Thursday, September 2
This picture was taken a couple weeks ago at my friends Joey and Heidi's 7th Annual Birthday Karaoke Throwdown. I almost didn't go because I am terrified of karaoke, but this impromptu shot with Joey made it more than worth it. In honor of our friendship and in explanation of the above, I offer you this, a sampling from one of the first essays I ever wrote about coming out of the disability closet....
My friend Joey has this theory that people don’t talk about my little arm in front of me because they think I don’t know it’s there. It sounds ridiculous, but is probably true since I've spent the larger part of my life trying to pretend it wasn't there myself.
I met Joey soon after I got a job at a radio station, when he moved into the office across the hall from mine. He introduced himself and said, “So, what’s your story?” Then he tried to convince me that the lamp in my office actually belonged in his office. I liked Joey right away because I like people who are upfront and sometimes blunt, but who end up caring a lot more than most people. It turns out Joey had a great story of his own. He was born in Ambler, Pennsylvania, about nine years before I was born in the same state. When he was eight years old, his mom died from cancer, leaving Joey and his dad behind to fend for themselves. I guess sometime after that, his dad got married again, but Joey never quite fit in with the new family they were trying to start. Joey’s dad was a jockey and they moved around a lot. Somehow they made it all the way out to New Mexico which is where Joey began his own story. He went to live at the Boys' Ranch which is a home for boys in trouble or boys, like Joey, who need another place to live. He lived at the Boys' Ranch until he graduated from high school. Then he went to college for a year until he ran out of money and got tired of the party lifestyle. Sometime in there, he started an electronic band called The Echoing Green.
I worked across the hall from Joey for a little over a year and that's when I began to make friends with my own disability. Not only did Joey notice my arm, he made a point of talking about it. He made fun of it and invited me to join him, often at the expense of some unsuspecting victim. “Stop staring at Tasha's arm!,” he'd blurt out in a group of co-workers, followed by awkward silence broken only by my own laughter. His favorite pastime was shocking people out of their ‘don’t say anything, she doesn’t know’ masquerade and forcing them, and me, to lighten up. Joey made himself comfortable around me. I walked into my office one day and found ‘It only takes one hand to slap someone’ written in blue on my wipe off board. Joey’s magnetic personality allows him to say almost anything and get away with it; people just giggle.
Joey and his story remind me that when you get hurt in life, two things can happen; you can lose heart, or get a bigger one. Joey has a huge heart, not because there haven’t been hurts, unbearable pain even, but because he’s accepted healing love from God and chosen to make the best of it. Also, he’s chosen to laugh instead of crying. Joey helped me to become an actor in my own personal living comedy. We had endless material. A couple years ago, several of us went out for Mexican. Standing in line, Joey whispered, “Ask them if they have a burrito that you can eat with one hand.”
After I wasn’t working with Joey anymore, I went to an Echoing Green concert. I usually avoid anything involving large amounts of people and a lot of standing and jumping, but I'd never seen Joey in concert. It was just after a hard rain and the desert smelled sweet with puddles on the road. Up on stage, Joey sang an old Echoing Green song he wrote called ‘The Story of Our Lives.’ I'd heard it before, but that night it sank into my soul . . . “Tonight/our dreams are in our sights/as we're lifted out of nowhere/with sunspots in our eyes/we see the glory of our lives...” Standing there, I found myself lifted out of my own self-consciousness. I wasn’t at a concert anymore. I wasn’t standing in a crowd. I felt the weight of life falling away, replaced by an uplifting sense of glory born of heartbreak.