I just lost it with the Grounded Dutchman.
There is a post coming about what is happening with the joys of jetlag, the fun of knowing I have to start looking for a job, my annual Christmas freak out, pondering spending my Saturday night minding a friend in crisis, knowing I have writing work to by Monday.... and endless list of stuff which has let me come back to my last five weeks at Tin Can, String and Whistle with a whimper, rather than a bang.
Instead, I'm choosing to write about what went down with the Grounded Dutchman in the coffee shop just now. It needs to be said. It might work out a bit of my anger, frustration and hurt.
I found him down at the coffee shop, noticing he'd disappeared for a bit. He was lost in thought, an empty coffee mug in front of him, just sitting there.
"Will you talk to me, what is the matter?"
Grounded Dutchman is very good at looking like a wounded puppy. He just looks sad all over. His long limbs just seem to droop. It's a bit pathetic.
Finally, after a few laboured breaths, he talks. "I can't get my point across in meetings. It's frustrating. I can't get out what I need to get out and it's beginning it impact on what I'm doing....". The litany continued about how he was feeling reigned in because he has some trouble with his speech. Then came the final straw.
"I just wish I wasn't a pharking cripple."
Cripple. The one word in the English language which tends to draw the normally mild-mannered Pand into a banshee.
My face flushed, my hackles drawn, I looked straight into his wounded grey eyes.
Slowly, deliberately, ennunciating with effect.
"YOU A NOT A PHARKING CRIPPLE. HOW DARE YOU DEFINE YOURSELF THAT WAY."
"But I can't get my point across. It's hard."
"Yeah, it's hard. It's not great. But you're not a cripple. You're a man overcoming a brain injury with some limitations around your speech. You walk and move perfectly. Your brain functions well. You can think. You can make jokes even if they are bad, you can dance and sing. Have you any idea how far you've come? When do you give yourself credit for this? So, you have a bit of trouble talking sometimes. So what - learn to do things differently - you can talk - it's just a bit hard sometimes. NEVER define yourself that way. It only gives people licence to discredit you."
I reached over and held his hand. There was a bit of moisture welling in his eyes.
"You're just a man with one limitation - you have trouble getting your point across. Find other ways of doing it."
He exhaled loudly. I grabbed his hand. Tear were streaming down my face by now.
"You are not a cripple. Don't define yourself that way. Don't give people the opportunity to define yourself that way."
He twigged that he'd sparked a nerve.
I went on.
"Nearly forty years ago, a little girl waited at the traffic lights with her mother near the Adelaide Children's Hospital. The little girl was in a red jumper and plaid skirt. Her feet were encased in clumpy shoes. Her legs were bandaged, hiding the rods of the calipers that were slowly straightening her legs. She was about to see the physiotherapist to see if these rods that had been a part of her life for the last were about to come off. These rods were the bane of her life. She hated them with every fibre of her being. A woman passed by with a couple of rowdy children."Look at that little cripple girl over there." she said pointing out the child."
Grounded Dutchman was listening now.
"That little girl was me. I was the crippled girl - and the crippled girl I continued to be. I've been labelled a cripple since I was a child. THERE'S NOTHING EFFING WRONG WITH ME. I used to have knocked knees and tip toes. They're fixed. But in calling myself a cripple it stopped me doing SOOOOOO much. Can't do that - I'm crippled. Running, jumping, just getting out there and living. It stopped me doing shit for thirty years. Can't you see what you're doing to yourself by calling yourself a cripple?"
"Never give them the opportunity to label you. NEVER call yourself that."
I think he got the point. By this time he was holding my hand. I resembled Alice Cooper, mascara streaked down my face.
"You can work through this. You will work through this. But none of this cripple shit. You're a man with a limitation. It's time to get creative and find some ways to work through it. Here endeth the lecture."
He gave my hand a final squeeze and we went back to the office.
It's amazing how one word can open a wound the size of the Grand Canyon.