Why I Write Vol. 5: No One Is Entitled to My Story
In this series, "Why I Write," members of the Grub community share what compels them to put words onto paper day after day. In this edition, Grace Lapointe describes the power of taking back her own story.
Growing up with cerebral palsy, I felt like I had a type of dual citizenship that allowed me to relate to people with or without disabilities. At physical therapy and doctors’ visits, I met other children with disabilities. I always knew that I wasn’t the only person with my condition. In my elementary school, where most students were not disabled, boys always asked to borrow my “car”—my walker with Snoopy on the basket. I’d agree, as long as they returned it by the end of recess.
I often refused to answer intrusive questions. Adults who’d never ask a stranger other personal questions would ask me about my disability or try to guess it. Children would assume that my disability resulted from an accident and ask, “What happened?” I decided that no one else was entitled to my story unless I wanted to tell it.
I was always a voracious reader and writer, but one of the first characters with a disability I can remember was Adah Price from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which I read when I was twelve. Adah eventually becomes a famous neurologist who cures herself by re-learning how to walk, dispelling her negative worldview in the process. I felt betrayed by the book’s implication that disabilities can or should be cured. This made me conscious of other characters with disabilities. Looking back at fairy tales, I noticed that physical differences were often considered objectively ugly or symbolized evil. At the opposite extreme, characters were depicted as heroic just for being disabled. These stereotypes were not abstractions to me. They explained why some strangers expected me to be either tragic or inspirational.
I don’t presume to speak for anyone or convey some imaginary, universal disability experience. Fiction writers can only rely on the intersection of our own memories and imaginations. But after constantly seeing people like myself marginalized or misrepresented, I want my voice to help reflect the diversity in the world.
Grace Lapointe’s fiction has recently appeared in Mobius: The Journal of Social Change and is forthcoming in Kaleidoscope. She works at a nonprofit organization in the greater Boston area and interned for Beacon Press in 2013. She is a 2011 graduate of Stonehill College.