A Letter to Sixteen-year-old Me (and disabled teens everywhere)

Sent: December 15, 2017
Received: March 15, 2001

Dear me,

I know you’ve been struggling lately. Because it’s all so unfair.
It’s not fair that everyone seems to treat you either like you’re 6, or like you’re 60. You just want to be 16.
You’re tired of people assuming you can’t do anything because you’re blind.
You’re tired of people assuming you’re amazing because you do normal things and you’re blind.
You’re tired of being told that if you want to be accepted, you have to dress and look a certain way.
It’s not fair that everyone in your class can drive but you have to wait for your parents to drive you everywhere, because you can’t drive and they won’t let you ride the bus
You’re going to scream if one more person grabs you or touches you without so much as saying hello. But, if you do scream, you’ll get in trouble for being rude, because “they were just trying to help.”
You want to be proud of who you are. But everyone thinks that the way you were born is wrong.
And, deep down, you start to wonder if everyone else is right. If you should just accept your limitations and stop trying to be their equal.

You have every right to be angry. Because no, it’s not fair.
You were born into a world that isn’t built for you.
A world where some people would rather be dead than blind.
A world where disabled teens only recently started going to regular high schools, and many disabled adults can’t find jobs, affordable housing, or healthcare.
A world where you know more than most adults about your own disability, even Mom and Dad and Grandma.

You know more about your own capacities and limits than anybody else does. Don’t forget that.
You are a whole, good, competent person just the way you are.
You aren’t special, amazing or inspirational. You’re just a teenager trying to find your way in a broken world.
And you aren’t alone.
You haven’t met most of them yet. But there are millions of disabled people fighting the same battles with you.
A whole movement that started before you were born;
Older disabled people who will show you the way,
Your peers who really understand what it’s like day to day,
And the next generation, whom you’ll mentor someday.
Through the community, you’ll transform your anger into action.

In just two years, you’ll get the freedom you crave.
Living on a college campus, building your own life
And making your own mistakes.
You’ll fall down, get up again,
And with each fall you’ll gain clarity and confidence.
You’ll get to choose where to live, and eventually you’ll move somewhere where driving is optional.
You’ll get to choose friends who include you and coworkers who respect you.
You’ll still have those frustrating “blind days.” But they’ll get fewer and more fleeting.

Oh, and one more thing:
About that boy you’ve liked since you were twelve:
Well …. He’s not that in to you.
In a few months he’ll tell you he loves you like a sister. And he does.
You won’t be surprised. But it’ll still sting.
Because you want something more than a friend or a brother.
Your body’s primed for passion, just as nature intended. Some days, it’s all you can think about.
But none of the boys see you that way.

You really want a guy who’ll be your best friend, your partner, and your lover all at once.
And, it’ll happen, I swear.
You’ll have to wait a while, and this won’t be the last time you get your heart broken.
But you’ll meet someone who’ll love you just as much as you love him,
Who’ll love your entire being,
And he’ll love you with your disability, not in spite of it.
You probably don’t believe me, but I’m dead serious. I even sent a picture of your wedding rings to prove it.
(Oh and I forgot to mention-you’ll get PhDs together).
photo of our two wedding rings beside our two Ph.D. diplomas

And speaking of passion, don’t ever lose that eagerness you have, even when you get old.
Don’t lose your sense of adventure, your curiosity, your humor, or your zeal for justice.
Because even though it doesn’t feel like it now,
There’s a lot of excitement ahead of you,
And every day is a gift.

Believe me, it’ll all turn out.
Just don’t believe the prom industry:
Have no fear, these are nowhere near the best years of your life

With love,

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