The Body Divided

A woman with cerebral palsy gets comfortable in her own skin

| September-October, 2009

  • Cerebral Palsy

    image by Charmagne Coe /

  • Cerebral Palsy

Drops of rain slide down the dirty glass. From the backseat I ask why I feel less on the right side of my body. Though my father is driving, my mother doesn’t turn toward me. “Because your heart’s on the left,” she says. “Like everyone’s.”

Cerebral palsy does that, works like Novocain, divides me in half. I can test the temperature of water only with my left hand. Eyes closed, I have to move a coin from my right palm to my left to tell it from a paper clip or a stone.

I don’t know I walk differently. Limp. But the new kid asks me how I hurt my foot. The gym teacher tells me to sit down. That’s a gallop, not a run.

 My two hands are sisters. Left, beautiful in her grace. Right, Clumsy-Girl, with lesser jobs. Run the sponge down Grace’s arm after she’s soaped and scrubbed the rest of the body. Hold Barbie still while Grace works the tiny buttons on her blouse, her small fingers steady and sure.

The damage is in the part of the brain that sends messages to the muscles. The messages are short-circuited, garbled, not unlike the messages I’m given about CP. It’s barely noticeable. Why do you walk like that? There’s nothing you can’t do. Here, let me do that for you.

My friends dance beneath twisted paper streamers. A boy takes the chair beside me, straddles it backward, compliments my eyes. We sip watery Coke until the Bee Gees give over to Bread—Hey, have you ever tried / Really reaching out for the other side. . . —I hope he doesn’t notice my limp as we head toward the floor, think I see his smile flicker but I’m not sure.

Gabrielle Selz
9/13/2009 2:43:56 PM

Ona, I love this piece!