Trigger warning: this post discusses, in graphic detail, abuse and violence against a disabled family member.
I wait patiently to hear the truck crunch through the gravel-filled alleyway. I have 30 minutes – probably less. I scour the fridge for food. Hurry. I find a strawberry yogurt and some chocolate covered raisins. I mix the two together. Faster. The yogurt is so cold it’s hardened the raisins and my jaws stick together. I hide the trash. They come back. Cammy, my older sister is carrying my baby brother. He has blue eyes, blond hair, and Down syndrome.
Later, my mother is in the kitchen trying to make dinner. I try to go to bed, but she won’t let me. I don’t want to be in the living room. I feel exposed. The dinner consists of a bag salad, frozen lasagna, and a loaf of garlic bread. My mother has smothered the salad in expired ranch dressing. It smells like spilled milk and hot concrete. The lasagna is still frozen inside. I don’t want to eat it, but I don’t want to make my mother mad…
But it’s too late for that. “WHO OPENED MY CANDY?,” she screams. I look at my siblings sitting on the couch and don’t want them to get in trouble, so I confess and quickly try to explain I only took a little bit. Cammy backs me up, trying to calm down my mom. It doesn’t matter. Suddenly, the plate is ripped from my hands and my mother is tipping over my wheelchair. She screams, “I’m tired of your fat, disgusting ass touching my stuff.” She doesn’t realize I am buckled into my chair. It pins me to the ground as she starts kicking me in the face and stepping on my hands. She unbuckles me from the chair and starts dragging me from towards the front door. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Cammy scoop up my little brother and run into her room.
She kicks my face in with the side of her shoe, so it doesn’t leave marks. But when she starts to kick me in the stomach she uses the points of her toes for maximum effect. I can’t breathe, but I can’t stop myself from trying to pull air into my lungs, which only makes the pain worse.
I hear the same old insults and threats: “I gave you life, and I can take it away. You were a fucking mistake.” At 12 years old, I’ve heard these phrases dozens of times, and in the next seven years I would hear them dozens more.
The kicks stop. I can hear her talking but she is farther away. My head hurts; I still can’t breathe. All I can do is say “sorry” over and over again. Then I feel her hands grab my hair and twist my neck all the way back towards her. I can almost meet her eyes and I think my neck is about to snap. It somehow makes breathing even harder and I try to hold myself up to ease the pain. I see now why she stopped kicking me as she holds the knife in front of me. It’s a long serrated knife with two sharp points at the end.
“I can’t deal with you anymore. I gave you life, and I can take it away.” She presses the blade into my throat. At this point I stopped breathing, as a choice. She keeps saying that phrase. I can feel the teeth of the blade digging deeper into my throat. All I can think is, at least my little brother won’t have to see this. That is, until she starts to drag me towards Cammy’s room.
My mom pounds on my sister’s door and demands to be let in. Cammy does what she’s told. I tried to keep up with her and crawl at a quick pace to keep from having my hair ripped out of my skull. Ever since the surgery I had to treat my cerebral palsy, my legs have been extremely stiff and weak. But pain can be an effective motivator. She kicks my hands and feet out from under me says, “Stop crying, I wasn’t actually going to do it.” The droplets of blood from the tips of the serrated blade told me otherwise.
I spent a couple of hours laying in the dark room, clinging to the carpet, repeating the phrase “That’s not my mommy, I want my real mom.” The abuse started when I was 10, when my mother relapsed and started using heroin after 10 years of being sober. She’d quit her drug use after I was born three and a half months premature. Despite having used drugs for a majority of her pregnancies, none of her previous children had any disability. Then, my brother was born with Down syndrome. Oftentimes, my mother would blame me for my brother’s disability. She would say that if I had learned to walk, she wouldn’t have waited so long to have another child.
Looking back on my life, the truth is my mom was always hostile and abusive towards me, both before and after her relapse. I know that just my being born disabled was a constant reminder of her own failures and poor choices. But taking my life wouldn’t have been an act of mercy, because she didn’t want to face the consequences of her mistakes.
My mom couldn’t get past the common societal idea that disabled people have horrible lives. We don’t.
People at school would assume I was depressed because of my disability. How could I convey to people that my disability was the least of my issues? At the age of 10, I was responsible for providing stability and love for a child. Often, my Social Security and in-home support service checks were the only thing that kept the lights on in our home. If only the worst thing in my life was that I had to use a wheelchair.
Using a wheelchair is not that bad; I’ve never known anything that different. But because society deems disability the worst-case scenario, most people genuinely think disabled people would rather be dead. I didn’t want to be dead. I didn’t want my life taken violently. I didn’t want to feel pain from the hands of a loved one. I didn’t want my last memory before I died being my mother slitting my throat.
Everyone talks about what the person committing the murder of a disabled person must have felt. But no one thinks about how horrible it must be for a victim of a filicide attempt to see someone who was supposed to love and protect them try to strip them of a future.
I have an amazing life filled with people that love me, filled with purpose, filled with opportunities for moments of joy. All of those things could have been taken away from me, just because my mother didn’t see that I had a life worth living.