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Leigh’s Legs- Part 4

Urine seemed to be her perfume as Leigh walked down the halls of Otwell Middle School.  Girls, with their smiles of Clinque lip gloss and designer purses made fun of Leigh when she’d come to class with a different pair of pants from the previous class period.  The girls would talk bad about her in the bathroom—one person even slipped her a note in her locker telling her to take a bath.  I was in a different hall than her, so I never saw any of this first hand; but Leigh told me.  It was hard on her and she kept her feelings inside.  Most days, she’d come home and go to her room, shutting the door and the world behind her.

***

We both understood from the first day of school that there were cliques in this new home and we didn’t fit in to any of them.  When the school year was over, I moved to the high school across the street and Leigh was left at the Middle School to survive alone.

***

In the mornings, before the day started, students had to go to the gym and sit in the bleachers before the bell rang. One day, she wore a skirt to school, obviously drawing attention to the braces on her legs.  When she got to the gym, Leigh sat on the bottom bleacher, alone, unable to make it to the top with her peers because there was no handrail.  The coach in charge of morning duty insisted that she climb to the top because eighth graders had to sit on the top right side of the bleachers and fill in from the top to the bottom.  There was space at the top.  She told him that she couldn’t walk up the bleachers.  He insisted and watched as Leigh, practically on all fours, climbed to the top of the bleachers as the other students made fun of her on her way up.

***

Leigh told my mother what happened when she got home.  Mom was beyond livid.  She was waiting for the principal in the office the next morning.  Mom had Leigh tell the principal her side of the story; then Mom asked if the school needed to be reminded about the law regarding special needs students.  I can imagine my mother sitting across the desk from our principal.  Moms arms folded across her chest as her eyebrows are raised over the rims of her glasses.  As intimidating as our middle school principal was, I know that in that moment she was the one intimidated by my mother.  Mom insisted that this situation was unacceptable;  the principal agreed.  I am not sure if it was a result of my sister, but the coach did not work at our Middle School the next year.

***

I am often haunted of the image of my sister climbing up the steps of the bleachers and wonder why society is at times incapable of both compassion and common sense.  My experiences as Leigh’s Big Sister have revealed an ugliness of society that I do not understand.  It makes me angry to think of my sister in a situation where she was not protected. For so long she has been dismissed by the outside world around us that I wonder if she dismisses her own worth.  She must.  She so rarely lets me into her inner thoughts and desires and she keeps me at an arms length distance.  She does not expose her beliefs or her fears—maybe because she feels so exposed in general.  I get angry—at both her and society.  But mostly at myself.

***

I find myself judging Leigh, loving her but not liking her.  She calls and talks about her day, her job.  I become annoyed at her naivety; I want her to find a group of friends; I pray she would just gain some confidence and step out of her comfort zone.  I become blinded by the societal standards of normalcy and this makes me angry at myself.  I am supposed to be compassionate and patient—she is my sister.  She has come so far and I force myself to look at what she has accomplished.  She has a full time job as a Pre-K assistant and she is going to school part time to get her Bachelor’s Degree.  She has found a passion in teaching.  She has lived twice as long as the doctor’s predicted.  I try to stop judging what she can’t do and I try to appreciate what she has done.  It is easy for me to step out of my comfort level—my legs are not bound in plastic.

2 Responses to “Leigh’s Legs- Part 4”

  1. Carol Hartman says:

    I have been enjoying your articles about your sister Leigh. As a mother and grandmother, I hurt when I see a child treated unkindly. If only we could always be there to protect those we love – thank you for sharing your insights.

  2. sharon salvadore says:

    Thank you for sharing Leigh’s , as well as your own, experience and emotions. I didn’t know your sister suffered a handicap, and it makes me feel so much closer to you and our dear little ones. Lets keep facing the ugly within ourselves and others and overcoming it whichever way is needed….but tempering with patience and love!

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