Reflections don’t tell entire story

It’s said that if you look in a mirror, you’ll either see a reflection of someone you love – or someone you hate – staring back at you. That reflection can resemble yourself, a friend or an enemy.

It can disguise itself as happiness, joy, fear or some other emotion you didn’t even know was humanly possible to feel until something causes you to feel it. When you do feel it, however, it’s as if your brain is saying, “I told you so!” or “I told you not to be scared!”

It’s at that moment when you have to decide whether it’s worth listening to the little voices in your head – or changing what you see in the mirror.

The first time I can remember coming to that crossroad was in elementary school. I was in sixth grade and I had a friend whom I’d known for years. We had all our classes together, told each other everything and even shared our lunches. It was just a really good friendship – the kind that you go into as kids and gain a brother or sister on the other side of adulthood.

As sixth grade came to a close, this particular friend walked up to me and said, “Erin, I can’t be friends with you anymore. You’re in a wheelchair and – you know – I just can’t be seen around stuff like that when we go into junior high.”

I didn’t quite know what to make of this at first. I wasn’t angry, nor was I resentful. I was more confused than anything at the time. I was a kid and was simply trying to make some sort of connection between the words that came out of his mouth and his actions.

Here was a guy whom I did tell everything to because I trusted him. I trusted his judgment of my cerebral palsy and thought I didn’t have to worry about that. At least, he didn’t give me a reason to – but then, this happened.

That was the first time I felt betrayed when someone faded out of my life. He didn’t just fade out. He walked out – all because of my wheelchair. However, something told me he wouldn’t be the first – and definitely wouldn’t be the last. I was right, but I didn’t know enough to let this rest and just let it be what it was.

Ironically enough, I crossed paths with this guy years later at an amusement park. It was a lazy summer’s day and he walked by. He could see me from where he was standing and slyly said, “Hey Erin.” I kept driving at that point.

I decided it wasn’t worth making conversation if he wasn’t even willing to apologize to me. So rather than make a big deal out of it, I was the bigger person and left well enough alone. I guess I was holding onto the idea that friends wouldn’t stab other friends in the back.

Not only that, but I think I understood why the initial incident happened in the first place. If I was going to lose a friend, it wasn’t going to be because of something I did, said, wore or even wrote. It was going to be because of my wheelchair and its stigma.

There’s a big part of me that still knows that to be true, even as an adult. It’s silly in a way, because it’s “old hat”, as they say – but I know that’s particularly more likely to happen than any other trouble or worry I’ll ever have with anyone, regardless of their relation to me. If I’m not willing to grow and learn from it, however, I’m no better than anybody else who places blame on others and points fingers.

It’s proof that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I just have one thing to say – Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the wisest of them all?

Erin Kelly, 30, was born with cerebral palsy in Korea, and lives in Altoona. In addition to this column, she also writes for online publications The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and Real Talk Magazine. Email her at WriterWheels28@gmail.com.