When I was six or seven, I got a bike for Christmas. I don’t recall much about it, other than that it was almost certainly pink, that I spent a lot of time pimping it with plastic shit from packets of Frosties, and that by the end of the winter I was regularly in the habit of pedalling so fast that the stabilisers didn’t even touch the ground.
And then my dad took the stabilisers off.
Suddenly it was object non grata. I occasionally stuck a few more freebies onto the spokes of its wheels, or pushed my toys round the garden on it, but now it was scary, I wanted nothing to do with it. My dad, furious, insisted that I basically already knew how to ride it and tried to ‘teach me’ by giving it a decent shove and watching as I rode it just fine until it came to stopping. Putting a foot to the ground, transferring my weight/balance to one side of my body and not panicking? Yeah, that was a problem.
I came off a few times, but I never hurt myself badly. Just grazed knees and wounded pride, even at that age. I could throw one hell of a tantrum, too, and in the end, my dad gave up. I never did learn to ride a bike.
Skip forward to 17, and the same problem rears its head in a slightly different guise. My parents live in the middle of the countryside, and I *need* to learn to drive. Driving lessons, however, are a source of terror. I make myself ill just thinking about them, and I cancel as many as I actually have. It takes me four years and five driving tests before I can be trusted behind the wheel. The difference this time though is that once I’ve passed my test, confidence floods in and you can’t bloody stop me. The M6 Toll? It was built for driving at 100mph, no?
Physical milestones are an issue, a mental block, but nobody, me included, has really processed why that might be. I blame my disability, without really understanding the extent of it, and my parents blame me. I mean, I go to see the consultant once a year and when he hits my knee with his reflex hammer, it reacts: the leg kicks out and everyone’s happy. Well, everyone except me.
I *hate* myself. I’m retreating further and further into my shell: a handful of close friends, an out of control crush on a teacher and increasingly impressive academic performance. I kiss boys in nightclubs, lose my virginity, apply to university. The walls I’ve built around myself are sky high.
Four or so years ago, I started getting pain in my right knee. I went to a physio, who tried to give me exercises to fix the problem. When he discovered that most of them were beyond me, he referred me to a neurological physio, the kind that deals mostly in stroke victims.
The neurological physio sat me down, and asked me to rotate my left foot.
‘How?’ I asked.
‘Just rotate it,’ she said, modelling the desired action. ‘Like this.’
‘How?’ I asked again, panicky now. ‘I don’t know how to tell my brain to do that. How do I tell my brain to do that?’
To cut a long story short, she wired me up to a Tens machine, which sends electrical pulses to stimulate inactive nerves. The machine could make my ankle rotate; I could not.
She tried the same on my left knee and hip, same outcome. My body, which for years and years everyone had insisted was pretty much fully functional, was in fact not wired up all down my left side. No wonder I felt clumsy, inadequate. No wonder it had stopped me getting laid.
Even today, there’s a *lot* of opinion out there about how many men it’s acceptable for a woman to have slept with. Friends of mine who’ve grown tired of sex without affection worry that if guys find out how many men they’ve actually slept with, they’ll be written off as sluts, considered fuck-worthy, but not relationship worthy.
I have the opposite problem.
I’ve mentioned in another post, I think, that I can count the number of guys I’ve slept with on one hand. I’d need every finger, sure, but still only one hand. What I’m much less comfortable mentioning is that I slept with each of those guys on one occasion only. Even today, I can’t say for sure why I’ve never managed to have a relationship. Are men put off by the fact that I limp, as I’ve always claimed, or is it in fact just that my defences are so well constructed that nobody can get remotely close to me? After all, I’ve got a quick mouth and a steady hand when it comes to shooting people down.
I don’t know. But am I tired of reinforcing those defences? Fuck, yes.