I've never had much by way of balance or core strength. I was twelve when I realized that I was no match for a hungry seven-year-old.
It was a hot summer night and we had all come inside after doing a lot of running around. Mom and Dad let the four of us have a snack before sending us to get ready for bed.
I grabbed the last orange popsicle.
My mouth had barely closed around it, to savor the cold, sweet flavor, when Trent plowed into me from the side.
"No fair!" he cried angrily. "I wanted the orange one!"
Apparently, this was a big enough injustice that Trent decided he had to take me to the floor in order to exact his revenge.
I was shocked, but unhurt as I climbed clumsily back into my chair.
Trent, though, was inconsolable. He offered me a tearful apology, and was banished to his room without a popsicle.
I took a long lick, reveling in the treat, and the fact that it was still in one piece and not broken on the floor.
My balance and strength might have been lacking, but my grip was amazing.
It was never easy for me to fight back. And I never especially wanted to. In fact, I was a teenager before I fully took advantage of the arsenal of defenses I had at my fingertips.
I discovered that my wheelchair could be used like a tank and it came in handy for ramming into my sister when she wouldn't let me out of a room. My crutch became a bo staff on my annoying little brothers and I didn't hesitate to use it like one.
Tye could be especially irritating and relentless. He would hide in the laundry room just outside my bedroom, and jump out, yelling "Boo!" just to see my exaggerated startle response to unexpected noise. If I could catch him, I'd smack him in the legs. I'd aim low on purpose, knowing that getting hit with anything heavy as my blue metal crutch was bound to hurt.
And after all, I didn't want to kill him, just to get him back.
It was no secret that I wasn't a physical match for any of my siblings in a fight. But once I learned to use what I had at my disposal, life became a little easier.
And a little more fun.
I couldn't swim. Not at thirteen, and not ever.
When a wave I didn't see coming knocked my inner-tube end over end across the ocean, I didn't feel like I was dying. It was only when I settled at the bottom, like a stone, with the water mere inches above my head that I started to panic.
But then, I heard Tara's voice, muffled by the waves and the water in my ears:
"Help is on the way, dear!" she called, in the perfect English accent of Mrs. Doubtfire. Then, she set about trying to save me.
"Tara, help me!" I kept gasping, whenever she could lift me up for a second to get a breath.
I clung to her. Pulled on her. If this had been wrestling, my 70-pound, all-muscle self would have won the match for sure.
Finally, Mom noticed us, and got me up. Between her and Tara, I managed to walk back to shore. It was then that I heard Mom whisper something to Tara:
"Fix your bathing suit."
Tara and I noticed at the same time that my complete terror had had an unfortunate affect on my twin's modest, black one-piece, pulling her top down. There had been so much commotion, none of the three of us had noticed until we were walking toward the beach together. The beach full of people.
Embarrassed, Tara fixed the problem.
I was deposited on a beach towel, still trying to get rid of the saltwater taste in my mouth, and the burning in my eyes and nose.
"You want a hot dog?" my dad asked, clueless, distracted by the grill.
Startled, I accepted it and took a bite.
I probably needed the protein anyway.
If the stairs were broken, there would be a note. I guarantee it.
But when the elevator broke down after I made my way to the second floor of my residence hall, I received no notice at all. When they plowed the snow on campus, it was piled in unnaturally huge balls blocking the ramps onto the sidewalk.
Now I was stranded in the second floor computer lab as it neared eleven o'clock when the computer lab closed - pressing the elevator button to no avail. All I wanted to do was return to my dorm and go to bed, but instead I had to wait for a repair man.
By the time it was running again, my butt was numb and my legs hadn't had natural circulation in several hours.
I wish I could say that things went smoothly the rest of college, but they didn't. I was late to classes due to snow, and stranded in the middle of slushy streets.
But on the up side, I was never stranded upstairs again.
And luckily for everyone else, the stairs remained in perfect working order.
I have no depth-perception.
Proof of that was never more evident than when I hurried out of a building in Washington DC, determined to get a head-start, so that my family wouldn't have to wait for me. I had no idea just how ahead of them I might be by the time I came to a stop.
What I thought was a flat expanse was, in fact, set at a dangerous incline. Before I knew it, I was careening down the unfamiliar sidewalk, doing my best to avoid innocent people, walking by. But whenever I tried to slow myself down by grabbing the rims of my wheels and squeezing, the friction from the speed burned my hands.
My heart beat crazily, when all of a sudden, I heard footsteps. I felt a steady resistance behind me, as somebody pulled hard on my handle bars. Before I knew what was happening, the chair was on its side. I was seatbelted in place, suspended in the air.
That's when I noticed Trent, picking himself up from the ground, where he had fallen, in his fight to stop my runaway chair.
"Trent! What did you do?!" Dad snapped probably flashing back to the kid three years earlier who had taken me to the floor for eating his dessert.
"No, Dad, he saved me," I said, knowing how ridiculous it sounded.
Trent was ten years old. He was more prone to daydream his way through life, thinking of new and interesting things to build with whatever he could get his hands on. Trent was apt to make huge, impressive messes that took days to clean up. Saving his older sister wasn't on his radar.
"Oh," Dad said, sounding confused, as he righted my chair and me. "Okay, then."
And as is typical in my family, we went on, as if nothing was amiss. Only this time, I lagged behind on purpose, to make sure I didn't mistake a slant for level ground.
This time, I followed Trent.
After all, what are little brothers for?
Mom (left), me (center) and Trent (right) a few days after he saved me.
When something happens, I'm rarely the first to react. My reflexes are just too slow. But this once, things worked out to where I could be of some help.
My uncle, aunt, sister and I were in the high school cafeteria, waiting for my cousin's choir concert to begin when my uncle stumbled.
It just so happened that there was a chair perfectly placed behind him to cushion his fall.
Of course, I was in the chair, too, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Because of my fortuitous placement, my uncle landed not on the floor, but squarely on my lap - the bulk him on my right leg. Pain shot through my knee, ankle and heel as my leg was torqued uncomfortably against the footrest of my chair.
Suffice it to say that I love my uncle, but he is not a small man.
I clamped my hand over my mouth.
"Are you okay?" he asked, trying to shake off any discomfort at the public spectacle with a smile.
I nodded, my hand still in place. I may be physically small, but I wasn't about to start crying in front of a room full of people.
I gritted my teeth. I breathed. I watched the concert I had come to see. I got through the evening in one piece.
My uncle was just fine.
And so was I, with plenty of ice and Tylenol at my disposal.
Sometimes, it's just about being at the right place, at the right time.