How selfish can I be? A personal essay about sisters and disability
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How selfish can I be?
A personal essay about being selfish as a Black woman with Cerebral Palsy.
How selfish can I be? Buddhism described selfishness as being one of the five lower worlds where I should not be in. When I looked at my abled-bodied sister, I got mad when I could not live vicariously through her anymore.
I was at home one day when I discovered what I used to do because of my disability. I found I needed ways to accept it. One way is for me to work hard at school to make up for what I couldn’t do. Another way was for me to use my sister as my muse.
Sitting on the hardwood floor because of my Cerebral Palsy, I wished I could imitate my sister and do what she did. I would watch her dance across the floor, shake her butt, and sway her legs. One of my favorite things was the way she shuffled her feet and swung her arms. I could feel it. It was as if I could do it, too, through my crippled body. This was one way I accepted my disability. Now I see her barely standing. I cannot live my life through her anymore. How selfish can I be?
In the morning, I would watch her getting ready for work with her makeup and high heel shoes. She also curled and styled her own hair. Now she wears horrible, tacky wigs and tight clothes. I cannot live my life through her anymore. How selfish can I be?
She staggers because she is high and does not know where she is going. She is sick and suffering drug addiction and bipolar disorder. She misses her brother and her mother. I cannot live my life through her anymore. How selfish can I be?
I used to watch our mother go out with my sister. Momma did not take me because I had to go to the bathroom all the time. I often wished my sister stayed home with me. I cannot live my life through her anymore. How selfish can I be?
I used to hear my sister recite poetry. Her voice was clear and moving. Poems flowed from her lips. When I listen to myself, I hear a broken language. I cannot even get the words on paper. Why couldn’t a speech impediment afflict her like me? Now her voice is hoarse because of the drugs and drinking. I wish it had been like it was before. I cannot live my life through her anymore. How selfish can I be?
Every day I wore ugly brown shoes with steel toes to correct my feet. I admired how my sister wore high heel shoes and went walking. She had nice, straight feet. I wished I was her. I cannot live my life through her anymore. How selfish can I be?
One day, Momma told me that if I didn’t take care of my menstrual cycle, she would get a doctor to cut it off. She couldn’t stand changing my pad anymore. My sister can change hers herself and don’t have to deal with the bloody mess of changing mine. I wished she couldn’t change her own pad. I wished she had crippled hands like mine. I cannot live my life through her anymore. How selfish can I be?
The last time I saw my sister, she wore a beautiful mask because of COVID. Look at her mask—nice and dry and mine all yucky. I wished she was me. I cannot live my life through her anymore. How selfish can I be?
Now the fantasy is gone. I have to accept and be proud of who I am, but I’m always in the state of being in the lower world of selfishness. How can I get out?
Monique Renee Harris
Monique Renee Harris was born an African American woman with Cerebral Palsy (CP). Her poetry, stories, and digital graphic artwork have been published in numerous magazines and journals.