defeat and that I needed an adult's help for forever and ever. 
And up until that point it was true, I had needed an adult to help me with many things that other kids my age did by themselves at school. But it occurred to me that if you expect change, and no one is willing to take a risk on you, then you've got to take matters into your own hands - no one is going to just hand you some change of expectations that match everything you've ever dreamed of on a silver platter (never mind a high school lunch tray!)

My coolness factor, my bold statement of independence, and determination to get my own slice of pizza and milk is exactly that - they are all mine now because no one had any hand in doing it for me. At the time it may have just been high school lunch and pizza that I was after, but it was a step towards what I wanted, even if I hadn't fully realized what 'it' was myself yet. 
That's all it takes, just one slice of pizza, one small action towards what you want. We can't expect anyone to take a risk on us if we won't take a risk on ourselves. 

Posted in , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post.

Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2011 Perfectly Imperfecta. Powered by Blogger.