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Those Without a Voice
saw a peculiar woman on the bus today. She wore a pair of sunglasses and had a rather prominent overbite; as though her lips were unable to hide her teeth. In her possession was a purse and cell phone, so probably mid to high functioning. She sported a long sleeve sweater in an attempt to hide her gnarled hands and avoid the chance eye locks of other passengers. As I mentally confirmed her condition, a lengthy string of drool fell from her mouth. Self-consciously, she swiftly wiped it in a somewhat cumbersome fashion using a white cloth carried in advance. Many riders moved away. Some teenagers laughed and pointed. I felt heartbroken at the sight of her for reasons I couldn’t then explain. Not of hint of distain in mind or heart but a deep shame for the ill channeled resentment I held for both those with autism and supporters that thought to treat them as the average Joe.
She was autistic but her knowledge of embarrassment, hurt, and shame were unmistakable. Once, I viewed her, as well as those like her, as something less than human; a horse with a limp, cruelly allowed to exist in an unforgiving world. But then I noticed her eyes. I’ve shared those same eyes once upon a time. Most of high school, I was disgusted by my own figure and the object of ridicule. She knew what its like to feel surrounded yet alone. Only difference was I was fat. She’s autistic. I lost weight. She’s autistic.
This realization ended the life span of my 13 year old malignant hatred and gave me a truth I’ve been too blind to see. She makes up the population of those without voice. The stigma that followed my obesity was one of choice. This cannot be said mutually for my fellow stranger. Surrounded yet alone.
As a five year old, my respect for my father was nigh-unwavering in that even with the frequent punishment; I knew he had his reasons. Another source of this respect stemmed from his refusal to treat any of us differently beyond what was appropriate or reasonable. Not even my autistic sister Karen. Even as an attention hog for my parent’s love, this lone fact gave me a kind of unspoken unrealized solace. Sadly, this began to change after my mother and father separated. For the rest of my childhood, I remained in the care of my mother along with Drew and Karen but it was never the same. Mom never seemed to comprehend Karen’s abilities or her level of self-awareness, so she had a habit of playing her out to be vulnerable and incapable. With such treatment, eventually came the spoiling of my sister. I could never attend a sleep over because Karen was always in need of supervision. By the time I hit 15; many friends were barred from the house to “insure” my sister’s wellbeing. Going over the homes of others was a stretch in itself at times. Needless to say, I crossed the point of frustrated curiosity and began to act out whenever possible.
My mother has a love of going to New York to see my grandma, so naturally, we went rather frequently. This normally meant that I stayed in a room with Karen and fed her during the day as everyone else left to go to work or shop. Karen would often times, run downstairs when my grandmother and mom came home begging for food, resulting in the assumption that I would ignore her needs, punishing me even if I was to overfeed her. This soon led to my strong desire to avoid any further trips entirely.
Halloween, a holiday I favored for its emphasis on freedom, usually involved taking Karen out trick or treating with me for abit even though I previously planned conquests with my friends. Already subconsciously affiliating her as a living restriction, my envy advanced to loathing.
This only got worse as I grew older. Exempt from most discipline, Karen did as she wished, regardless of what anything my brother and I said. To so much as boldly say “No” brought the fury of my mother. Anything more was asking for a death wish.
It even got to the point were Karen became brazen enough to punch me in the mouth and assault me when asked not to continue an action. Mom usually either justified it as a joke or gave her a five minute talking to. Other times my mother would only ask what I did in response to turn things around on me. In the wrong no matter what, my anger only got worse.
High School brought more than a few pimples, dropped balls, dismal grades, and fights. My self-esteem dipped to dangerous levels. Tormented for even a twitch of the hair, speaking out only brought about a frenzy of names, jeers, and harassment. After getting off the bus, in the afternoons I picked Karen up from hers. She soon faded into the importance of a chore rather than a human being; rather than a relative. Loathing died and in its place came resentment. Through school, I would witness many autistic youths. Some on par with my sister in terms of functioning but others drew out an intense inner hatred in me. My mind would demand answers for what fool would allow a child to live in such a confined world with a feeble futile attempt to protect them from what are everyday norms. I’d say around 15% of the above was attempted realistic empathy and the other 80% as my stubborn refusal to accept them. Needless to say, I kept my opinions to myself despite my absolute stubbornness on relinquishing my ideals. Soon my siblings were nothing more than residents of the home. We co-existed for the mutual benefit of one another and that was all. So much for family unity huh?
What I would never have expected was just how hypocritical I became in my choice to hold this animosity for my sister and all those who share her autism due solely because of the way she was treated. She had no choice in the matter whereas I lite myself on fire in the hopes that she would cease to affect my life any further. Not once did I step back to see her struggles as only mine were of any real importance. I was so heavily delusional that I couldn’t see past the fog of my own selfishness. I treated her as the ghost sibling; Non-existent if asked for. Only reluctantly would I acknowledge her if ever at all.
I found my confidence. I know myself. I advocate for the voice and self-expression of others. But when it came to the hardships faced by those I unfairly resented, I sealed my heart’s open borders. They were invisible on the spectrum I wouldn’t hesitate to protect.
A close friend of mine told me once that “To hate the many based on the few is how racism and other types of discrimination are spread.”
It hurt to know that my feelings were in essence comparable to the ideology of the Ku Klux, Neo-Nazis, and so forth. To be honest, I had to call my father in shame because of a reflection on my repulsive ways. Thoughts always influence actions. I have been a shitty brother; my actions detestable. Times like these, I can only wonder how one can live without voice. My inferno, fed fuel based on the rage I held near, has been extinguished. But I am one of billions. As my eyes open, many more remain closed. Many more voices stay unheard.