The Lipstick Warrior

I launch myself into the arena. Not an arena of blood and sand, where half naked men cut each other up with swords. Instead, my arena is a building in the heart of the city. I am armed with a killer shade of lipstick and a strong will to conquer.

My fears, my curiosity, my image.

Should I have disclosed more about myself, when we spoke on the phone?  More than being a divorced single mother, with a part-time job, living back with her parents whilst being the primary carer of two sons with Autism?  Yet, the proverbial cherry atop the icing on the cake, the factor that sets me apart from all else, warrants a slow reveal.

Growing up, I didn’t want to reveal anything about me which others would find unappealing or confronting.  Ironically, I never wanted to be an invisible person either.  I just didn’t want my problematic invisible parts to become visible.

“How do you know so much about neurological stuff?” Candidate 2 asked me.  We were sitting beside each other on a sofa, his arm resting along the back of it, inching closer toward me.  He had just finished telling me about the acquired brain injury he had developed as a result of surgery.

My Mum had given him the nickname of ‘Show Pony’ when she saw his online profile and photo.  Show Pony was a sharp and snappy dresser and the pose he struck in his photo suggested that he had confidence in himself.

He was Candidate 2, as Candidate 1 had been disqualified months earlier.  Eliminated by his action of walking past our meeting place 3 times, each time pausing to look in the window, seemingly to judge the merchandise, before deciding to enter the building and meet me.  Charming.  My name for him varied between Peeping Tom, Doubting Thomas, to the Weird S.O.B.

“I know about neurological stuff because I was born with a defect of the central nervous system” I replied to Show Pony’s question.  “Ever heard of Spina Bifida?”  He cocked his head like a dog trying to figure out if he had heard the word ‘bone’ or ‘bath’ – two different levels of comfortableness.

Unlike many of my peers of my age, who were born with this disability, I was permitted entry to the main arena of mainstream schooling from the beginning of my life as a student.  Yet, I struggled to compete in this arena.

My differences were a riddle.  I walked on my toes.  I was allowed to use the teachers’ toilet and was given a locker beside it to keep my medical appliances in there.  At the beginning of Year 8, I returned to school looking like I had an eating disorder, having lost ten to twelve kilograms of weight due to several surgeries within a short space of time.

Prior to this group of surgeries, my problematic invisible parts would often lead to me being ostracized due to the whiffs from its waste.  Following these surgeries, pools of water would often form at my feet.  I would stand frozen to the spot in horror, not knowing whether I should move or not in case the pool of water became a flood.  During one of these times, I was standing right in front of several girls from the tough group of my year level.  The pools at my feet had not gone unnoticed.  My cheeks burned and my heart raced as I looked at them looking at me.

“I wanted you to meet me in person before telling you about my disability” I explained to Candidate 6.  He looked down at his lunch and asked “how does it affect you?”.  I have learnt that my instincts and intuition about small human nuances, within the world of dating meetups, are usually correct.  A diversion of a gaze, a sudden interest in a beverage or in food, a change of tone, a sharp inhaled or exhaled breath, all convey messages.

I did have a second meetup with Candidate 2 (Show Pony), which was amusing to say the least.  One of the positive aspects of Show Pony was that he had a worse sense of balance than myself, when walking.  The negative aspect of Show Pony was his formula for intimacy.

Apparently, he would be concerned if he was seeing someone and they were not holding hands by the third date, not kissing by the fifth date and not screwing by the ninth…I just sat there looking at him thinking ‘seriously?  Whatever happened to the natural progression of romance?’  I explained to him that I needed to develop emotional intimacy before launching into a sexual relationship and revealing the challenges of my disability.  Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised, or unhappy, that Show Pony galloped away.

Candidate 6 had a great sense of humour.  “Online dating has more rituals than a nature doco” he wrote, prior to our meet up.  That line kept me chuckling for a while.  Our first telephone conversation lasted for ages.  “This is the best introductory conversation I have had yet” Candidate 6 remarked at the end of our phone chat.

He was highly intelligent, shared many of my interests, had a sense of humour that was witty instead of corny, had lived in other countries and had an accent which I could have listened to all day without tiring of it.  I dubbed Candidate 6 ‘The Communicator’.  We could chat for hours and not run out of things to say.

Then came our first meetup.  Followed by our second.  At the end of our second meetup, something had changed.  I told him that I enjoyed his company and would like to see him a little more often.  The Communicator became quiet and subdued.  I didn’t hear from him for weeks.  When I reached out, he responded curtly.  Communication was withdrawn, by him.

Candidate 6 had excelled at entertaining and intelligent conversations.  However, he lacked the integrity and courage to have the hard conversations.  Without voicing it, I knew that he did not want to risk becoming a carer again within a relationship.

Most of my peers who were born with Spina Bifida are mobility assisted.  Their wheelchairs or their walking sticks announce their disability status without any verbal revelations needed.

However, a visible disability can still make a person invisible. Mainstream society often looks at the disability without seeing the person.

In contrast, my invisible disability does not precede me.  However, once I disclose it, I am still at risk of my disability deflecting other people away from knowing my true self.

My Mother asked me, upon returning from a meetup (NOT a hook up!) with one of the Candidates, whether I would be seeing him again?  “Not likely!” I replied, with a grin on my face.  “Why on earth are you smiling?” my Mother asked, somewhat confused.

“Because I have found a sense of strength and freedom I haven’t had before.  I am comfortable enough to be able to talk about my disability without embarrassment.  I know what I want, what I don’t want, and I am able to say it with confidence, regardless of the outcome.  I am being true to myself by paving my own path.”

This Warrior does not belong in either the disability community or in the mainstream community.  I seem to step in and out of these two communities and inevitably return to walking the path in between.

2 comments

  1. Again, beautifully written. Made me laugh and cry. So many people on this planet could take a leaf out of your book.

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