So, here I go...
Dear Me (12-year-old Tonia),
Look at that smile. It was hiding a lot, wasn't it?
Listen, I know your biggest dream right now is to leave every single vestige of CP so far in the dust that you never have to think about it again. I know you still think if you work hard enough, you'll be able to walk without crutches. I know you think that will solve everything. That it will make you lovable. Let me tell you something, though (and I know you'll roll your eyes, but hear me out. I'm you, so I know you pretty well.)
You ARE lovable. You. Right now. Sitting on that couch in 1993. You. Are. Lovable. You don't need to do anything to make yourself so. You, with your love of Babysitter's Club books and Full House and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen music. (It makes sense that you liked them! They were twins...you're a twin, and it's not like you saw a lot of twins on TV.) You with your hair that's too greasy. You with your face that breaks out. You with your crutches. You with your wheelchair. You with CP.
You are lovable, and CP does not make you broken or defective or bad or wrong. You don't need to be fixed. Those are lies. You are awesome and perfect just the way you are! I remember the way you cared about the new girl in seventh grade. The way you made sure she felt loved and accepted. I remember how you always put your homework first. How you helped take care of your brothers. I remember that you had the most vivid imagination. I remember how you loved to write. Hang onto that.
Hang onto the experience you had at camp, where you made friends who were like you, but know that being more physically able did not make you lucky. It's just a part of what makes you, you. Life is not a competition. Being more able does not make you better. Just like being disabled does not make you worse.
I know how all the negative things are stuck in your head and you can't unhear them. I'm so sorry. You didn't deserve what was said to you. You don't deserve what was done to you. Other people's choices are not your fault. I know you look in the mirror and wonder what's wrong with you because you have no interest in romance, in sex, and I am here to tell you there's a word for that and it's okay. It's okay to love and value family and friendships as highly as you do. It's okay that you don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend. It's okay that you don't want one.
I wish I could tell you all the pain in your life is past, but scary things will happen to you and around you in the future. You will lose and almost lose the dearest people in the world to you. Listen to me when I say you will get through it. You will carry it with you, but it will not define your life. Cherish the people in your life while you have them. I know it sounds corny but it's true. And I know you love the people in your life well.
There are amazing things coming in your life, too. A cousin, who will grow up to be one of your best freinds. A baby brother (I know, right? You and Tara have talked about wanting another sibling for years! It will happen! He's amazing!) You will graduate high school with high honors. You will go to college. You will travel outside the country. You will write novels and poetry and blog posts. (Oh yeah, there's this thing called the internet. I know the fam won't get a computer until next year, but in about four years, you'll understand...) Your writing will be published. You'll have friends who love you for who you are. You will live on your own, in accessible housing.
I know things are hard right now, and I know last year was horrendous, but I want you to do something for me. Stand in front of the mirror with your crutches. Look at yourself. All of yourself. Crutches, scars, spastic muscles and all. Now list all the positive things that make you, you. I get that you might not be able to say them out loud. So let's write them instead: You're a twin. You're a daughter. You're a sister. You're compassionate. You love writing. You love music, and singing. You love your family. You have CP. You like sports. You are disabled. (If you're having trouble with older me sneaking in the disability stuff, try remembering the time Dad painted your crutches blue after surgery, because he wanted to do something nice for you.) Your CP is a part of you. It makes you uniquely you. So stand taller, or sit taller, or smile wider, because it's the truth. I'm grown up you. I know these things.
You are lovable...and you are disabled. They are not mutually exclusive. You can be both. You ARE both.
Trust me, every time you think people don't love you and accept you because of your CP, know that's a lie.
Because I do.
I love you,