The Following is a continuation of My Journey with CP: Robert Escandon Part 1/3… click here to read part 1
Writing and speaking about cerebral palsy awareness is not about feeling sorry for oneself. It’s also not about CP pride (for me). Pure and simple, it’s about awareness. Believe it or not, there are some people who make life more difficult for those with cerebral palsy without taking into consideration or having empathy towards the difficulties and challenges we face every day without bullies or unkind actions of others. In awareness, I hope to bring information, some life experiences in dealing with some difficulties and challenges that I either hope to accomplish or have overcome. My final hope is to bring awareness so that I can have better communication and relationships without the awkwardness of any misunderstandings or unanswered questions. I’d rather talk about cp than to have uninformed stories or rumors, misunderstandings and misconceptions about cp; you may have known someone else with cp, however, as I’ve said before, every individual with cp is unique – even those who have the same diagnosis. I’m usually eager to answer any questions as long as the questions are asked respectfully.As with everything in life, change happens. On its own, cerebral palsy doesn’t improve or worsen throughout time. However, with physical therapy, the symptoms of cerebral palsy can improve. I’m talking about the spasticity in the legs can loosen a bit with stretching. The damage to the brain can never be fixed with today’s technology. I am currently experiencing changes regarding aging with cerebral palsy, therefore, a report about that will come as I learn about it myself. Everything about me has changed: who I am, my beliefs, maturity, my independence, living situation and employment. Including cerebral palsy: the way I walk or gait. When I was a child at school, the way I walked was that I dragged my feet. The weight of the metal braces would bare down at the end of the day. My knees would lock and rub together at points and separated awkwardly which caused me to fall for different reasons: balance, trip over my own feet, being pushed, either on purpose or accidentally. I underwent physical therapy, which helped with my walking. When that stopped, I started taking karate to substitute for physical therapy. Karate helped my walking in much better ways that traditional physical therapy did. Although I had difficulty at the beginning of this new form of PT, karate, I learned how my body works and traded off the high kicks to midsection kicks, what I had difficulty doing on my right side, I made up for it on my left side. In karate, I made it be my PT so I began stretching out my leg muscles, not necessarily so I can kick higher (though that did happen), but so I won’t have so much tightness in them as I sparred with other students.I stood in certain stances for long periods of time so I can both strengthen and stretch out my legs. I sat on my toes so I can pull them back when executing a front snap kick. Positioning my feet in the correct posture so I won’t injure them was also a challenge; a challenge I overcame with time and grabbing a couple of long socks tying them together and pulling my foot into the correct position. I made sure I fully extended my legs when executing back kicks, side & front thrust kicks which were difficult for me at the beginning, however, the more you do it, the better you get. The weather does affect the cp: winter cold makes my muscles tighter making it more difficult to walk while in the summer heat loosens them up. Fast winds are also a problem as the gusts may be as effective as a push from a bully. I usually use a cane and park closer to the building when that happens.When I lived in California I rarely experienced bullies. The schools were much more tolerant and the children were also. I experience more bullies and problems for being Hispanic and speaking Spanish in California than living with cerebral palsy. I experienced the climax of my problems with bullies in middle school in El Paso. It actually started in the 5th grade with lone bullies; this was before I began taking karate. I started the fifth grade at Robert’s Elementary School. The fifth and sixth grades were set apart from the rest of the grades as we occupied the two-story building. There I met a friend who I would regroup with in high school. Although I tried to convince the kids at school that there was nothing wrong with me, they seem to enjoy mocking me and pushing me down.There were teens who saw the way I walked as weakness and they began teasing me. It first started with making up stories explaining why I walk the way I did: “he was in an accident”, “he was hit by a bus” to “he has muscular dystrophy” (because another student had it) or that I had some unknown disease and whoever touches me gets it. When they saw that calling me names didn’t anger me, they changed their tactic to physical bullying. Frequently, a bully tried to harass me by pushing me down (to see me fall) and/or run around me just out of my reach because they knew I can’t run. I say “tried” because the bullies used a trial and error method when bullying me; once they saw that I can protect myself against 3 persons they stopped. In the 6th grade I had double the amount of bullies, but again they all comprised of lone bullies.Threats of silence came as they found creative ways to bully me. The bullies would sometimes team up and push me down and tell any teacher that saw me fall that I fell on my own. It became apparent that I could successfully defend myself against two-three people at a time in the middle of the sixth grade. I had to defend myself on a daily basis yet still come home with bloodied knees and elbows. I learned how to avoid them by walking next to walls where they couldn’t sneak up behind me and push me. I learned to look at reflections, shadows and listening; the bully would often tell someone they are going to push me before doing so as a way to show off. I did see teachers looking (me being pushed) yet did nothing. The adults turned a blind eye and the other kids didn’t befriend me. I became a loner; the scapegoat. If the bullies were targeting me, no one wanted to be included in that target. However, I had successfully ended the 6th-grade year with no bullies. I still had no friends but I looked forward to starting over at a new school the following year.Matters got worse when I advanced into a middle school campus. As it turned out, one of the bullies I had successfully defended myself against was related to a member of a large gang. This group of 15 wasn’t the kind who was at school for learning; they were there to cause trouble. As a result, most of them dropped out of school prior to high school either because of expulsion or giving up on education (I learned this later). On the rare occasion, they did get in trouble for bullying me (2 times, when it was witnessed by a higher teacher and another time my parents got involved), they were constantly getting into trouble for all sorts of reasons; at that time I wasn’t worried about all those troubles, I was just concerned about what this group was doing to me.There was no escape; by the mid-7th grade I was targeted by this group of kids because of the way I walked (the fact my balance wasn’t entirely in perfect order, they can push me and if anyone saw they just claim I fell on my own,) and that I couldn’t defend myself against 5 at a time attacks. They would gang up on me and push me at each other, they would push me directly to the ground and other objects. I remember I was pushed into a machine that could have seriously injured me. It was some kind of press for leather; the weight of it could have killed me if I had been pushed into the table that supported it. The teacher was angry at me after I told him someone pushed me. (This was the incident my parents got involved in; the bullies did slow down a little after that incident but then picked right back up after some time had passed). The bullies discovered they can do a lot of damage just pushing me rather than punching and kicking me to submission. They also threatened me to silence as they’d grab another kid and beat him up or ram him into a poll. To top that off, I occasionally was harassed by lone bullies simultaneously.There was one in particular who was a year younger and lived in the same neighborhood. He pushed me several times, several different instances once the bus left as I’d start walking home. I wasn’t a person who enjoyed having to defend myself so it took a lot of abuse or imminent danger for me to act out in self-defense. For example, one time I was riding my bike and the younger bully corned me with three others and to show off, he began dance fighting with me. I saw no way out so I grabbed him mid-air (as he attempted fly kicks at me; he actually got frustrated that I didn’t stay in one place and allow him to kick me) and threw him to the ground. I punched him several times, took my bike and walked through the other kids without conflict with them. Sometime later he threw eggs at me but the eggs “bounced off” me and they hit others. The bully became the bullied after that day (not by me but those whom he hit with the eggs).I was the loner, the scapegoat again. I had no friends; the friends I managed to make in the few months before the bullying started, disappeared; I sat alone at lunch, I walked alone in the halls and I waited alone for the bus to take me home. I remember one time a girl asked me what I had done to set the group off. At the time I thought it was the stupidest questions ever: why would I do something the whole group of 15 when I know I have a disability that once made me a target for harassment- yes, I did think this (age 12-13).I endured for a couple of months before I asked a teacher to send me to the principal’s office for fighting back. I told him about my troubles yet nothing was done to disciple these kids from harassing me. I did what I could to get the adults involved but they didn’t do anything. I saw teachers look in my direction while the bullies held me against the wall but they turn their attention to someone who was “running in the halls” to stop. The group scattered at the sight of a grown up at first but later, they learned that the adults didn’t do anything. The type of bullying wasn’t just physical. They bullied me when I participated in class. It seemed that they didn’t want me showing that I am smarter than they are so after the class, whoever was in the class with me pushed me into lockers, or doors or whatever they can find and warn me to keep quiet, not to say anything because “nobody wants to hear from a chueco.” I’d come home with bloodied elbows and knees from defending myself; usually from being thrown or pushed to the floor or other objects. Today, if I had constant injuries, my parents would be questioned for abuse. The teachers were trained to notice, however, since the adults at school knew exactly where and who was inflicting these injuries on me and it was happening on their “watch”, they very well didn’t want to bring it up.Five months before the end of eighth grade (age 14), I didn’t have anyone to talk to; no one talked to me, I had no friends. Girls didn’t talk to me; they didn’t even look at me. I was attracted to girls even though they would say mean things to me like, “you’re just half a person,” “can you even like me back?” “why are you being such a pervert?” (being called a pervert numerous times for appropriately being attracted to females was a shocker), “you’re embarrassing to me,”; the word “embarrass” came up many times. This word followed me all my adolescent/adult life. It’s like females can’t think of using a different word and they can not explain what embarrasses them when I ask; maybe I can change it.) If a girl did talk to me, the bullies mocked them by saying that my babies “would come out chueco like me,” or “we’d have little chuecitos walking around.” Now, I realize that there has been absolutely no woman who has ever rejected me for who I am; to put it another way, when you ask a woman who has rejected me, none of them can tell you a character flaw that I have as the reason why she rejected me.That word [Chueco] was used to dehumanize me- make it easier for rubber-neckers to not get involved. It’s basically the equivalent to saying “cripple” [as a noun] in English. No one referred to me by my name in school but as “Chueco”. Being referred to as “what I can’t do” or by “disability” is a powerful way to dehumanize me whether they knew it or not. I saw kids looking to see what was happening then turn away once we make eye contact. Being dehumanized, noticing everyone seeing what is happening to me and not doing a thing, there was no eye contact (other than I just described), was a day by day event for two years. I began to think about killing myself. In a way, knowing the others saw what was happening yet allowed it by inaction told me that everyone condoned it; there was a “better him than me” atmosphere. The adults were not helping either, even after I went to them for help; I thought I did all I can do. One time I was threatened with expulsion if I was to fight back. It was easier to kill myself because dark thoughts of dehumanization became an everyday occurrence. I thought of specifics like how to do it, whether I should leave a note; plans were already taking place and I began to write this note. Then one day, before spring break, coming to school people were talking about one, that he had killed himself. He was my age and happened to be in my phys ed class. I didn’t know him, most likely because I had problems of my own but I remembered after.Through the middle school grapevine, I heard that he was targeted because they thought he was gay. After he committed suicide, I heard many kids saying that they knew him and that they were friends. I thought right away if so many knew him, why didn’t he feel so left out, why didn’t he go to anyone for help, or did he?? I remembered finding out that he was being bullied by the same group of boys that were bullying me. I knew my thoughts dwelled on if I were to kill myself that no one would notice because no one talked to me or even looked at me. I was known as “Chueco”, “the cripple” not by my name; this came to be confirmed when years later a girl came up to me in college and asked me if I went to Lincoln Junior high and she said she recognized me from my walk- she had to run a distance to catch me (there was no mocking in her tone, she was genuinely wondering). And there was another who worked next door to the psychologist I went to years after the college event. She, too, was curious if I was the one- she claimed she would see me go in for months before getting the courage to ask and recognized me by my walk. That word was meant to take away my humanity, as it apparently did because, the two women, didn’t even know my real name.Back in school, I was being treated as a ghost, as I was thinking, why not become one. I began not seeing myself as a real flesh and blood person so it made it easier for me to throw myself off a building or walk in front of a bus or car or the middle of I-10. I had no way to get a gun or any other type of weapon so that was out of the question. (The only exception was my cousin, who was in the Army so I could have looked for something through him.) I even thought of over-dosing on my dad’s high blood pressure medications or just take as many different kinds of meds to have them kill me. But all this stopped when I was hearing the lies about knowing this kid, someone’s child; when retrospective memories served, he was like me; a loner and perhaps another scapegoat. See, I didn’t want people to lie and say they knew me when there was no eye contact, there were no “hi’s”; after I was dead, I can not retort.No one acknowledged my existence for fear that he or she would get bullied also (maybe), so I was a scapegoat again. I was the one, or one of two, who was taking all the abuse; being dehumanized by one word and by inaction, being physically and intellectually threatened and abused.At the end of the eighth grade, (age 14) I was already thinking about bettering myself. I believe the Lord threw me a lifeline at this point. For months I kept hearing a commercial for a new studio and it seemed to stick out. I finally went for it. I began learning karate. Though at the time, I thought I was taking these classes so I can defend myself against the bullies, the classes were really for physical therapy and it helped my confidence. By the end of the summer, I must have looked like a new person.There was virtually no bullying and the ones who tried were scared off by something. I was no longer the target, no longer the scapegoat; I still had cerebral palsy. As for the group of bullies, most of them dropped out of school by the time I moved to a high school campus. Back then, 9th grade was still on the middle school campus which meant that 6th grade was taught on an elementary campus. I still saw the tormentors that made it to high school (very few) but they were no longer interested in bullying me. I said, “virtually” so not all bullies were gone but now I had to deal with lone bullies, bigger and/or stronger ones.One, in particular, was the high school football star. He got a free pass at bullying me; by this I mean the adults would threaten to take away his football privileges but never follow through and he knew it. He was the only constant bully in high school; all others were temps once I showed them I wasn’t going to be bullied. He did have a small friend who teamed up with him to bully me; however, the little one tried to bully me once, by himself but was unsuccessful. He tried cornering me in the restroom. I felt something trying to pull me down again but I didn’t allow it. I went to the principal who directed me to the vice principal who told me that he can’t do anything about it unless my life was in danger. As it turned out, this bully was a danger; soon after high school, he was convicted of armed robbery. If I would have fought back, it would have ignited whatever it was in him that was violent and be a clear and present danger to me and others.