Hindsight changes everything
An unexpected find – going through boxes of papers during our recent house move, I came across this card from Jenny.
The card, written when we were 25, was an olive branch from the distant past. I remember the argument well. Those were really tough times in our relationship: me, as non-disabled twin to someone with severe cerebral palsy wanting to make sure Jenny would be alright; her, fighting for her independence. And Jenny did have a lot of resilience – she had to – but she also had significant limitations. The problem was, her close social network including her facilitators and supporters didn’t necessarily have the expertise to recognise this.
The paradox was that Jenny’s very ability – her eloquence, outgoing personality, determination to see things through – masked the more hidden cognitive impairments. These included a lack of spatial awareness (Jenny could get lost in a restaurant trying to find her way back from the loo to her table) and her total inability at maths, all but the most basic sums which she memorised to overcome her deficit. These were balanced or even outweighed by her love of literature and grasp of language.
Nothing drives home this striking imbalance more forcefully than seeing her handwriting in this card. At first glance it looks like a six-year-old’s writing. But I see so much of Jenny in it – not least her dogged determination to write even though it took so much effort and time. Jenny’s handwriting was a strange mix of lower and upper case letters, depending on which was easiest for her to write. She was left-handed but certain letters and numbers came out backwards when she wrote them with her left hand, no matter how hard she tried. So, as a further complication, she had to swap hands to write these the correct way round. How maddening that must have been.
Not to mention the frustration and humiliation she felt when trying to withdraw money in a post office or bank branch away from home. Her signature varied so much that she had to endure the experience of being refused her cash in case her identity was being impersonated. If it was some sort of fraud, it would have been the most unsophisticated crime in the history of Little Piddling in the Ditch, or whatever it was in the West Country that she was staying.
All of this comes flooding back in seconds. And that row seems so painfully trivial now.