All

The Cruelty of Surprises

The cruel thing about surprises is,

you can’t prepare for them.

There was no chance to

utilize my

full abilities

one last time

before they were

gone.

.

I used to do

cartwheels, round-offs, handstands,

walking on my hands

constantly.

I scaled climbing walls,

bounced on the trampoline,

hung from monkey bars,

jumped rope—

challenging myself to

whip the rope quickly enough

that I could get it around

twice,

three times,

in one jump.

.

I rode my bike

to school nearly every day,

loving that flying feeling

as I soared down hills,

feet momentarily freed

until I slammed them back on the pedals,

feeling the burn in my thighs,

my movements quick to keep up

with the speed my bike had caught.

.

I don’t remember the last time

I did any of those things,

because the last times

were in no way

momentous.

They were not

memorable

because I had no way of knowing

that they were Lasts.

.

Cruel surprise #1:

I woke up one morning like any other,

not knowing that 

the small sharpness in the side of my neck

would soon grow

into a fervent, fiery ache,

lying far deeper than anyone could see,

engulfing my neck,

arms,

back.

.

Cruel surprise #2:

my hands weakening.

Then my arms,

my abdomen,

my legs.

Being unable to buckle my seatbelt

for the car ride to the hospital.

Feeling the doctor’s cold hands in mine,

but making my own fingers move

with my mind

proved to be as useless as making his fingers move

with my mind.

.

Cruel surprise #3:

there was no cure,

just treatments full of “maybes,”

despite my innocent certainty

that thirteen-year-olds couldn’t become disabled forever.

.

But my life isn’t some series of misfortune,

though this was, objectively, an unfortunate experience.

As it turns out,

cruel surprises 

bring unexpected beauty.

.

There was a beauty in regaining function,

even the seemingly smallest of tasks

being celebratory

milestones:

wiggling a finger,

pressing a button on the TV remote,

standing unaided,

dressing myself,

washing my own hair.

Despite never fully recovering,

the joy of movement and

increasing independence

was unparalleled.

.

There was a beauty in uncovering

who I was beyond physical ability

and in discovering that I could 

adapt,

that Disabled

was not a

life-sentence.

There was an unmatched empowerment

in the realization that I could still

largely live the life I wanted,

permanent physical disability

and all.

.

There was also a beauty in experiences

that would never have occurred,

friends I would never have met,

strengths I wouldn’t have known I possessed,

had it not been for Transverse Myelitis.

.

The cruelty of surprises,

it turns out,

is the complexity,

because sometimes,

they are not exclusively

evil.

.

Maybe the most harrowing surprise

of all

is how you can

simultaneously

so desperately wish something

never happened

and

be so grateful

that it did.