How writing helped Erin Kelly rise above the limits of her Cerebral Palsy and mark the birth of her nickname, WriterWheels.
The first time I put pen to paper, it wasn’t to achieve a goal. It wasn’t to write the next Great American Classic. It was, however, what I believed to be my last resort.
I had a pen in hand, ready to scribble down some word that someone couldn’t “get” after I’d repeated it seemingly a thousand times. The fact they themselves repeatedly asked, “What’d you say?” in an abnormally loud tone didn’t sooth my already uneasy conscience.
I gritted my teeth and reluctantly started to write whatever word it was in the cheap spiral notebook I carried with me.
An eternity seemed to pass, and I realized I wasn’t even halfway through. I just hoped and prayed this person, who already had been hovering over me for ten minutes, had enough patience to wait until I finished.
I was around seven years old with a rickety set of wheels and a pair of invisible boxing gloves. I couldn’t help the fact that my cerebral palsy affected my speech to the point that I had to write everything down, nor could I help the fact that people noticed I didn’t move or speak as fast as everyone else.
As I got older, the “in-your-face” approach people took toward my disability became more prominent. It started to eat away at my conscience, and so did my belief that I’d be mute to the world forever.
That all changed when I wrapped my hand around a crayon for the first time. The red one always left a trail of effervescence the other sixty-three in my Crayola box couldn’t. The harder I pressed its point down on whatever writable surface I could find, the more I drowned out the sea of doubtful voices. Thus, the more control I thought I had.
Some years passed before I got to the point where I didn’t have to write things down anymore. However, that didn’t ease the pain of not being understood. In fact, it only drove the knife in deeper.
I was in second grade when I received a communication board—with approximately 140 keys and, of all things, a robotic male voice output. I figured it was better than having to carry that notebook around. I faked a smile and pretended I didn’t care that my tiny voice had been replaced by RoboCop.
It worked for a while. I at least was being heard this time around, but even so, “I” wasn’t being heard. Not only that, but I again had to contend with my own lack of quickness—which meant having people look over my shoulder as I typed and often figuring out what I was typing before I was finished, defeating the entire purpose of “speaking”.
At that point, I decided I didn’t want to be in their glare the rest of my life. I felt the pain of defeat enough that I knew I had to do everything in my being to avoid it. More importantly, I understood that while my physical limitations may beat me, there was no way I was going to let the mental aspects of my cerebral palsy put me down for the count.
I wanted more. I wanted my own voice. I’d spent so much time using everything from typewriters to word processors by this point that I eventually graduated to a standard desktop computer. Writing became second nature, and the magic in my fingers began to bleed out.
I let it bleed until the pain was gone—until all I was left with were words. They inadvertently paved a path to a career, and helped me find my real voice that rings loud and clear today. I’ve slowly become known as “the girl who writes for The Altoona Mirror” in my hometown of Altoona, PA. It’s a distinction that I’m still trying to wrap my head around after four years. Most importantly, it’s a constant reminder that respect is not given. It’s earned.
In hindsight, I’ve never been so thankful for pain and the scars it’s left—as well as the ones it has yet to leave—because I feel as if the writing gods have given me permission to put them on display in various ways.
I’ve never wanted to leave a legacy behind, but now, with every word I write, I can bleed with the comfort of knowing I’m no longer known as “the girl in a wheelchair.” I’m WriterWheels
Photo: Flickr/Andrew Taylor