Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer-Black on 19 November, 2013
Rose, Marie, and Anna were born on a snowy February day. Anna was the biggest of the triplets, over a full pound heavier than her sisters. She spent the least time in the NicU, had the highest APGAR scores, and was the only of the trio born without disabilities. Neither Rose nor Marie could walk for any measurable distance, and to achieve even this hard-won goal, they needed leg braces and assistive walkers. For long distances, Rose and Marie operated wheel chairs. Rose’s chair and accessories were pink, while Marie favored violet colors.
Rose was watchful, quiet, and privately emotional. She patiently waited while throngs of kids stood in front of her limited field of vision at zoos and museums. She hummed along, unable to see the stage at concerts. Marie, however, yelled her displeasure, angry at the confinement of her wheel chair, disgusted by prevalent disregard for the challenges of operating wheel chairs or employing crutches. She learned early on that when she directly confronting rudeness, many people turned away in embarrassment.
Many people felt more comfortable imagining that disabled people did not exist. Rose took to heart the perspective offered by their mother who said, “Many people are unsure what do say or how to act.” Rose gently explained, “Our disabilities were not contagious.” She was patient in explanations, forgiving. Marie was not forgiving of others and was furious with the limitations that her own body inflicted on her. Marie bitterly pounded away, loudly commenting when confronted with ignorance.
Rose and Marie cheered from their wheelchairs as Anna blocked goals while playing soccer. They clapped when she performed ballet and tap at her yearly recitals, sighing to disguise their desire to don tutus and join her on the stage. Much of their time was taken up with therapies and doctor appointments, but their parents also found adapted activities for their participation.
Their first day of aquatherapy was life-changing for Rose, who took to the element with fish-like grace. She felt beautiful in the water, able to move elegantly, like a dancer. Marie clung to the blue-tiled side of the pool, blaming the burn of the chlorine for the tearing in her eyes. Although happy for her sister, Marie could not understand why she sunk heavily while Rose found a way to feel normal. She bit her lower lip to choke back her frustration.
Everyone congratulated Rose, calling her a mermaid. As always, she was quiet, but her blushes and unceasing smile betrayed her pleasure. Marie pulled herself into her chair with lumbering difficulty. She tried to smile for her sister, tried to join in her happiness, but she just wanted to be alone. Once home, she hid in her room and cried.
For Marie, it was a bitter month that passed. Rose spent as much time as she could in the warmed waters of a health club, wrinkling her skin, strengthening her musculature, and earning her “Mermaid” nickname. Anna landed a lead role in a musical at school, which occupied much of her time. While her sisters were pleasantly occupied, Marie sunk into the murky twilight of depression until a new therapy was presented.
“Just what I need, another way to prove that I am a freak!” Marie yelled.
Her father said, “You were on a waiting list for two years. At least give it a try.”
“But I do not want to wear that stupid helmet!” Marie bemoaned, adding. “And the belt is the dumbest thing I have ever seen.” Secretly, she was afraid to be excited about the new exercises, even ones performed on horseback. She worried that she would be too frightened of the tall horses or the animals would not like her. She was concerned that she would not do well, and so she half wanted to squash the opportunity before she had the chance to fail.
Marie did not fail, though. She was a natural horse person whose rapport with the gentle giants made her feel at ease and normal. No one could tell that she was disabled while she negotiated around the arena. With the success of the therapy and Marie’s love for horsemanship, Marie’s parents bought Terrance, a beautiful seven-year old bay Standard Bred gelding just the color of the girls’ hair. Marie loved and cared for Terrance, spending her every free moment at the stable. She continued equestrian therapy and took riding lessons, entering shows and earning ribbons. It was a fairly short time before Marie earned the nickname “Centaur.”