what happens when i go crazy

going crazy – what does it mean – to me – to you – different things, different madness, different minds different bodies different pain wrenching pain pain pain pain.

what happens when i go crazy

well

i throw things, like heavy staplers, phones, candles, books.

i break things like ceramic, like glass, like dishes, like clothes ripping off my body cuz well i’m going crazy aren’t i. performing madness like my life is a stage and my body dissociates at every turn into every scene, goodbye reality.

i clean my kitchen like my life depends on it. scrubbing hard, every last dish every last crumb every last coffee stain wine stain like amoebas crusted on the counter tops must douse with Windex wiped down til it squeaks.

what happens when i go crazy

i bruise my body, i cut my body – with my fists, with razors, pick off old scabs see new blood blood blood.

i can’t stop.

?

what happens when i go crazy

i cry

i cry so hard

in the bathtub, running steaming hot too hot scalding hot water over my body crying into the burning water. i cry, i scream, wailing like i have no other way to convey this pain but to caterwaul into the echos of my little bathtub.

i cry in the rain when i’m breaking dishes on my front porch but it was san francisco so no one really hears anything and thank god for that.

i deface my dresser with words scribbling words writing stream of consciousness negative self-talk beautiful penciled words scrawled across my $35 ikea mini wooden dresser. i cut and i bleed and i blend blood with pencil on wood and ah it’s so wonderful.

what happens when i go crazy

i curl into myself, folding in, cradle.

i pull my hair i pull hard pull and pull and pull pull pull pull.

i go crazy until the craziness has no where else to go and i’m depleted i’m wretched and i can finally sleep.

Maria Barcelona and Brice the Weed Fairy, part one

I’m going to start this blog post off by saying that stoner subculture is the shit.  We look out for each other.

Maria Barcelona (pseudonym for privy-ness) and I land in Denver, Colorado and we make it from the airport to our hotel room before we start scheming.  How could we score some bud?  We are undocumented stoners amidst this magical rocky mountain landia.

Maria Barcelona’s got street smarts.

We get to our $50/night studio hotel at The Homestead—endearingly nicknamed “The Shithole”—and nothing sounded better than lighting a giant mid-afternoon doobie to bear the hot humidity and to get rid of our travel aches.

Then the power goes out.  The whole hotel.  And apparently the whole Denver Tech Center, too.

We start scheming how we’re gonna find some weed but really we’re not scheming what we’re actually doing is getting mentally prepared to scope out fellow stoners among our adventures to the kabob and pita shop and conjure up the risky courage to ask a complete stranger if they got any or know someone who does.

Cuz how else would we do it?

We leave the hotel just as the power goes out and begin trekking to Ali Baba’s kabob shop approximately 0.6 miles away from our humble abode on the other side of the freeway from the conference hotel.

It’s hot and sunny and sticky out, about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Allow me to give some backstory.  Maria Barcelona and I meet up in Denver, Colorado for the 25th Annual Society for Disability Studies conference.  And, speaking of disability studies, marijuana ain’t no joke.  Weed is so stigmatized for so many interlocking systematic reasons and frankly it’s bullshit.  Medicinal marijuana is a serious thing and even when it comes to vast embodied experiences like chronic pain, cancer, migraines, PTSD, anxiety, and insomnia, the mainstream still gets their panties in a twist about it.  AND, let me be clear that also, substance use is complicated and some people like to get high, for whatever goddamn reason that may be—and cheers to them.

In terms of a more contemporary historical and rhetorical framework surrounding the deviance that is marijuana consumption, I immediately think of the 1980s and Ronald Reagan M.H.R.I.H. (May He Rot In Hell) with Reaganomics’ mass privatization of social services, U.S. imperialism and clandestine genocides through the Dirty Wars in Central and South America, and the whole “War on Drugs” thing.  I graduated from D.A.R.E. in 5th grade.  Fuck that program trying to instill the fear of god in me when it comes to illicit substance consumptive practices.

Maria Barcelona is a sexy crip of color femme who has immense chronic pain to which I will never truly “know” the extent of her experiences but that’s not the point.  And no one, I repeat NO ONE, should ever have the authority to prevent her from accessing medicinal marijuana and consuming it.  I suppose the pharmaceutical industry and the medical industrial complex (MIC) is missing out, you know, from exploiting her pain with script after script of acetaminophens and hydrocodone.  But that same MIC is the one who won’t cover the costs of new mobility devices that will properly support her hips, legs, arms, back, neck, and other various body parts that are perpetually in never-ending pain.

Me, well, I use ganj for my own psychiatric purposes and impulsive pleasures.

So here we have the crip and the crazy—undocumented stoners across state lines—and we need the goods.

We finish our mid-afternoon lunch and M. Barcelona wants to take the bus back instead of walking.  No prob, so we figure out the route and wait for the 4:12pm bus.  While we wait we actually try hitchhiking, because for a car the 0.6mile distance is but a two-minute detour.  We legitimately try hitchhiking as we wait for the bus but car after car passes us to no avail.

Finally the bus comes and we’re dropped off at the major intersection near The Shithole.  I’m squinting on the street corner and rolling my short sleeves up in the humid heat when abruptly I hear M. Barcelona’s voice asking: do you know where we could get any weed?

I immediately look over and it’s a young kid maybe 20 years old with a black LA baseball cap on and in busboy attire.  He must’ve just got off work.  He looks at M. Barcelona and I and smiles.

I’m actually going to score a spliff right now, he says.  I have to travel just north of Denver to my buddy’s farm where he grows.

After some casual conversation introducing ourselves, Brice The Weed Fairy pulls his cellphone out of his pocket to take our number.  He laughs.

It’s 4:20, he says.

the night before

The lovers walk hand in hand, across the slippery and saucy super-sized saucer: her plate, they skate along like grace at a pace in sync with the swirl and twirl of fork fingers, of spaghetti noodles. Silverware and Bolognese combine, intertwine, to pluck her palette with pleasure. She eats, mmm, mmm, one romantic grandstand after another to a salacious ovation applauding on the tip of her tongue. In the back of her throat. On the roof of her mouth. Titillating her taste buds only for such a moment to be remembered with torment, with painful self-humiliation.

That fucking diet, again. I don’t know, maybe this is the second or third “official” time. She made an appointment with a weight loss counselor. She has her own chart, with waist measurements, ass measurements, and her recorded BMI. She can just hear it now: come on back, it’s time to weigh in! as her smiling Jenny Craig comrade waives her down the lone hallway towards the scale. Are your pockets empty? No, but my stomach is. The fork moves slower, and misses spaghetti noodles in its droopy scoop. She pushes some chunks of sauce atop the entanglement and dives—fork first—into the bite, scratching against the plate like motherfucking nails on a chalkboard. She drops the fork and the handle clangs against the plate and she gasps with her hands held in the air begging for amnesty. Oh dear Cheesecake Factory, thou shalt grant me amnesty with the power of thy mercy. Save me from my impending doom, from the fascist calorie-counting regime that awaits my starvation. I hate myself more and more each day, each weigh-in, each ounce closer to a size six.

An Open Letter of Inquiry to the Craftspeople of Thomas Fetterman Incorporated on Behalf of The Alisha Maria Vasquez Crutch-Queen Chip-In Fund

Hello Thomas Fetterman Inc.,

My name is Brooke Willock and I am writing on behalf of my best friend Alisha Maria Vasquez in regards to your handmade custom design crutches.  Alisha has been disabled since birth.  She was born with a short left leg, and had about twenty surgeries between the ages 5 and 15 in her life to lengthen her leg six inches, to be only 3 inches shorter than her right leg (had she not had the surgeries, it was predicted that her left leg would be 12 inches smaller than her right).  Alisha has been on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) since childhood to help pay for health insurance.  For most her life she’s used hospital-grade run of the mill crutches whose tips always break and are so squeaky I always know when she’s coming home from school I can hear her three city blocks away it seems.  She’s starting to hunch over more and is in chronic neck/back/hips/knee pain nearly everyday, and she’s had callouses forming on her palms for years and year.  She jokes that she has callouses forming on her callouses.  We learned about your company in an advertisement in New Mobility: Life on Wheels magazine, and to be honest did not expect to find such beautiful, durable, and serious crutches.  I truly believe that Alisha deserves a pair of crutches just like the ones you all craft.  If she needs these adaptive devices on a daily basis–it’s like a part of her embodiment–shouldn’t she have some of the best kind out there?  She just turned 27 in November 2011 and has a long life ahead of her.  I think these crutches would be great for her.

All that said, I would like to inquire about two things in particular regarding this investment.  If the crutches are custom-made and non-adjustable, then what happens when she wants to wear some high heals and she’s suddenly grown 3-4 inches?  We’re also concerned about any insurance package in the possible instance of such lusty crutches being stolen, like when Alisha goes out dancing and leaves her crutches leaning against the wall near the corner unattended.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration, it is greatly appreciated.  We look forward to hearing form you.

In gratitude,

Brooke Willock

Above:

Custom Wooden Underarm Crutches by Ed Openshaw

Wood underarm crutches are steam bent and locked in the forms for several weeks to keep the elegant shape.  Ed Openshaw then uses a drawknife to hand form the taper of the crutch.

These crutches come complete with your choice of my Slim-Line or Rubber Underarm Pads.  Be sure to state your choice when ordering.

Poron Crutch Hand Grips have a tough PVC vinyl shell covering a shock absorbing polyurethane closed cell sponge center giving you a comfortable hand grip that is easy to clean and prevents skin sheer.  Your choice of my patented Tornado and Performance gel tips have Absorbalite™ gel polymer inside. Absorbalite™ gel has the ability to eat shock by transforming it into heat energy instead of transmitting it up the crutch shaft into our upper bodies.  Reducing these negative ground impact forces will help mitigate overuse syndrome keeping us vertical into the future.

Ed crafts this classic style wood crutch from hand selected Rosewood, Oak or Rock Maple.”

Above:

Aluminum Underarm Crutches

LiteStix Aluminum custom Underarm crutches are shock-absorbing, durable, silent and strong.

This handsome underarm crutch is made by TiSport and will provide you with state of the art comfort, function and good looks. It is custom made to fit the measurements you supply. Like all our custom crutches they never make a sound because there are no adjustment holes to egg-out and rattle. They are built-to-last and to make you last. The underarm piece is hand fashioned from 1″ aluminum tubing.

Even the handles are welded. They are a generous 4-1/2” wide rather than the standard 4″. The handgrips are my new durable Saddle Grips made with black natural cowhide leather wrapped over a shock-absorbing cellular urethane pad.

My patented Tornado GT or Performance GT gel tips have Absorbalite™ gel polymer inside. Absorbalite™ gel has the ability to “eat shock” by transforming it into heat energy instead of transmitting it up the crutch shaft into our upper bodies. Reducing these negative ground impact forces will help mitigate overuse syndrome keeping us vertical into the future. LiteStix Aluminum Underarm Crutches come complete with your choice of my new Slim-Line or Rubber Underarm Pads.”

Theory in the Flesh: Mixed-Ability Organizing, Access Needs, and Internalized Ableism

“A theory in the flesh means one where the physical realities of our lives—our skin color, the land or concrete we grew up on, our sexual longings—all fuse to create a politic born out of necessity.”

This Bridge Called My Back

Last week at Sins Invalid we had our second mixed-ability conversation.  Sins is a San Francisco/Bay Area based performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as members of communities who have been historically marginalized.  Our performance work explores the themes of sexuality, embodiment and the disabled body.  Conceived and led by disabled people of color, we develop and present cutting-edge work where normative paradigms of “normal” and “sexy” are challenged, offering instead a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities.

Our first mixed-ability conversation was about five to six months ago in the fall.  These conversations are internal to the organization, and are co-facilitated by two incredible organizers in the Bay Area: Malachi and Stacey.  Malachi is down for fun shit like justice and ‘is active in organizations serving low-income queer and transgender formally or currently incarcerated people, sits on a few boards, does free consulting for community organizations who are broke but are changing the world and believe that no one should be tossed away’ (from the Burns Institute site).  Stacey aka cripchick is a disability justice activist and organizer for the National Youth Leadership Network, an organization that builds power among people with disabilities between the ages of 16-28 years old in order to support young people in their role as the next generation of leadership in the Disability Rights Movement.  Last fall I collaborated with Stacey in developing a Sins workshop about new media, disability justice organizing, and accessibility.  She facilitated the workshop and I planned and promoted it.

It might be an obvious claim to say that Sins Invalid, as an organization, takes disability justice seriously.  What may not be so obvious is the deliberate labor that must be built in to the praxis of such theoretical frameworks.  This is what our mixed-ability conversations are for: collaboratively building an approach towards increasing accessibility, towards making a space where we can co-exist as uniquely embodied subjects as we work to maximize our own skills—as they are—and develop them as such.  Developing our skillsets as they are in relation to our embodied selves: in a way that is sustainable, accountable, responsible, and interconnected.  This is enormously challenging and ambitious.  I think our intentional inclusion of the co-facilitators shows the ways in which Sins takes seriously that which is otherwise too often irritably dismissed by the larger social justice culture of the Bay Area, and the U.S. more broadly: what it means to do mixed/cross-ability organizing, how, and why.  That said, this is what I have been thinking about: what does it mean to develop our skillsets as they are in relation to our complexly embodied selves—in a way that is sustainable, accountable, responsible, and interconnected—in the context of access needs and internalized ableism?

Four-hour time blocks have been scheduled for each facilitated conversation.  Six people total are involved in this collective dialogue: Patty and Leroy—the fabulous co/founders of Sins, Nomy Lamm, the facilitators, and myself.  Nomy is a queercrip fat Jewish cultural activist.  S/he’s a Sins Invalid performer, and a Creative Writing MFA student at SFSU.  Her fantastical queercrip world-making creativity permeates all that she does as a cultural activist: s/he writes, performs, sings, is a musician, and directs SinsArtist in Residence program.  We meet at ‘Sins Central,’ with homemade goodies in tow.  Patty makes the best chili for us with diced onion and bell pepper, chopped chard stems and carrots, mustard and maple marinated tempeh, pinto beans, tomatoes, oregano from her yard, cumin and a ton of garlic served with sauerkraut, chives, and homemade cornbread.  Theory in the flesh requires that we nourish our flesh, indeed.

I juxtapose access needs with internalized ableism because in the context of disability justice praxis, the two are so bound up with each other in complicated, nuanced ways that to think we can talk about one without the other is simply a mistake—an oversight.  From the disability rights movement of the 70s and 80s, access needs typically fall into a liberal reformist framework, delimiting the radical potential of such a concept.  Certainly this is not to dismiss the hard work, lessons learned, and legislative milestones such as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  What I’m interested in thinking about are the ways in which the state works to keep the idea of ‘access needs’ in a single-issue political framework, whereby our imaginations become restricted to thinking about access solely in terms of curb-cuts, ramps and handicap parking.  Clustered together in our meeting space at Sins, Patty makes this crucial point:

“In capitalism, the fact that you have a ‘need’ is like an overall net drain, as though we’re somehow not going to be worthwhile.”

Patty’s analysis politicizes the idea of ‘access needs’ by calling into question the very systems that produce ‘needs’ as net-drain in the first place: capitalist political economy and its construction of disability.  In other words, the normalization of society’s inaccessibility posits ‘access needs’ as an individual problem to be overcome.  Generally speaking, the disability rights movement prides itself on this overcoming through its precarious integration into an ADA-compliant ableist society.

Policymaking and development around societal issues of accessibility and universal design only go so far if we do not ask at least two things: why are people with disabilities systematically marginalized to begin with, and secondly what effects has systematic marginalization had on the subject formations of such a heterogeneous constituency?  Patty’s politicization shows how capitalism not only stigmatizes accessibility in terms of cost benefit analysis but also how through such stigmatization, the bodies associated with access needs become devalued in terms of capitalist ideas of production and worthwhile-ness.  Meaning, neoliberal capitalism renders disabled people second-class citizens, essentially sub-human status.  It is this connection to internalized ableism that I have been thinking about: what does it mean to articulate ‘access needs’ from the standpoint/sitpoint of people with disabilities who have otherwise been subjected to ableist violences that demean the notion of access, and how does this impact mixed-ability organizing?  From here, Patty makes another critical point:

“Internalized ableism is a way to police bodies through shaming.  And then, intersections of race, gender, and class might exacerbate the shaming of internalized ableism.”

This particular moment in the discussion is where my own thoughts are still wading—or, more like treading—in deep ocean water far from the shore with strong currents pushing salt water into my mouth and up my nose as I struggle to keep my head above the tide.

In her recent blogpost “More on radical love- the gift of interdependency,” Wheelie Catholic (Ruth) beautifully illustrates what it means to do mixed-ability praxis.  She writes, “I recall years ago when a friend sent her teenage son over to volunteer to help me with some physical tasks.  He lacked confidence because he was dealing with a learning disability in school.”  Ruth situates her story in the context of access and internalized ableism.  Disability shame is at work here: this young man lacks confidence—feels badly about himself—as though there’s something about him that’s not good enough (according to dominant, colonialist pedagogies).  There’s nothing inherently not good enough about him, he’s only not good enough according to capitalist standards: in order for capitalism to continuously reproduce itself, it needs docile bodies and minds to fill the cogs in its machine.  This shame works to stigmatize his disability so that the violences of ableist subjection and rehabilitative discourses seem justified in the name of for-profit productivity and so-called ‘freedom.’  Ruth explains:

“I told him to concentrate on what he could do well rather than dwelling on what he could not.  Although it’s fine to encourage someone to work on skills, it’s really important to emphasize what they are good at.”

Ruth speaks to the importance of meeting folks where they’re at in terms of maximizing our own skills as they are.  This is a politic born out of necessity.  Feels-like-drowning but then we nourish the pained flesh and catch our collective breath.

Allies Not Excuses

Allies Not Excuses

Daniella Meads-Barlow, Rest in Peace

Daniella, type-1 diabetic, died in her sleep Tuesday morning, November 8th from low blood sugar.  Many blogs and JDRF advocates are clinging to her story and death with rhetoric that emphasizes the dire need for a “cure.”  I am also an advocate for the cure.  But I am also very critical of it when socioeconomic intersections and historical contexts are taken for granted in such rhetoric.

In e-mails that I’ve received in the past day or two, Daniella has been framed as a victim of chronic disease.  Words like “sad” and “too soon” are attributed to her death.  Phrases such as, “This is the reality of this disease.  It happens without prejudice…to families that are working hard to keep their children safe,” are circulating on Facebook and the diabetes blogosphere.  It is without question that diabetic experiences are marginalized, rendered obtuse and thus scary.  Here I would like to acknowledge Daniella’s life with the utmost respect, and I would like to try to imagine a way that we can think about and talk about Daniella’s death (and the thousands of deaths like hers that correspond to incurable disease) without embedding such deaths with fear and anxiety.

Underlying all of this, I am left thinking about Western medicine’s emphasis on the cure, and its stigmatization of incurable conditions.  I am also left thinking about Western science and medicine’s mission for longevity.  Some might call it biopolitics, or biopower.  Some might call it capitalism, and its heteronormative conceptualizations of time and place.  Well, if we center Daniella’s life experiences with incurable disease, if we center her death within her own experience of temporalities and spatialities, maybe she isn’t victim after all and maybe death isn’t so scary, after all.  A crip time and place, perhaps?  Rest in peace, Daniella.

Daniella Meads-Barlow

 “Most people are deeply reluctant to believe that bad things happen to people who do not deserve them, or seek them, or risk them, or fail to take care of themselves.  To believe this as a general proposition is to acknowledge the fragility of one’s own life; to realize it in relation to someone one knows is to become acutely aware of one’s own vulnerability.”

–Susan Wendell, The Rejected Body

So Happens to Be Made, So Happens to Be Offered

While Travis and his family and friends enjoy homemade lasagna, I nuke Jenny Craig lasagna in the rehab center’s kitchen and eat it out if its little black plastic microwaveable tray.  Finally visitors leave and Trav and I meander off to his rehab room.  Like a dorm room, kind of.  His roommate, just on the other side of the curtain, is Curtis.  Curtis broke his neck in a car accident.  Wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.  Rumor has it the seatbelt would have “saved” him.  Who knows for sure.  The seatbelt, the wallet, the seatbelt, the wallet.  Could be anytime, anywhere.

Curtis has a poster taped to the ceiling right above his bed.  It’s a blond bikini-wearing babe licking a lollipop.  Curtis had a halo strapped to his body and screwed into his skull for months.  It’s off, and he’s now in the fashionable neck brace like Trav.

Trav has a roommate named Curtis and they’re both quads in rehab together.  When Trav and I mosey into their room, Curtis is gone.  Probably off cracking the code to the nurses break room, or hijacking the hospital intercom system to report some sarcastic, nonsensical need for the whole unit to hear.

I’m starving because the non-homemade lasagna was maybe actually two bites of lasagna.  Portion control?  More like socially acceptable anorexia.  I’m starving and my stomach’s growling even though I just ate “dinner,” and I try to ignore it but by trying to ignore it I actually obsess over it as I set up the DVD for movie night.  I try to make our movie date special by popping popcorn for Trav.  I can’t eat any of it because my “diet” (read: socially acceptable self-starvation).  And I even made the butter lovers kind because it’s not for me, right?

I turn down the lights and snuggle next to Travis as we look up at the TV glowing above his bed.  I scoop my hand into the popcorn bag and flex my fingers like a claw crane prize grabber clutching all the wondrous colorful stuffed animal toys.  I pull my arm out slowly so I don’t drop my prize: a handful of butter lovers’ popcorn.  I hold my hand out to Travis’ mouth and he licks up the salty, tasty morsels with his lips and tongue.

You see the thing is, is that I don’t really care for popcorn.  I like the crunchiness, sure, and I do find pleasure in the greasy buttery goodness.  However, I really hate it when popcorn kernel pieces get stuck in my teeth, especially my back molars.  So I typically never eat popcorn by choice.  Only if it so happens to be made, and if it so happens to be offered to me.  And if it’s not non-buttered non-salted dry cardboard tasting popcorn.

In-between prize-winning scoops of popcorn, I feel my tummy aching.  I poke at my toned yet not-toned-enough abdomen, and squeeze my toned yet too voluptuous thighs.  I think about Jenny Craig (the corporation, not the person), and I think about my disciplining mom.

I reach deep into the microwaveable popcorn bag with my claw of glory to scoop up the biggest-ever popcorn prize to claim the high-winning score.  In the darkness amidst the flashes from the TV I shovel the hand full of golden glistening nibbles into my gaping mouth, pushing my flat palm against the popcorn and into my cheeks.  I chew and chew and chew and the crane reaches back in and the claw pushes into my mouth and against my cheeks and I chew and chew and chew.  I feel enormous guilt as I grumble and gulp yet I can’t stop shoveling one handful after the other into my mouth in the darkness with flashes of TV light in Trav’s hospital dorm room during our movie time.  The ambivalence is wrenching as my stomach twists in utter guilt and utter pleasure from my uncontrollable gorge.

Having some popcorn? Travis teases, well-aware of my suffocating calorie-counting fascist regime.  His rhetorical question breaks my zone.

I wipe my oily fingers on my voluptuous pant thighs and laugh through my mastication.  I respond, Fuck it!  And together we enjoy the butter lovers’ popcorn that so happens to be made by me, that I so happen to offer to myself.

my very own new media artwork

The Pod

By Brittany Willock

click click click
prick. ouch. sigh.
hopeful success for three days.

beep beep beep
check your blood sugar.
click, prick. blood.
good mood, bad mood.
sleepy, loopy.
what will it be?
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, result.

beeeeeeeeeeep.
stop it. please stop.
defective again.
start over. stop what you’re doing.
this can’t wait.

activate pod now?
yes, because that is my only choice.
fill the syringe.
no air bubbles please.
flick flick flick.

click click click
prick. ouch. sigh.
hopeful success for three days.

Freaks and Weirdos: On Walking Straight, Walking ‘Normal’

“Walk straight!” my mother commands.  I’m only eight years old, trudging through the shopping mall with my six-year-old sister in tow.  I catch my breath at my mother’s disciplining, let out a soft sigh and roll my eyes.  “Brooke, did you hear me?” she complains.  I keep walking, and for a minute I straighten out my feet, spine, and shoulders into what I have been told is a proper posture, a “normal” way of walking.  Just for a minute, to appease my nagging mother.

My dad tells me a different story.  People who are pigeon-toed are fast runners, and fierce athletes.  I embrace this narrative as an eight-year-old, and take the initiative to out-run any boy at school.  Girls rule and boys drool.  Even my neon-green t-shirt says so.  I play tag-football at recess, and I relish during the elementary-school-wide Field Day.  When I run, I let my legs be as pigeon-toed as ever.  And I even earn a first-place ribbon for it in the fifty-yard dash.

Do I ever trip over my own feet?  Sometimes, yes.  But as a kid, whose dad says it’s cool to be pigeon-toed, I take pride in tripping over my own feet.  I learn to laugh at myself.  Let the self-tripping commence!  I’d rather trip over my feet with an audience than waste my concentration and discomfort on walking straight.

“Walk normal!” my mother shouts.  She switches between saying, “walk straight” and “walk normal.”  According to her and the use of their seeming interchangeability, the phrases are synonymous: walking straight means walking normal.  And walking “normal” is apparently the desirable gait.  “Brooke, I said walk normal,” she reinforces her demand.  This time we are at the grocery store, and I am feeling disobedient.  I keep moving along, pretending like I can’t hear her, and collecting coupons as we stroll down the aisles.  “Did you hear me?” she repeats.  “Come on, you walk like a slob.  Pay attention.”

My dad signs me up for soccer and softball.  I build strong quadriceps and hamstrings.  I go to a summer soccer camp the year I turn nine, and the professional trainer immediately notices the uniqueness of my stride.  I stand out in the group, literally and figuratively.  She teaches me to use my pigeon-toedness to an advantage.  I train hard for a quick, skilled touch to the ball.  I have a mean outward cut, thanks to my pigeon feet—perfect for fake-outs.  And best of all, I learn to kick the ball with the outside of my foot.  Imagine a penalty kick, in front of the goal: the keeper notices I am right-footed and expects me to sweep it across into the left corner.  But my pigeon-toed outside-of-the-foot kick curves it unsuspectingly into the opposite right corner.  Solid shot, like a line drive, slightly curved.  Goal keeper left stunned.  Ever heard of “bend it like Beckham”?  That’s me.

Third and fourth grade pass by, and I’m the class tomboy.  I only wear boy clothes, even boys shoes.  My mom thinks “it’s just a phase.”  If that’s what’ll keep her off my back, then let her think what she wants.  I run amok on the playground each day happy to be picked in the first few by my fellow male team-captains for our kickball pick-up game.  Most of the girls frolic on the swing-set, perform cartwheels through the dry, yellow Sonoran desert grass, or play jump-rope.  Cartwheels and jump-rope set me apart from the other girls—I was never very good at gymnastics or dance, my legs could never plié.  In fact, my legs are capable of quite the opposite.  The few who knew about my amazing inward-turning feet talents would run up to me on occasion, dragging their new friends along.

“Show Sarah how your feet turn in!” Jamie requests excitedly.

“Okay,” I act in accordance: and inward my legs go, my feet nearly facing backward.

“You’re a freak of nature!” Sarah exclaims.

“Yep,” I agree.  And I get back to playing kickball while they scurry off in giggles.

I am ten years old, in the fifth grade.  The drive to the orthopedic surgeon’s office in downtown Phoenix is far from the North Phoenix suburban neighborhood my mom takes pride in raising me in.  Born and raised in a working class Jewish neighborhood in Chicago, she’ll do whatever she must to provide her daughters the socioeconomic privileges of middle class status.  The drive is daunting: my neurotic mother schleps me along, as I am resistant to go.

“Maybe the doctor can fix your feet,” she says from behind the wheel.

I shrug my shoulders, say nothing, and continue staring out the front passenger window of the SUV.  I am truly at a loss for words.  The ambivalence is too stark—one thought process feels a sense of relief at the notion of being “fixed.”  The other thought process, the feeling in my gut, wrenches at the idea.  My mom keeps talking.

“You know, your sister was born pigeon-toed, too.  By then the doctors had come up with corrective baby feet braces.  She wore them the first two years of her life.  They didn’t have anything like that for you, though,” she explains.  I already knew the story; she’s recited it to me countless times.  I even know where she keeps the baby-feet-brace mementos: in the special storage box high in the downstairs closet.  I often sneak down there, climb up into the box, and look at the little braces.  I hold them in the palms of my hands and wonder why science had failed me at birth.

“I know,” I respond to her recitation.  My words to my mother are often short and abrupt.  We pull into the parking lot; the office building is stacked with dark red bricks and has a fountain flowing in the entrance.  No matter the desert drought we’re experiencing.  I pass through the automatic doors, and a whoosh of icy air conditioning slides across my neck.

X-rays—we need x-rays!  The official science technology will authorize the pathologization of my pigeon-toedness.  Was there Latin terminology to name my pending diagnosis?  Certainly there is!  According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (very authoritative and all-knowing, omniscient institutions of knowledge production), Metatarsus adductus (MTA) is a foot deformity: the bones in the front half of the foot bend or turn in toward the body.  Deformity? According to my dear friend Merriam-Webster, deformity means: imperfection, blemish: as A) a physical blemish or distortion: disfigurement, and/or B) a moral or aesthetic flaw or defect.  The language at hand reflects how the medical model negatively classifies nonnormative bodies as unfit, defective, or abnormal.  Bodily variations that do not meet standard ableist criteria are viewed as having something intrinsically wrong them that need to be cured.  And yet, the transparent knowledge of x-rays will report my MTA to be more “severe” than this standardized definition suggests.

The nurse practitioner leads me through the maze of hallways to what appears like a series of dressing rooms in a department store.  She slides a curtain open and invites me to step inside.  Her instructions: strip naked, put your clothes in the cubby, and wrap the gown around your body.  Am I complicit in the medicalization of my beloved pigeon-toed legs?  At age ten, I’m only doing what my mother says is best, and what the nurses officially know how to do.  Besides, seeing my own bones against the bright x-ray screen is fascinating and surreal.

Diagnosis: pigeon-toed from the hip down.  Whereas MTA is commonly in the feet and ankles, my legs are entirely turned inward from top to bottom.  First opinion: corrective surgery at the ankles.  This should fix the appearance of walking “normal.”

“So my legs would be turned inward but my feet would be turned outward?” I ask, slightly panicked.

“Yes,” the surgeon replies in his German accent.  “It would be far easier, quicker, and less painful of a procedure.”  Or, you mean, more economically profitable within your capitalist cost-benefit analysis?  Less risky under the choke-hold of private insurance companies?

“But what about sports?  Would this change how fast I run?”

“It’s hard to say,” he says coldly.  “I’ll let you two think about this for a moment while I step out of the room.”

I feel like ducking for cover.  How can I get out of this?  “I don’t want to do this,” I blurt out as my mom reads some pamphlets.  She is startled by my claim.

“Brooke,” she says sternly.  “What about when you’re walking down the aisle?  You don’t want to look like a slob at your wedding, do you?”

My mom excuses me today from my fifth grade summer school program.  She herself has even taken off work.  Second opinion: another orthopedic surgeon’s office somewhere in the sweltering mirage-inducing black asphalt of downtown Phoenix.  X-rays and proper documents are in my mother’s possession.  Our seemingly smooth access to specialized opinions and medicine exemplifies our white socioeconomic privilege, healthcare coverage since birth—my dad a hardworking business man with salary and benefits.  He’d rather be a radio sports broadcaster, he tells me later in my life, it’s his dream job—and believe me, he’d be great.  But sacrifices must be made to sustain the nuclear heteronormative family.  My mother, too, gave up the life of art and design for full-time hourly wage in order to raise her two daughters.  She and I stroll up to the building, and I squint at the brightness of the white walls, inside and out.  Sterile; and the high-ceiling lobby with granite tile echoes our every shuffling sound.  Fake plants hover in the corners.  Wait a second, I recognize this building.  It’s where I go to be tested for my scoliosis.

No more x-rays needed, instead I proceed through a regime of diagnostic assessment.  This doctor is much nicer and I think he remembers me.  Tests, tricks, games: without trying to correct your stride, walk down this long hallway in a straight line.  Okay, now take off your shoes and socks and walk down the hallway again.  Walk backwards.  Side to side.  Jump.  Skip down the hallway.  Jog, sprint, run down the hallway.  Walk back slowly.  Sit up on this table, and let your feet dangle over the side.  Do they normally turn inward like that?  How does it feel when I turn them out like this?  It’s painful?  Uncomfortable?  Okay.

The proposal for cure: corrective surgery, from the hip down.  Either break both legs at once, re-set them, and be in a wheelchair for six months, or break one leg at a time and be on crutches for a year.  After they heal, physical therapy for one year minimum.  “Oh, the last surgeon said he’d go at you in the ankles?  Bad idea.  It’s the entire leg that’s turned inward, not just at the ankle.  I wouldn’t be comfortable with that,” the doctor muses.

And I think about being in a wheelchair for half a year.  I think about bending it like Beckham, the fifty-yard dash, and my impromptu freak-show performances at recess.  I do not, I do not, think about timelessly gliding down the wedding aisle.

I look up and see my mom picking out a date on the calendar with the surgeon, five weeks from now—making sure I’d have enough time to recuperate before my sixth grade year begins.  The doctor pulls out more paperwork and my mom scribbles in the necessary information to secure my upcoming surgery date.  Both legs at once.

It’s family movie-night: dad, mom, me and Britt peruse the “New Releases” wall around the inside perimeter of Blockbuster from A-Z.  Little signs hang in-between every other section in royal blue and mustard yellow, rhyming “Be Kind, Rewind.”  My hand traces across the VHS case for Now and Then, and I admire to myself Christina Ricci’s classic tomboy character.  My eyes fixate on her casual stature, jeans and t-shirt style, hands in her pockets.  I love her face.  And she even gets to kiss Devon Sawa.  I blush as I recall the scene in my mind.  I could never watch this movie with my parents!  Moving along to the next couple letters in the alphabet with Brittany trailing close behind me, we land on the movie Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan and the Looney Toons squad, and cheer in unison at our selection.  Mom gives in; dad willfully supports our decision and secretly buys us a Kit Kat at the check-out counter away from my mom’s obsessive calorie-counting scrutiny.

Sneaking Britt and I our favorite candy is always an under-cover operation for my dad.  My mom doesn’t stop at the legs: she disciplines her daughters’ bodies from head to toe, and my body in particular.  I’m very protective of my sister, so if and when my mom torments her, I fight back with twice the fire.  At ten years old, I’m restricted to fat-free milk (more like milky water), and low-fat, low-sodium wheat thins (adult food already?).  Everything she gets grocery shopping is some combination of low-fat, non-fat, fat free, sugar free, low sodium, low calorie.  My teeth are another project for my mom.  I’ve already had braces across the top row of teeth (when I was 8 years old)—I’ve had retainers, expanders (to crank my molars into place since apparently they were out of place), and a headgear.  A headgear is that contraption in cartoons the super nerdy kids wear and get beat-up for it at recess.  Thankfully the orthodontist spared me from being socially ostracized and prescribed me to lock it in my jaw and around my head immediately when I got home from school until I woke up the next morning.  That lasted about six months, to fix my “cross-bite.”  It’s no wonder my parents won’t be able to afford to pay for my college tuition.  Looking socially acceptable costs a fortune.

Yet my mother’s obsession with the ideal body is not so simple.  On top of achieving the impossible beauty ideal that western society tells us to achieve, there’s other factors that complicate the story.  Not to down-play the power of discourse, certainly the media floods our psyches with misogynistic portrayals of women that affect how we see and treat ourselves.  Popular media is rampant with images that train our minds to be and think a certain way—attempting to attain certain beauty characteristics such as thinness, hair styled, make up, clothes, and more.  This is ableism.  To idealize a particular body and to comply with subsequent disciplining regimes of self-care is what makes able-bodiedness compulsory: the ideal body seemingly within reach yet perpetually out of sight.  In this sense, my mom is in a weight-loss battle with life.  She was, what she calls, obese in high school.  I’ve known this about my mother since I can remember, as she used her own life story for leverage when threatening us before the long, glorious aisle of cascading chips and cookies on our trips to the grocery store.  She will tell me in my teen years that her obesity, in her eyes, meant no high school proms and no dating.  In college, she confesses to me when I’m older, she went on a crackers and diet soda diet (also known as anorexia).

After losing a drastic amount of weight, she joined the frightening world of Greek Life, where she met my father.  I would argue that my mother has chronic anorexia and post-traumatic stress disorder to this day—not to psychopathologize, but I am trying to make a point.  It’s no wonder, her first daughter and oldest child now embarking on the second decade of her fruitful life, that my very presence in the household would be such an inner psychological and embodied struggle for her.  On top of it all, her side of the family (all them Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European descent) has carried many struggles with obesity, to the point where a handful of cousins and aunts have had their stomachs stapled or undergone gastric bypass surgery.  The legacy of anti-Semitism also embeds itself within our bodies, written on our flesh, passed on from one generation to the next.  Assimilate or die.  Looking “normal,” to my mother, also means decreasing the chances of positioning my body as a target for assault, for violence.  In addition to the painful processes of female subjectification through the discourse of the ideal feminine body, this family genealogy and larger historical context seems to feed and justify my own mother’s chronic self-starvation and traumatic stress, and further justifies projecting her insecurities and psychiatric illnesses onto me through things like abusive corrective surgeries, invasive dental work, and tasteless low-fat wheat thins with a glass of milk water.  At ten years old, I’m hiding a box of double-stuffed Oreos under my bed.  My heart pounds as I eat them furiously alone in my room, listening intently for the sound of footsteps stomping up the stairs.

On the drive home from Blockbuster I consider the implications of my impending surgery.  Will I ever be the same again?  What will Brittany, my kid-sister, think?  What about when you’re walking down the aisle?  Walk straight, walk normal.  Concentrate on walking straight.  Practice.  You look like a slob.  There, that’s better.  Is that so hard to do?  What about your wedding when you’re wearing high heels?  Concentrate.

We pull into the driveway, and the garage door closes behind us.  I can hear Barclay, our family-dog (a brown and white Shih-Tzu), whimpering and scratching the walls in excitement in the laundry room upon our arrival.  I squeeze through after my mother to make sure he does not escape into the dusty, hot, two-car garage stacked with bicycles, storage shelves, and bins full of sports equipment.

“I’ll make the popcorn!” my mother announces.  This gesture excites no one but her, and maybe the dog, because, my dad, Britt and I are butter-lovers, and my mom, well, I’m sure you can guess the way she preps her popcorn: plain.  Plain: no salt, no buttah, nada.  Um, what’s the point?  I might as well snack on leftover cardboard boxes.

The movie begins and we dim the lights around the couches.  Brittany and I move down onto the carpeted floor to sit closer.  Michael Jordan gets sucked, literally, into Looney Toon land and the silly basketball adventures begin.

“Brooke!” my mom shouts in a whisper.  “Don’t sit like that.”

I’m feeling defensive after my inner dialogue on the car ride home.  “Leave me alone!” I spit bitterly back at her, over my shoulder.

Don’t sit like that,” she snarls.  I watch Michael Jordon’s distinct pigeon-toed stride across the court as he approaches Bugs Bunny.  “Sit cross-legged.”

“I can’t!” I shout.  “It doesn’t feel good.  This way is more comfortable.”

“Wendi, leave her alone,” my dad murmurs.

“David!” she exclaims in disbelief, slapping her knee for effect.  “The way she’s sitting just makes it worse.”

“She’s fine,” he says.  “MJ didn’t turn out so bad.”  And he leans over to tickle my mom in the rib.  She tries her hardest not to laugh, not to smile, not to change her ways.

My mom is frantic, getting cold feet, having second guesses, wondering if she should have me go through with the surgery.  She barges into my bedroom, and I’m sitting at my desk reading Nancy Drew.  Scrounging through the disarray of the clearance section, I found a Nancy Drew six-pack of the first six volumes at the bookstore that my dad takes me to, and the books they’re all in shiny hardback bind.  I love the smooth hard cover and the pointy edges protecting the crisp pages inside.  Like fresh dollar bills, the texture almost the same.  I love the sound the crisp, fresh, one-dollar-bill pages make whenever I turn one over.  The beautiful sound of paper felt through my fingertips.

“Brooke,” she says to me, her urgent tone pleads that I place the bookmark in and set the enthralling mystery aside.  “Do you want to have the surgery?” she asks me, for the first time.  For the first time.  She finally asks.  Maybe she wants sympathy, I think she wants this because I can hear it in her voice, that rare tone my mother gives when she’s asking for sympathy, almost asking for forgiveness but not quite articulating that she’s sorry.  No she never says she’s sorry.  I can’t give her sympathy, even though a small part of me wishes that all of me could, and instead I give her anger.  How could she now, just now, finally ask me?  After all this?  She expects to put the burden on me, now?

The skin on my arms it prickles and the hairs they stand up in solidarity, ready to protect me.  Tiny little hairs, fierce, erect, ready to fight, my teeth, they clench and grind and I want to answer her question but I am so shocked and angry that I find myself in silence, I release the strain of molar against molar and find my mouth open, my jaw ajar.

“Do you want to have the surgery?” she asks again, as though maybe I didn’t hear her the first time.

Do I want to have the surgery? Do I want to have the surgery!  I want to shout it, I want to scream it.  To me it’s a crude rhetorical question, an insult, a spat in the goddamn face.  But I can’t even say a word.

Third opinion: doctor’s office not quite an office, but more like a den, a study den, with a lower ceiling and rustic wooden furniture.  A dark, burgundy wood that invites me to sit and ponder thoughts, deep thoughts, surrounded by lots of books in a dark burgundy wooden bookshelf full of lots of crisp, beautiful-sounding pages.  The doctor—an older white man with white hair and a white facial beard with eyewear like my poppy, the kind with large lenses and thin bronzed wire frames—asks me to sit up on the patient’s table.  He squints at the x-rays illuminated behind my head.  He squints at them for a brief second, glances at my chart, then looks over at me.  My mother, she stands next to the patient’s table, waiting anxiously for any word that might drop out of the doctor’s mouth.  I know she needs the reassurance, I know she needs a doctor to tell her that I don’t need surgery.  I couldn’t bring myself to say no to her.  Maybe he will, I know she’s hoping he will.

“So tell me why you’re here,” the doctor says, to me.  To me!

“Um, I’m pigeon-toed,” I answer.

He looks squarely at me and pauses, then remarks, “I see,” with a certain curiosity, like we’re in a Nancy Drew mystery—detectives putting the clues together one by one.

“And is there something wrong with your pigeon-feet?”

I shrug my shoulders.  “I can run fast at school!” I proclaim, my eyes open-wide from the thrill of speaking my pigeon-toed pride aloud.  “And I’m good at soccer.”

“Mhm,” he recites like a line from Sherlock Holmes.  “Do you ever trip over your feet?”

“Well, yeah, sometimes I guess.  But not very often at all.”

“Do kids make fun of you at school?”

I never really thought about it like that before.  “I don’t think so.”  The doctor, talking to me, asking me questions, is a different experience for me than with the other orthopedic surgeons.  The other doctors, they so readily diagnosed me, so readily assessed and prescribed corrective surgery.  All it took was one visit per doctor—and they’re ready to cut.  To turn me into a cyborg—I’m both disturbed and fascinated by the thought, not quite sure what it all really means.  Both surgeries, either at the ankles or the hips, would require hardware screwed into my bones.  Would I beep through security at the airport?  Would I have scars in my hips, in my ankles, forever marking the authoritative hand of medicine on my flesh?  Where is the line drawn between corrective surgery for ‘pathological deviance,’ and plastic surgery for cosmetic purposes?  Where would my corrective surgery fall between such distinctions?  Did I really have something wrong with me that anesthesia, sharp blades, bolts and screws, lots of blood, lots of stitches, lots of scars, and lots of post-op pain could “fix”?

First opinion.  Second opinion.  Now third opinion.  My mom, she hardly speaks this go around.  The doctor hardly asks her a thing.  This changes my experience with and approach to medicine and doctors entirely.  This doctor wants to know how I experience my body.  He does not want to know what others’ perceptions are of me, per se, like that of my own worried mother, but rather, how I experience others’ perceptions.  For instance, do kids at school make fun of me?  It depends.  In some ways yes, in some ways no, but kids are mean to each other regardless since we’re engrained from such an early age that there are indeed freaks and weirdos: like nerds, like booger-eating slimy outsiders, like chubby dweebs, like Jews, like the one Black kid in the whole fifth grade, like brown-skinned non-native English speakers, like the masturbating child, like the kid who is left-handed, like the kid with a lazy eye, with a speech impediment, with a stutter, with a runny nose, with too much spit, with a big nose, with big ears, with dyslexia, with duck feet, or, with pigeon-feet.  All us freaks and weirdos: being stared at, regulated, disciplined, feared, loathed, despised, pushed into isolation—all for being who we are perceived to be, not for being who we say we are.  So here I am, saying who I am, and I demand that you listen, listen hard, and rip out those presuppositions, discard your fear, and re-perceive the idea of me and my freakery and all those other weird kids who sit or stand beside me, next to me, and with my pigeon-feet.

“Okay,” he ponders as he reads over my chart a second time.  “Does being pigeon-toed hurt?  As in, physically, does it give you any physical pain?”

I think for a moment.  “Only when I’m sitting criss-cross-Apple-sauce on the floor,” I respond.  “It’s the way it turns my legs, it makes them sore.”

And then, the question is asked.  He asks, “do you want to have surgery?”  His question provokes much deliberation in my head, the context so different from when my mom asked, and I deliberate as I attempt to speak it out loud, as my mother chimes in, as the doctor listens hard, as I try to figure out how to say what I want to say, as I realize that the doctor has not suggested once that my legs need to be fixed, and this realization gives me the confidence to say, No.  No I do not want the surgery.

The doctor listens and responds to my spoken thoughts, “Alright then.  I do not recommend any surgery.  You are fine just the way you are.”

Left - kid sis; right - pigeon-feet.