Monday, October 8, 2012

Freedom: I need more

I was 19 when I started studying law at the University of Warsaw. I felt like I have arrived, like things from that moment on would be different, I felt more free than ever before in my life. In elementary school and all through high school my parents were always with me. They would walk me to school, walk me back, sometimes be there between classes and my mom was at home, always there throughout most of my childhood. I didn't really go anywhere or see anyone unless my dad drove me there and that was very infrequent. Friends would mostly have to come to me and we would spend time in my (or my brother's room. It wasn't bad really since our apartment was always filled with kinds who would be fascinated with one of the first computers in our neighborhood. But the older you get, the more space you need. My teen years were a bit hard on me. You can't walk away to be your own person, you can't physically leave, you can't separate yourself from your family if you wanted to.  At times like that you feel that the only place that is truly yours and really private. What University did for me is it took me out of that environment. I would disappear for three quarters of a day at a time for the separation, a change of scenery I needed so badly. The paratransit minibus would pick me up every day, take me home every night. Yes,  I would have to know my schedule two weeks in advance, because that's how you booked those things and I'd be penalized for canceling without proper notice.   Now as I look back it strikes me how there was nothing remotely spontaneous about my (original)  college years.  But what mattered to me is that I could go, function as my own person, that my dad wasn't involved as much. On Fridays I would even have them drive me to see a movie at one of those newly built multiplexes at wheelchair accessible shopping malls. When you grow up with a disability in a place like Poland you learn to lower your expectations. You know you live in a wheelchair inaccessible city,  but what can you do? It will not change overnight. It will most likely not change in your lifetime and you've got to make the best of it somehow. Figure out what your "box" is and how you can function within it. Most places felt off-limits to me. As I got older and heavier the more difficult it was for my dad to take my anywhere. 

 Once in a while, mostly before highschool he'd muster some strength to take me to a museum, a school trip or the opera with my class. He'd pay for it with his health and I would never be able to do on my own. You just grow up knowing you don't do certain things and it's mostly school and home and home and school.  Every bit of freedom gained felt like a gift. Yes, it was repetitive and pre-planned and structured but I was out of the house. And I didn't really think about what else is out there and what was fair. Many people in wheelchairs in Europe live like this every day I'm sure. I felt free. At that point I have just discovered that I could be a prominent media writer... from my bedroom. The internet allowed me to be heard, people read and valued what I had to say. At the University, with all the extra centers and courses I've taken on I was too busy to wonder about any different type of life. A lot of my disabled school friends from other majors I often shared a life with would still have their stay at home moms hop on the bus to go to school with them, well in their 20's. I wondered, would they also be there with them to wipe their mouths on a first date dinner. i was glad it wasn't me. And it felt like it was enough. Until it wasn't. 

I wanted to be able to go shopping on a whim, step out for a coffee as I just thought of it and go absolutely anywhere and everywhere you wanted to. Freedom feels like a drug in that sense, a strong addiction. You just want more. And nothing else is good enough once you tasted what your life could be like. You just won't settle for less than. No rationalizing will work. And the more you have, the more you need even more. What was good 8, 12 years ago isn't good enough now. This feeling that I needed more, that whatever this was, wasn't working set me on a journey 8 years ago. This urgency I can't explain. But whatever it is, I get it again. Because I still need more, more challenges, more change.  And I'm ready for that step again.

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