And then I became THAT grown-up

There is a certain amount of energy you need to radiate, and a kind of shamelessly vulnerable mindset that is required before putting on an event. At 11:03AM this morning I neither had that energy and nor was I in that mindset. Last night I had stayed up too late with a friend, as we usually do, and as people usually do on July nights.

"So there is a teen here volunteering I wasn't positive if u were coming still but I need to introduce!!! Lol" my co-worker's text message buzzed my phone. I was still in the office, still nowhere near awake.  I looked at her message and wished that her slew of exclamation points would somehow jolt my lethargy awake.

After a series of searing summer days, Boston was gray today. Gray, cool, and drizzling that later on turned into a kind of torrential monsoon. From my desk I looked out the window and took out my DontDisAbility t-shirt. I had stuffed it in the bottom of my backpack the night before. The one that she had already been wearing that morning as she bustled around her desk with her crutches.
So by the time I got her text message at 11:03AM I began to feel guilty. Like maybe I should get my t-shirt on, and the other things on my to-do list would just be able to wait. On a day we celebrate the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed in 1990, I suppose those check-boxes that stared back at me from my notebook could be set aside for a few hours. What could possibly be more important than pushing the movement forward?

Embarrassingly, I was being petty actually. To be totally honest I have some amount of distrust for those things that I can't wrap my head around. Celebrating the passage of the ADA with other youth leaders in the Easter Seals MA Youth Leadership Network by donning t-shirts, and participating in a "flash mob," and someone had also mentioned a colorful parachute (the kind we played with in elementary school gym class..) made me nervous. Uncertain. Uncomfortable. Awkward. What exactly is going to happen? Was the only thing my brain shot back at me as I tried to wrap my mind around the event. I knew that these were all old reactions that I had thought I'd gotten over 2 years ago. The fact that they were so easily dragged out again, on a day where I should be proudest, put me at a loss for words and emotion.

But it was soon 11:45 and I gave the receptionist a long look as I pulled my DontDisAbility t-shirt over my head. "Alrighty, here I go..." I mumbled to her as I pushed through the double glass doors.

When I got to City Hall Plaza and located my friends, I approached her,
"So who's this kid you wanted me to meet?"
"Well she had to leave at around 12 or 12:30 so I'm not sure if she's actually still here anymore."
"Oh whoops... sorry" I responded. Now feeling doubly guilty that I had possibly missed out on an opportunity.
"Well, what was her story? Why'd you want me to meet her?" I asked her.
"Well her story is that she's a 14 year old girl with O.I. That's her story!"
And those were all the words that she needed to tell me. Those were the words my mind needed to hear to shake off its sleepiness, immediately I thought about the young women's mentoring program.
"Oh sorry."
"Well, it's okay.." and then she had rolled off again to go corral others.

I realized that even if we were there to celebrate a historical day that happened 23 years ago, this was still an active movement. It moved awkwardly, without shame, without apology, without waiting for those who want to sit around until the rest of the day tells them what to do. Those were the words that I needed to hear to get me going, now I was in event mode.

Three years ago I had been to the event and knew only one person. I only knew her, and was confused even then as to what was going on. But this year it was different. I knew people. Not just their names but their stories, why they got involved in the movement, what they still struggled with, what they hoped to do after college, where they stood on the hundreds of politically correct 'terms' that flavor our community. And they also knew me. As a blogger, as someone who asks too many questions, as someone who is too idealistic, curiously feminist, and too self-conscious. It was in the way the older folks called out to me "Hey Sandra!" And in the way the younger generation said "Sanddyyyyy omggg!!!"

This year was different because now I have a place here in all of this.

Half way through the event I spotted a young girl in a permobil wheelchair. And in the way you and I know who has O.I. and who doesn't, I knew she had O.I. That was the girl she wanted me to meet, and the moment our eyes crossed there was something about this teen that almost told me she wanted to speak to me.
"Oh my god, there's the girl with O.I. she wanted me to meet!" I said to my friends.
"What? Where?"They turned their heads to look around. But I was already off, heading towards the barricade and gesturing at a police officer to let me through.

"Hey lady, are they getting out with you too?" The officer jerked his chin over his shoulder. My friends looked like they were on their way over but they were caught up in the speeches of the Commissioner and the Mayor.
"No.. no just me.."

I followed the young girl's lead. She parked herself in a corner against a brick wall between the entrance and the registration table.
"Umm hey, I'm Sandy. So I think you met my co-worker? She told me about you.." I could tell immediately that she was scared, that she didn't want to be there, and had no idea how she'd woken up that day and found herself in the middle of a celebration that was thrust upon her. Like a smile forced onto a clown.
"Yeah, I know. This is all pretty overwhelming right? I actually got overwhelmed too with the craziness going on. It's good to take a break." She nodded back at me.
"What's your name?"
"C----. Like the perfume, you know?" I did know.
"Cool! So what brings you here?"
"I work here. My best friend's grandfather is the mayor... I'm an intern for the summer at the disability office."
"Oh wow! That's a pretty sweet deal. Do you like your internship? What are they having you do?"
"Just some projects."
"That's pretty baller stuff for you to be doing the summer between middle school and high school. I was too busy nerding it over Harry Potter books that summer." I got a crack of a smile from her at that.
"So listen, I think my co-worker wanted me to meet you because I do work with a group of young women who are all around your age. We talk about stuff that matters, you know? Like regular stuff." She gave me another look, like I was probably trying too hard and we both knew it. So I stopped and asked her if she had siblings, and told her a little about myself. Trying to think about only the stuff that matters. To a 14 year old. Clearly terrified of what was going on, cornered between a registration table for a historical day and a brick wall. And me.

It brought me back to three years ago when that woman who texted me this morning had done the same thing to me. Cornered me in the hospital lobby, and flung her knowledge and comfort of a world around me in such a way that I was compelled to become curious, to become involved and active. Who knows what will come out of my interactions with C---- today. We swapped email addresses, and I got her to laugh at a few more jokes, .. but I'm also aware that however much moving a movement may do, it's still up to the person to move inside it. I saw so much of myself in C today. She was me at fourteen but in so many ways far more willing than I ever was at that age. She was on the threshold of the barriers at that event today, sitting waiting and watching. Hopefully whatever small part I play in this grand hoopla of a movement, maybe today I convinced her to move inside of it and join us.

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