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Walking my way

“Once  I was walking through my local shopping centre and a guy came up to me with that classic opening line, “What did you do to your leg?” “Nothing” I said, “I am an actor and I have landed the role of Quasimodo, I’m just practicing the walk.”

Portrait

 

Walking my way

by Brendan Murphy

A sense of humour is quite a handy thing to have around at times. Other times, it’s not such a great thing. Still other times, it’s kind of hard to find something funny in a certain situation. Growing up able bodied was pretty easy for me. Pakeha, male in the sixties, seventies and eighties, it was easy to fit in. Around thirty years or so ago I made a big transition in my life: I “acquired” a disability.

On the day in question I was just a normal eighteen year old going to work as an apprentice, eager, anonymous, and average. Long hours and a dangerous workplace took its toll however and I ended up on the floor of a sawmill, injured and bleeding to death. I could see the roof I used to walk under every day, the harsh industrial lights staring down at me. In my ears was the hiss of pressurised air, the sound of industry at rest. I was pretty shy back then and thought if I could only get back up to work, nobody would have to know. My first attempt at sitting up failed, as I felt weighed down. Looking down at my legs I noticed that they were in strange positions and bent in some odd ways. Blood and internal organs were spilling out through torn blue overalls. One of my colleagues had heard my body jam in the machinery and thought a log was obstructing it. His reaction on seeing me sounded a lot like the howl of a dog that’s been hit by a car. My odd sense of serenity vanished. Suddenly it seemed far more serious than I had thought.

Other colleagues and the company nurse also arrived, each had a different look on their faces . By then I was panicking and asking them to pass on my love to my family.

I was convinced that I wouldn’t make it. Once the ambulance drivers arrived though, I calmed down. They cracked a couple of jokes and put me at ease. I figured that if they were not overly concerned then I probably shouldn’t be either. It was a long and difficult recovery but eventually I managed to get back to a relatively “normal” life. My family always had a strong work ethic and all along I thought that if I could only get back to work that I would hopefully be fine, “normal” if you like.  Over the years, trying to gain employment from differing employees I found I had to gloss over a lot of things. One of those was my “normal” and “formal” walks.

Once  I was walking through my local shopping centre and a guy came up to me with that classic opening line, “What did you do to your leg?” “Nothing” I said, “I am an actor and I have landed the role of Quasimodo, I’m just practicing the walk.”

I then walked off as straight and true and stiffly as I possibly could. After I crossed the road, I looked back and caught him still staring. He was either shocked or offended.

My formal walk was born and was the one I bought out for job interviews, first dates, weddings and funerals or anywhere else impressions counted. The normal walk was my ‘comfy old jeans’ walk, the one I used around home, friends and places I found comfortable.  The formal walk required concentration and energy to maintain. Since then  I have changed my role completely from being a draughtsman in a corporate office and now work in an entirely different position. My employer and the people I work with actually value the things diversity brings to a workplace and I really value my job there. This is a first as a lot of people in the world look at disability as difference. In their minds, ‘difference’ equals ‘weakness’, and ‘weakness’ translates to ‘bad’. Of course some companies, as I have discovered, simply won’t employ anyone different or disabled. For them, “normal” is better. Hiding any form of disability at job interviews became the norm for me – there’s “that” word again.

A while ago I was walking through my local library foyer. As I approached the foyer exit doors I noticed a rowdy group of teens, lounging on one of the couches. The glass doors were sliding opening when I noticed the reflection of one of the teens walking along behind me, arms out trying to ridicule the way I walk. I spun round, catching her in the act.

“I wasn’t mocking you!” she blurted.

I yelled back. “Don’t they teach you respect at that school anymore? Things certainly have changed since I went there!”

She said she was sorry and as I walked out I yelled “yeah right”. Walking away, suddenly I felt like I had become the grumpy old man I remembered from when I was young. Really, I was annoyed that I had been discovered. That someone had “outed” me and pointed out I was different and that all I had tried to hide with my formal walk over the years had been in vain.

I felt like going back in there, sitting down and explaining that at their ages I was fit and healthy and had great prospects and that life happens to all of us. But while driving home I had a thought “this is me”, this is MY walk. I worked through the years to get back to my current walk, and heck, I wasn’t going to let some cheeky young teen ruin my day. I got to thinking I maybe shouldn’t be quite as concerned with who sees either walk, it doesn’t matter what people think of my walk. It’s mine, it’s unique, it’s not some boring vanilla walk. Ever seen an ice cream shop that only sells vanilla cones? That’s probably because they all went out of business.  Pimps practice for years just to walk like me so maybe it’s time I owned it.

I now have just one walk, MY walk, that I don’t have to explain to anyone. Time to start being proud of who I am and respecting myself. If we can’t respect ourselves and who we are, how can we expect others to?

Brendan Murphy currently works at CCS Disability Action in the Community Garden at Royal Oak. 

One Response to “Walking my way”

  1. lois Tongs says:

    Hi Brendan what a cool story. I see you a lot and guess what I can’t recall you having a walk! I will have to take more notice next time. to me you are who you are Brendan the cool chap that works in the garden and is always so pleasant and helpful and a joy to be around. thanks for sharing your story it was so well written, from the heart.

    Lois the transient one from Royal Oak I work mostly on the Shore

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