The Anatomy of a Warrior

Updated: Jun 25, 2020


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| This is the 461st story of Our Life Logs |

Warriors carry an extra appendage while preparing for combat. They choose what will heighten their power when they meet adversity. They master the appendage. They set out to conquer.

For me, that extra appendage is, was, and will always be my power wheelchair. My wheels are a chariot to freedom rather than a temporary crutch to prop me up from the harsh aspects of society. My voice is my banner. My truth is my strength. I had to become my own fortress when I was faced with discrimination and hardship. Such is the warrior’s plight.

Section Break-Mountains

I was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1978 with cerebral palsy, specifically, spastic quadriplegia. This means that the muscles in each of my four limbs are chronically stiff, rendering me frozen in a seated position. My body must be massaged liberally in order to keep my muscles from permanently locking in a fixed pose. I was educated from the age of eight months onward in occupational, physical, and speech therapy.

As a child, I would sit alone in my bedroom observing my muscles that moved without restraint. I’d think that I was tainted, that I did not deserve the gift of existence. Not to mention, I was a people-pleaser from the impressionable age of six—the same age I was when I moved from Seattle to a small town in Michigan called Whitehall. This is really where my fight began.

Section Break-Mountains

Mom and I lived with my paternal grandparents for six months in 1984 while Dad was trying to find a job. I would receive cards and stuffed animals from my dad as keepsakes from his adventures. But I wished he would return, and we could get away from the toxic environment that was his parents’ house.

My paternal grandparents never really knew how to love me because they just did not comprehend my cerebral palsy. All they saw was my physical affliction as a link to how their son messed his life up. In my paternal grandfather’s eyes, I would always be a guest in his castle. He had this white-socks-white-bread-made-in-the-USA attitude for most of his life. Another time during a holiday gathering, at my paternal grandparent’s house, my dad’s mom called me over like I was a dog and had me crawl on all fours so she could show me off like a trophy to all her friends.

That’s where the people-pleasing began. I learned that it was easier to fold than it was to fight—though, the consequence of making myself so small became unbearable.

Their views of me were archaic and degrading. My own grandfather would not remove the metal surround and shower doors from the ochre bathtub to make it easier to take me in and out of the tub. Every time my mom would lift me out to get me in my pajamas, I would end up with scrapes and bruises on the back of my legs from that surround and shower door. Then I’d hear my grandpa tell my mom to get over it because this was his house. This is what my sensitive ears were exposed to nightly; the constant verbal attacks between my mom and my paternal grandfather.

Eventually, my mother could not remain idle, and I learned the true nature of a warrior. On April 1, 1984, Mom and I made our escape in the early morning hours and never looked back. I vowed to be my own champion henceforth.

Section Break-Mountains

When I was 10 years old, Mom and Dad took me to an orthopedic specialist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I was analogous to a human game of Operation, being poked and prodded for the ultimate victory. After endless testing and X-rays, the doctor told me that I was going to be wheelchair-bound for the remainder of my life. I was a candidate for an experimental surgery known as an inferred back transplant or IBT. Basically, the procedure consisted of a small computer being placed under a flap of skin at the base of my spine; the computer would send inferred impulses to the section of my brain that was damaged from the CP, allowing me to walk without assistance.

But the surgery was dangerous, potentially life-threatening. Hearing this news, I decided to use voice to shape a meaningful existence as a differently-abled young woman rather than a modest life as an able-bodied individual. Most people rose each day and put one foot in front of the other. I’d just do it with tire treads.

Section Break-Mountains

I was the only student with a different ability enrolled in Eisenhower Middle School that year and was given a one-to-one paraprofessional aide who would help level the playing field of my education, so to speak. Unfortunately, the playing field was a battleground. My peers saw what they wanted of me and bullied me relentlessly. I was almost driven into ditches when kids would turn on my chair and grab the joystick as a joke. Someone wrote the word spastic on my locker. When I saw that desecration, my eyes bugged out and my jaw dropped to the floor.

When I began to weep softly, my aide hugged me and told me that everything was going to be all right. That statement was the farthest thing from the truth.

A week later, as I came back to my locker from class, I asked my aide a question. Suddenly out of nowhere, my aide became overcome with an intense anger. Her eyes had fire in them. Then, I felt the stinging of her hand on my left cheek. I was in shock. My aide started bashing me with profanity and stereotypical jabs.

I did not tell anyone about this event, not even my parents, because I was truly afraid of what this woman was capable of. I began having a recurring nightmare where this woman was stalking me, her insults piercing my heart like daggers.

But this was not enough to crush me. With each passing day, there was a strength that formed inside me, growing too powerful to ignore. I knew I had to begin to be my own advocate if I were to survive. I felt like no one would listen, but I would make people hear my voice. I would set my own bar and be my best self.

Section Break-Mountains

On a frigid November morning in 1992, I was sitting outside the portable classroom where my junior high math class was being held. I was calmly meditating when suddenly, I felt constriction around my throat. I glanced around fast and saw my aide with her hand squeezing my Adam’s apple. As the color drained from my complexion, all the events of those two weeks leading up to this point flashed through my mind, frame by frame, like the old View-Master. My life clicked through as well. I went into an automatic fight or flight response. In a nanosecond, I chose to fight back; the warrior that was forming inside of me rose and said, “Enough!” My left hand shot up like a bullet from a six-shooter in a spaghetti western.

I pried her death grip from my throat and gasped for breath. My mind came out of its foggy state and I pieced together what had happened. My aide had pulled me back by my shirt collar and forced me in a choke hold. My math teacher came out of the portable and witnessed the entire incident. Realizing that she had been caught, the aide walked off in a hurried huff. As she left, my aide said, under heated breath, “Nikki if you ever tell anybody about this, I swear I’ll kill you.”

After the attempt on my life, I came home in tears. I told my parents what had happened. My dad was enraged. He was ready to drive to my middle school and strangle this woman with his bare hands. I wiped the tears from my eyes and told my dad that I would handle things.

I decided then that I’d bide my time. I’d wait until the right moment to report and expose her. I’d show her that I was not as weak as she thought.