Burned at the Stake (Trigger Warning)

I was eight. My family had just moved from one small town in New Mexico, up to another. I want to name it, but, if I do it reveals too much about who I am. I keep my veil of safety. Being pale, with red hair and my own inhibitions in communication I was an outsider anywhere I went in this state. In small towns however, there is a generational acceptance and a strong xenophobia. That which is different isn’t just feared it is hated.

The children in this town were taught that red hair meant you were a witch. This lesson came along before I did. The further stigma of not being able to tan implied this further. I remember the attack, though it plays in half segments, like a badly edited movie and I feel like an outside viewer. I was on the swing, trying to kick the tree branch. Despite my fear of heights the Swing was as close to flying as I could get.

The other kids were calling me names again, chanting them at me, one threw a rock. The film skips. I must have fallen, my shoulder was out of place and my legs hurt. I was in a corner now, and I was quiet, I hadn’t learned to make them feel fear yet. They were new threats. The film skips. I hear the bible verses, half misquoted, none of them had actually read the bible they were just paraphrasing their parents.

“You’re weird.” Silence. “We should kill her.” Fear. “She’s a witch.” Confusion. “Thou Shalt’ not Supper a witch to live.” I did mock them back at that point, correcting their mistatement, “Suffer.” Fear. Suffering. I hurt. The teachers who watch and protect the students watched, they did not say a word.

I ran, I could feel the bones in my knees and ankles grinding, my hips hurt and crackled loudly. I could barely walk, a familiar feeling in daily life now. I cried too. No one wants to die. I thought if I died no one would protect my family. They laughed at my terror. I tugged on my teacher’s sleeve and begged, “They said they’ll kill me.”

“Go play.” The film skips. It’s the next recess. The sun is lower in the sky, and my body aches more. My shoulder is still out of place, but so is my elbow. The rope cuts into my skin. My lip is cut, my glasses are broken so their faces are just blurs. “Witch. Witch.” I feel the sticks under my feet, one of the boy scouts is rubbing sticks together to try and start a fire. I am being burned at the stake.

I did not cry then. I thought I was going to die. I closed my eyes, and I did nothing. I did not pray, I did not let myself feel. I just felt things. Mostly, I felt relief. I thought then I would never have to see my father again, or the older boy who had already found a new victim. I thought if I died my mother would be happy again. I thought the world would be a better place.

A sharp pain comes, and I start to cry. It’s not fire. They failed with fire and one of them threw a rock. The film skips. I cried, I knew I was bleeding and I knew too my guardians did not protect me. I had no teachers who cared, I gave up then. I gave up living in my heart. I had already been broken, I had already been beaten. This was just proof that the world was a place of pain and violence.

Proof no one could love a piece of trash like me.

Invalidation of a person. “She’s weird.” I did not scream, and I did not shout. I just waited to die. Why was it taking so long? Why couldn’t it end? Why did no one do a thing to stop them? Was I so very bad that I didn’t get to die? Was I so very bad that I was going to die?

The bell rang, and everyone else went to class. My teacher’s voice came as a snarl, “You will be counted as absent for the day.” She always looked away when the other children hit me, cornered me, and this time she had just watched. She looked away too when she caught one of the teachers raping another girl. This was the same. It all felt the same to me. No tragedy worse than the others, every breath was tragic and full of pain.

The third recess came, I hurt from the sun. “Whore.” I did not respond, I did not look up, I just stayed silent. “Slut.” More rocks came. One of them found a lighter, maybe a teacher gave it to them. The film skips, plays backwards, the insults the same, a chant of hate. The film skips forward. They have a stick that is burning. My ankles are covered with debris, rocks and sticks, a branch pulled from a tree. Dry tinder, dry grass. The lighter is set to the flames.

I wasn’t afraid anymore, I just watched the sticks burn, listening as they cheered. They were killing me, but, they were happy. I wondered if my mother would be angry at me for dying, or if she would be happy that there was one less mouth to feed. I could hear my father’s threats, I could feel his hands on me. Everyone said I was evil, so dying was right. One less bad person to ruin the world.

My feet hurt, but, I just stood there, tied to the tether ball pole. The principle suddenly was there, the film must have skipped again, but, I didn’t care. I just wanted to make them like me, so I would have to die. Then, maybe my mother could love me. I didn’t know she already did. I thought I was bad. I thought that every lie said was truth. I never heard the good, I don’t think it was said.

I heard yelling, I thought it was more hate. “How dare you just watch?” A knife was drawn, I thought the principle was going to kill me. I had been out in the sun all day, I hurt too much to think. The film skipped, he was carrying me inside. The teachers went back to work, watching. “Who did this?”

Silence.

Eventually I told him, all I could remember. I told him, and he cried. I thought that meant he knew I was evil. He called my mother, I don’t know if she answered but she did not come for me. My teacher kept her job, no one was punished. Only my body, my mind. He drove me home, he said he’d do something. I am sure he tried.

When I went back to school the next day, we started to read about the Salem Witch Trials. Everyone laughed about setting me on fire, about burning me. No one asked if I had blisters on my feet, if it hurt me to walk, or commented on the fact that I had blisters on my face. It was funny. The film skips.

It was all my fault, my mother said, if I just tried harder to get along. If I was nicer. The film skips. Years this time. In and out of the institutes I had already been, I was tired of it. Someone called me a witch, I fought back. I did not want to burn again.

The scars are hidden by other scars. No one was punished. No one cared enough. I was just a little girl, I wasn’t like them. I never will be. Over the years, I watched them as an outsider. I watched them live, I watched some of them die. None of illness, it was always stupid and preventable. I watched them age, I listened to their cruel words.

Every year, they reminded me about it, about the time they burned the witch. I still don’t know why it is funny. I was always threatened with a repeat performance, whenever I did not give them their way. My mother asked why I never had friends. Because I was the Witch. I took their mantle, I practiced the craft of hatred. I made them fear me.

I committed acts of violence, and I learned to hate. I never forgot that my siblings watched too, I never forgot that the teachers watched. There was real danger, there was no medical treatment for it. I had to walk to school until my feet healed, with burns. I had to feel the pain. I still feel some of it.

My sister found a half acceptance by selling her body for it. She let the boys do as they would with her. She let herself be their perpetual victim. It helped that she was born to be blonde, blondes cannot be witches you see. Their culture too taught them that the blonde women are the most desirable. My brother never found acceptance, he ran off as soon as he could, starting adult life far too early. Facing different pains than I.

My siblings who were born while we lived there still never quite fit. Generational Acceptance. Their great grandchildren just might fit in. I hope if they do, the town changes from violence and hate to love and acceptance. I never forgot who watched. I can still list the names. I know too, if my principal had not been sick, his age catching up with him and his body failing him slowly, they would not have just watched. He was a good man. One voice trying to teach them to love.

I never just watch. I will open my mouth at risk to my person, if it feels right. I will lift a hand to help someone if I can, or I will find a way to act. I never just watch. A part of me is forever burning, forever marred, and forever marked. I hear often that bullying is harmless. It isn’t. That was written off as bullying. I spent the rest of my educational career in terror for my life. It’s never just bullying. it is sheer and abject cruelty.

Is it just bullying to throw rocks at a person hoping to kill them? Is it just bullying to set someone on fire? Is it just bullying to blind them? Is it just bullying or is that the excuse given to make it alright to watch? What are you watching happen? What do you let someone do, that costs another?

Every word, every fist, every rock and the fire all took from me. Every adult who just watched is more guilty than the children, because the children did not know better. They only knew what they were taught. They were taught to persecute outsiders, to shun those who were different and to fear any slight varient. They were taught that god hates difference. They were taught hatred.

Not many people in that town grow up and function well outside of it. Part of it is the high density of criminals, hiding easily from the law. Part of it comes from the number of illegal immigrants. The lack of proper education, in a state that always falls in the bottom categories, this is the town that scores the lowest every time. The deficits that these children face disable them further than anything ever has me.

They burned me at the stake. I am struggling to forgive, but, when one of them ventures out of their town or when I must enter it’s borders I still feel sick and fearful.

They burned me at the stake. No amount of explanation or justification will ever make that alright. I may forgive them but I will never forget. I will not pity them, I will also not abandon them. If I am given the choice between watching or acting, I will act. I have to, I must rise above the actions of abuse, incest, torture, and pain. I must rise above. I must heal. I give myself this edict.

They burned me at the stake. There was no justice, there was no help, there was no relief, there was no escape. I had to face them. I had no safe place. I had no one to trust. I wasn’t just lonely, I was in a desolate place, beyond the reach of the rest of the world, wrapped in torture. Reality was worse than any horror story I could read. It was all just a nightmare, except that my nightmares ended eventually. I was beyond suicidal, I was beyond help, because no one offered help. I was blamed. I was a victim. I was nothing like who and what I am today.

They burned me at the stake. There is no forgiveness yet, but, I am trying. Each word written here is one word closer to forgiveness. I have forgiven myself for not being stronger, for being afraid, and for being a child. I have not forgiven them for their cruelty. I have not forgiven them for demanding kindness when they felt pain, for denying me my right to be a person. I am trying. If I can forgive them, then perhaps someday I can forgive my biological father.

I might never forgive them.

They burned me at the stake.

Updates and a Contest

I updated the Catnips page. I finally found some people who merit the Accessibility Awareness Award! This award has been gathering dust for over a year. I hadn’t given up on it but I had stopped actively hunting. I found both places in one day, and there is a third that is pending processing. (This just means I am making certain the company approves of their being posted online with a write up, to respect their image.)

Each business gets a subpage in the Catnips section, linking on both the side page or you can find them via the Catnips Page.

This brings us to the second order of business, the contest.

First, what I offer you. A page about you on the side bar, permanently. Linking to your website if you have one, or when you get one, and finally spreading access and awareness of you. If you win, I will also post an interview on this blog about you.

Here is what I ask in turn, I am asking for artists to draw, paint, photomanip, and create one of two images, you can enter with both. Either draw Super Cripple, defending justice and advocating for equal rights or the Cork Screw of Justice! If you want specifics from me, ask, and I will post them here for all to see to keep the contest fair.

If you aren’t an artist feel free to pass this around to someone who is. If you are, I am not worried about skill level, just do your best and have some fun!

Now, the first person to draw Super Cripple did so on request, so, I present access to the art page of a friend of mine. Rich also known as Realmis also known as Soulstarisborn draws some really unique work. I hope someday to buy his comic books. In honor of the Watchmen Movie he offered free Super Hero drawings so I dropped him a line and he drew Super Cripple for me. He renamed her Libra, partly because he understands the concept of isms, and how some words can only be used by people they were once used to Oppress.

Super Cripple as drawn by Rich

Super Cripple as drawn by Rich

Edit: I forgot to put the deadline in. You have until May 1st at Midnight to enter, and, to submit either post a link to a DeviantArt Page or email the images and your personal details to Textual Fury and include the words Art Contest in the Subject!

SuperCripple VS Advocate Woman! Issue#1

Sometimes you have days that feel like everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Other days everything goes right, even when you least expect it. Today I had a day of Advocacy. I felt compelled to advocate not once, not twice, not three times, but four times. Each atttempt at advocacy costs energy, so, I am considering taking an epic nap right now. Instead, I see this as an  opportunity to discuss advocacy once again.

I found myself waking up to the phone and I actually answered it. I am antitelephone, and since ours does not have a speaker phone option I get pain when I use it. I still felt the need to answer and found myself being told that tommarrow at nine AM I was due for my mammogram. I had some questions, and was reminded the value of questions. Here is a sort of rewrite of the conversation.

“Don’t wear any make up, powders, deoderants or parfumes. These can cause false positives.”

“Great, I have some questions for you. Do I have to lay down during the mammogram? I am concerned about positioning.”

“Uhmn, you have to stand ma’am.”

“I am a wheelchair user, what is your accomodation for this eventuality?”

“Well the technicians can hold you up?”

I felt anger at that response. I should not be forced to stand during a painful proceedure. I consider mammograms painful, due to the fact that they crush your breasts. I will find out how painful on Thursday.I took my deep breath and responded with this.

“Ma’am that is wholly unacceptable. Not only could that damage my body further but it puts me at risk for passing out. I find the notion that you can just hold me up until you are satisfied humiliating as well.”

“Please hold.”

I was put on hold for disagreeing with her, though it wasn’t for very long. I hadn’t even decided what to feel about her thrusting me into Hold Limbo. This was good, I dislike being on hold and forced to listen to cheesy instrumentals of current pop hits. I once heard an instrumental of some Eminem music. That was just weird.

“Ma’am I see here you are not over fourty. I am cancelling your Mammogram, you can just get an ultrasound.”

“No, my doctor and I discussed the need for a mammogram. My doctor knows what I need, and you are not a doctor. You are a receptionist. It is your duty to follow the orders given to you by doctors. You can cancel the appointment, but, I would like the number for the head of radiology please.”

I was wide awake now, and having dreamed last night of a future when I was fighting for the rights of others on a National Scale, I felt inspired. In my dream I was the next Civil Rights Leader for the disabled community. My voice was the voice that pushed for training for the police, that pushed and pushed until finally equality came. It was a good dream and pushed me into action. I was put on hold again. She came back and said something I found shocking.

“I don’t have the head of radiology for our hospital.” What? Why not?! Instead I took a breath and asked, “Then, is there someone else I can talk to?” She was quiet for a moment then said, “I think the Women’s Hospital can accomodate your need.” Not only is the Women’s Hospital my neighbor, but, I love that place. When I need an ER I can get in, almost immediately. She did give me the number for the head of Radiology for the Women’s hospital.

I called and made my appointment, and then I left a voicemail for the woman who runs radiology, expressing my concerns and my challenges with the Mammogram. I wasn’t even ready to drag myself out of the bed yet. This takes time and my body wakes up paralyzed. She called back before I had even managed to scoot to the edge of the bed. We’re meeting on Thursday to discuss accessibility with in the confines of her hospital, and to discuss a plan to raise awareness for other hospitals so that women can get their mammograms. She agreed with my statement that a woman should not be denied a medically necessary and preventative screening based on her ability.

On Thursday I will be in a nonchair, but I will not be standing and she promised options for adjustability in seating to protect my body from the risk of fainting. There will also be extra nursing staff incase of the inability to accomodate that. This is challenging, at times my wheelchair isn’t adaptable enough. This was a victory. I negotiated for what I needed and am in return going to fulfill a need for others.

After getting dressed I was going to grab Sprite to take her with me for my speech, because I miss her working and she has finally begun to regain her Meow. She had a temperature. Instead of letting her come out, I had to let her stay in. This either was helpful or harmful, a mixture of the two most likely. Right now she is so glad I am home, that she is curled up on my knees with a little kitten grin. I need some blood work done, and after fasting and making myself drink only water (makes me queasy) I went for it.

My person unloaded me and my chair, and while he hefted the ramp back into the car I went on my merry way to sign in, that way I wouldn’t have to wait. I did not make it in the door. The curb cut was blocked off by a car, a woman sitting inside waiting for someone. I considered my options and decided for passive protest, waiting to educate the miserable soul who could be so inconsiderate. Out came a man who wore a hat declaring he fought in World War Two. He is the first veteran I have not thanked for their service to this country. I feel slight guilt at that, but only in the form that I could not undermine my own rights.

This converastion was full of his hatred of the disabled. His wife had just broken her leg and couldn’t walk to the car. I understand needing to use the curb cut for a chair. Instead of making sure anyone else who might be in a chair could use the curb cut and go inside, he felt the need to take fifteen minutes of my time with his selfishness. He felt the need to make it appear that it is my fault I cannot go over a curb, and that because he fought in the war he gets a free pass. I did my best to keep a calm tone, and success was had. He was not happy when he left, though I did try to accomodate his need to enjoy his able bodied superiority, his white priviledge and his manliness. I did not want to upset him, I wanted to educate. Here is my conversation summary there.

Him: “Move. I can’t pull forward with you there.”

Another car had come up behind him after I had made myself cozy blocking him effectively in his spot.

“Sir, you are breaking the law. You left your car illegally parked. blocking me in the street. Not only did this endanger my saftey but it is a federal crime. ” I then started to move out of his way.

“So what? I needed to put her wheelchair back inside. She broke her leg.”

“Sir, there is a parking spot less than three feet from us. You should have used it. Next time, please make certain that you are not denying persons access to the emergency room.” The ER is right across from the medical lab. I found myself at that moment wondering if today was ADA Awareness for the folks at the Women’s Hospital courtesy of yours truly.

“Well I fought in World War Two.” That part made me want to snarl at him about rights, priviledge and why he fought. I wanted angry discourse. Instead I took a deep breath and responded with this.

“I do appreciate my freedom, but, that does not give you the right to violate the federal law. My civil rights include access to this hospital.” I was out of the way of his car now, and he had begun to snarl. I lowered my voice, just a bit, “You should be aware that I could call the police to have them enforce the Americans with Disabilities act, having you fined. Instead I chose to make you aware of the law. ”

“No one reads the ADA anyway, you’re the only wheelchair person who has.” This man was using the ADA for his wife, so that she could have a reasonable accomodation of transport to their car. The ADA protects his right to medical care for service related disability, as do other non ADA laws.

“Sir, I am afraid you are misinformed. Most disabled people discover the value of knowing their rights, so that when people discriminate they can educate. You should try reading the ADA, you might be surprised at how much it effects you.”

He finally got in his car and snarled at me, “No one cares about you gimps.” It was difficult to not give him a rude gesture. Instead, I smiled and said, “Sir, I am not a gimp. I am merely wanting to go and get a blood draw. I need my cholesterol checked.” He turned purple. When people turn purple I always want to see if a purple people eater is around. This makes me relax, internal laughter at their overreaction feels good. “Have a nice day sir, if I see you doing this again I will call the police so that you can pay the fines. The minimum, I believe is about $500.”

I was reacting to my sun exposure at this point. My right ear was throbbing, as it had been for some time, and my back ached. I signed in for my blood draw, then began to see about getting my sleeves up. My good arm for blood had developed a giant sore right over the spot where the needle had to go. I have two spots to draw blood, one in each arm. Everywhere else is not an option. This meant that even the small children’s needles aka Butterfly Needles were not only necessary but any deviation could result in my bleeding. I have the hemophiliac gene and often display symptoms, though, my doctors assure me this is not true hemophelia. I agree with that diagnosis as I do not always bruise easily. At times I am injured and no bruises appear in my flesh.

My next and third for the Women’s Hospital opportunity to advocate came as soon as I went back with the tech. I reminded her of my need for a butterfly needle, and she went off to gladly accomodate me. She was great, and it turns out a med student. First, I had to argue with her teacher about the butterfly. They apparently keep them locked up now, to cut costs. This means if she is not there, a person needing a butterfly cannot get their blood drawn.

“Ma’am my student tells me you are requesting the butterfly needle. We reserve those only for people who actually need them.”

“Without the use of the butterfly needle I bleed enough to require hospitalization. Also, most of the time I then require six or seven attempts at penetration.”

“Are you a hemophiliac? You don’t look like a hemophiliac.”

Slow deep breaths. I had left my person out in the waiting room. I may be terrified of needles but I am not about to have him hold my hand when I can control my terror.  “That is discriminatory. Not only do I suffer from excessive bleeding, as I stated to your technician, but, declaritive statements that try to diagnose ability based on appearance are disabling to this hospital.”

She made a face and said, “I’ll call the head of security and have him escort you out.” Disagreement means I cannot have my blood test? I put on my inner Mule and let my stubbornness guide me.

“I’ll be contacting my local ACLU to sue this hospital. In this economy this hurts more than just you. I do not want to have to sue, and yet, people like you perpetuate the stereotypes of disability. Calling security merely proves your need to dominate the wheelchair user who knows her body. You will provide her with the butterfly needle, you will also apologize for your bigotry. I do not care if you actually mean it, but, if you want to discriminate, I will fight you. I will fight you so hard that you memorize the ADA just to survive the onslaught. I am just one woman, who has made a reasonable request. I have a speech to give in the next hour, and I would rather do that than bleed out in your hospital over your under educated notions.”

This was a bit harsh, but, being straight out nice was not working. I said this mostly tonelessly, trying to not let my anger win. Yes, I threatened to take legal action. This is my right. I have the right to sue for action when I am being discriminated against, denied proper medical care, and I also know the power of my words. She apologized, gave the tech the b utterfly needle and walked a few feet away to watch the student work. Her apology was a muttered thing that I barely heard, but, she relented. Before I tell you about my educational moment with the tech, I will say this. She stopped me on my way out and asked me where she could read the American’s With Disabilities Act. I wrote out several URLs for her. She will not make the same mistake again, especially as she is now educating herself.

The tech was curious. She asked me how I knew what to say and do. She also discovered that aloe allergies exist. I watched her reaching for the green gloves, the name on the box actually clear enough for me to read.

Me “Do those contain aloe? I am allergic to it.”

She grabbed another nonlatex glove, “Really? Sorry about that. I never considered allergies beyond latex. Do you have a lot of allergies?”

“Yes, I have enough that I have to be on constant guard against them.”

She nodded then and asked, “So,  how did you learn about the ADA?”

“I was told I was healthy as a child, but crazy. I was told I hurt myself because of the sores from one of my genetic conditions, supposedly rare. Hospitalization trained me to try and hide everything wrong with me. As an adult this challenged me to accept my diagnosises. The doctors had been wrong. I was treated for hypochondria.”

The H word caused her to roll her eyes, “So, you really didn’t need the butterfly then.”

“No, I do. I have medical documentation for the need. Hypochondria does not exist.”

“Ten percent of the US population has it.”

This made me smile. I love the statistics game sometimes, it can be an easy win.

“Okay, how many people have hard to diagnose, rare conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrom or Fybromyalgia?”

“Uh 30%.”

“So, with these numbers increasing daily, people suffering for years with their invisible illnesses and the like, what would you guess the percentage to be for undiagnosed illness?”

“40%.”

“Well, if Hypochondria is in just ten percent of the population, then, that covers your instances of hypochondria. It does not exist. I am in this wheelchair because my pain was not allowed to exist for so long, that my invisible illnesses became visible.” She was quiet, and finished the draw before she said.

“So, what other disorders of the mind aren’t real?”

I shrugged then, and answered honestly, “I do not know, but, statistics cannot accurately guide you or any other medical profession. They can only analyze the data that is present.”

This was the fourth chance to advocate. I am not counting the usual advocacy for safe food at fast food resteraunts. Dairy Queen had an employee who didn’t comprehend about no bread and no pickles. Her manager is going to read the new ADA ruling, I gave her a heads up that more people with food requirements will venture out now, and she should be prepared because when her employees tell someone to just eat paper and ruin their food, it will hurt her. Some advocacy and education comes from the strangest places.

I made it in time for my speech, the first speaker, Don Dubois, is an advocate for Lupus. He gave an educational seminar on how to negotiate. I learned from this, and had some of my own self discoveries reenforced. I picked up new techniques I will try, and, I got to see a great speaker. His disability melted away as he worked the room.

My speech, Wordabration was hard. I admitted for the first time outloud to a nonmedical group that I have suffered abuse. I admitted the challenges behind why, and honored the words that lead me to my freedom. I explained my wordabration, and recieved a standing ovation for my speech. I am so happy to return to my Toastmasters Family, that I used the words. I even remembered my closing.

I never use notes for speeches, I panic if I forget something, and then I ruin my flow. Everything felt like a scene from a movie. Everything felt wonderful, safe, and I was awarded the best speaker award for this week. To me, for my first speech in six years, this is a great honor. I am going to evaluate a speech next week and volunteered myself to work more speech contests.

I came home to a half dozen voice mail messages, and ran out of advocatability today. I had to have my Person make some calls for me. Walgreens automated system had gone insane, trying to deny the prescriptions, deleting one, and filling one.I also had my right earlobe explode. Apparently, since mid December when I last wore earrings, I had a growing abcess. It hurt, and now I have five holes in one earlobe. I am certain I just lost the ability to wear earrings.

This is a fairly average day, when I think on it. Every chance to educate must be taken. I feel at times like the world expects me to be SuperCripple, flying my way around their bigotry. Instead, I aim for Advocate Woman, Advocating her way to JUSTICE!

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