It was before we were dating. We were still just friends, neighbours and classmates. While I thought you were cute and smart and funny, I knew guys like you didn’t go for girls like me. I was awkward and goofy and average. The fact that we had chosen the same arts major, the same four out of five classes and the same dorm should have been a clue that we were a lot alike. But, at the time, I couldn’t see it. So I never allowed myself to think of you as more than my best friend. Then, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you saw the part of me that I had spent the previous five months hiding from you. The part that I didn’t like people to see. The part that changed how people viewed me and how they treated me…and it changed everything.
You caught me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting you to wander down my hallway at midnight on a Tuesday. I was sitting on the floor with my back against the wall and my computer on my lap, tears rolling down my face. I didn’t see you until you were standing over me asking what was wrong. “Nothing,” I said, “just writing my finals paper.” You looked at me with a smirk on your face and said, “It’s the nuclear proliferation, isn’t it. It always chokes me up.” I forced a smile and said, “Don’t worry, I’m fine. I always cry when I write.” Refusing to accept my reassurances, you sat down next to me, said nothing and waited for me to explain. Terrified but unable to push back against the weight of the silence I told you about the side of me I had struggled so hard to conceal since the day I met you. The broken side of me. The side that has made most people feel justified in labelling me stupid. The side that comes with learning disabilities, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyscalculia. It is this side that has sabotaged my relationships and hearing myself I couldn’t believe I allowed myself to tell you. Halfway through my story you interrupted me. Your response not only changed my life but spawned our first fight.
“I’m sure you find this harder than most, but it is much easier than you think it is,” you said. I retorted that most of my teachers thought I was stupid and no one had ever been able to teach me. All I could ever hope for was a passing grade regardless of how much I knew. The info in my head simply didn’t translate to paper. But, you were not sympathetic. You argued that if I hadn’t learned by now how to write that was my teachers’ fault, not mine. I started crying and dismissed you for not understanding what was obvious to anyone who had tried to help me. Instead of accepting my invitation to end the argument, you were offended by my resignation to my limitations.
“I will teach you.” You said between clenched teeth, your jaw tight and pulling on the muscles in your neck. “You can’t. No one can,” I implored. But you were never one to back down from a challenge and said, “I will prove you wrong.” So, because you were cute and relentless, I agreed to let you find out how impossible I really was to teach. You picked up my computer and told me to grab my keys as you headed down the hall. “Wait?! NOW?!” I hollered after you. “It’s almost 1am!” You never even turned around. You kept walking and said, “This is due at 10am. That gives us tons of time. Denny’s is open and were gonna need some coffee.”
We sat in a booth for the next six hours. By the time the sun came up, I was shocked that writing didn’t seem so hard. You explained it and broke it down. Taught me about structure and how to write an outline. You were horrified at how little I knew. At how little I’d been taught. You not only made me do it, you taught me to do it. You gave me a formula that I could replicate.
A week later when my professor handed me my paper, I went outside, sat on the sidewalk and cried. You came out and sat next to me. Looking at the little B+ on the upper left hand corner, you said “And we were crunched for time. Just imagine how well you’ll do next time, when we can really spend some time to go through it. ” You were adorable and smug. I was shocked that you were ready for a next time. I just sat and looked at you. It was in this moment that I realized I no longer wanted to be just your friend. “Why do you care so much?” I asked. Surprisingly, you looked hurt and softly said, “Because when it comes to you, I will always care”. I put my head on your shoulder and hugged your arm. Together we sat on the sidewalk and waited for our next class.
My entire adult life I have been terrified that my children would be plagued with my disorders. I was worried they would grow up living my struggle. Afraid they would go through life feeling stupid. Whenever I expressed my fear of our kids inheriting my poor learning genes, you would always say you weren’t concerned in the least. You thought that my having it would make me well equipped to handle the situation. You believed I would know how to relate to them and be able to anticipate the challenges they would face. I would know how they think and would be able to help them.
A decade ago I loved you for your willingness to take on more people like me. I loved you for your brilliance and for how normal you were. I loved that you didn’t view my learning disabilities as a detriment to you. I loved that you pushed me and was proud of what I had accomplished. I loved how you loved me. But I was young and focused inward. I was so worried about how my genes would affect our children, that it never occurred to me that I could spend a lifetime advocating for a disorder that our children would get, not from me…but from you.
To be fair I never even knew you had a disorder. You compensated so beautifully that even you were unaware of what you were experiencing until you saw it in our kids . I never knew that you suffered in silence. I never knew that you felt like you were somehow different. Somehow not quite right. Perhaps this is why you could relate to my struggles? You had successfully overcome and knew it was possible.
But, watching you with our boys, I know you were right. Having the same disorder as your kids is an advantage for them. It does in fact facilitate a special bond and allow for better anticipation of their needs. I can’t help but giggle at the fact that all your advice and reassurances would actually not apply to me, but rather to your future self.
Now I see you differently. Now our roles are reversed and I find myself in the unexpected role of being the normal one. Everything I thought I knew about you was true, but has been amplified. You are braver than I ever knew. Stronger that I could have imagined. Your disorder makes you a better dad. A more loving man. It taught you mental toughness and emotional gentleness. It’s shear existence makes me marvel at all you do. Without your dystonia, I would not be who I am. I would not have learned as much as I have. I would not be the mother I am and I would not have such wise, wonderful amazing little boys. Without your dystonia, I would not have seen your strength or know the kind of love you are capable of.
So, while I used to love and admire you for all that made you so normal, I know I will spend the rest of my life loving and admiring all the traits you possess that make you abnormal and atypical. It’s these traits that make you special. These are the traits I respect the most. They are the reason why I still love you today. They are the reason I don’t love you like I used to.