One year ago.
That's how long it's been.
One year ago I stood shaking from head to toe in a teacher's lounge bathroom trying not to throw up from sheer anger, shame, and anxiety. One year ago, I listened to you call me belligerent for standing up for myself. One year ago, I heard you say these exact words:
"I'm forced to conclude that either you've been making excuses, or you haven't been being truthful with us."
Do you remember those words? Do you remember that meeting, that two hour meeting, where you said "This isn't about your limitations, you're the one who keeps bringing them up"? Do you remember how hard I cried? Do you remember telling me that you couldn't recommend me for student teaching? Do you remember how you looked at me like I had three heads when I mentioned the Disability Services Office, and how you skated around the word disability so many times? How I finally snapped and said "You can say "disability", you know. I'm not afraid of it."?
I'm still not afraid of it. I wasn't then, and I'm not now.
One year ago, I was effectively kicked out of the education major at a university that is fairly well known for their education program. I was given a choice to switch my major or graduate without teaching certification. Kicked out for no other reason than my disabilities. Because a disabled teacher will apparently lose the respect of her students.
One year ago, ableism knocked me down. But I got back up. Here's what ableism DIDN'T do.
Ableism didn't stop me from getting my diploma. In December, I walked across that stage with my head held high, silently shouting "FUCK YOU" to everyone who tried to stop me from getting to that moment. I now possess a B.S in Education - which, given what happened, is an appropriate abbreviation. I don't have teaching certification, but that's okay. I have my own path.
[Short girl wearing maroon graduation robes and cap leaning on a hot pink walker with snowy bushes in the background.]
Ableism didn't stop me from getting a job - two, actually - as a freelance writer for two different websites. It's not a usual job. It's not a job with an hourly wage. It's not a 9 - 5, go into an office job. But it makes me a little money sometimes, which is more than I had before. It gives me hope that someday, someone might want to hire me "for real". Someday, I may be able to support myself. And one of the very first things I wrote? Was about how accepting the students in the classroom I did my field experience in were of my disability. I said nothing about the attitudes of the adults. Do you feel ashamed, that a group of third graders was more mature than you?
And finally, ableism didn't stop me from going for my dream degree - a M.A in Disability Studies. I've been dreaming of this program since high school and nothing and no one - no, not even you - was going to stop me. I'm nearing the end of my first semester in the program and I enjoy it in a way I never enjoyed the education program. I look forward to going to class each week and I've made some great friends - and even found a boyfriend. Finally, I get to do what I want to do. No thanks to you.
I hesitate to say I've recovered, because I haven't. I hesitate to say I've forgiven and forgotten, because I most certainly haven't. So many nights over the past year, I've lain awake at night obsessing over the events that happened to me, the things that were said. Trying to figure out what the fuck happened. I have obsessed and cried and been unable to get it out of my head. I have launched myself into a full scale panic attack a week before graduation because I knew I'd see you and the others who did this to me. I have been traumatized, and it's sadly not the first time. The scars on my soul will never fade completely. I hope you're proud that you put them there.
But I've moved on and I'm kicking ass, in my own way. Ableism did a lot of things. But ableism didn't break me. And because of that, you failed. You thought you won, but you didn't, not really. Because I bounced back, a little more bruised, a little more bloody, but I bounced back. I hope someday, something I wrote lands in your inbox and you feel ashamed of what you did to me. A sincere apology would be nice, but more than that, I hope you never treat someone the way you treated me ever again. Change is a powerful thing, and I hope you learn lessons from the things you did to me.
I'd like to end with a quote from one of my favorite songs, Brave by Sara Bareilles. I don't think it's a coincidence that both this song and Roar by Katy Perry - two absolute anthems against bullying, hatred, and oppression - came out the summer after I was forced out. I don't believe in God, but I do believe in Fate - and I think Fate gave me the tools to get through my experiences. As long as I live, I will fight to make sure no one has to go through what I went through. You fueled my activist fires even more.
"Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave"