Annie has more challenges than most people. In the high school choir, where I play the piano, Annie sits beside me in her wheelchair. No, she’s not paralyzed; she can move all parts of her body. In fact, she can use her foot much better than most people because she has no arms or legs. She was born with scoliosis, or a curved spine, as well as with limb deficiency. She lives with a lot of back pain, but I never knew this until I asked her about pain. This past summer, she had two surgeries to put extender rods in her back.
Annie is 16 years old, a Junior in high school, and lives with her aunt and uncle, Richard and Debbie. She has two sisters that are older – Desiree and Danielle. She spent a few of her early years in foster homes. Her favorite classes in school are Advanced English Placement and Choir. I’m glad Annie is in choir and that she sits right beside me, where we can talk occasionally. I really admire Annie for her courage, sense of humor and strength of character.
I was curious to know what she is not able to do for herself, but first asked what she IS able to do. I was amazed at the list: eat, get a drink, write, study, cook, use the microwave, put on make-up, brush her teeth, take her glasses on and off, get in and out of bed, walk, type on a computer, skateboard, swim, dive, play Nintendo, turn lights on and off, go in and out of the house, play pool, babysit, ride a horse, open a pop bottle, turn the pages of a book, walk her dog. Nearly all of this is done with one foot, or with her mouth. As I expected, the list of things she cannot do was much shorter: dress, personal hygiene, drive a car, open jars, do the laundry. However, she fully intends to do all these things some day, and I’m sure she will. Basically, she learns to do everything on her own She said to me, “If I can’t do it, I figure it out.”
Debbie has raised her like her other daughters. “Annie knows what she can and can’t do,” she said. “She knows her limits. I don’t try to hinder her from doing things.” When she was little, Annie saw a Barbie Jeep that she wanted at a garage sale, but Debbie wasn’t sure she could drive it. “If you can figure out how to drive it, I’ll buy it,” she told her. It took about ½ hour, and Annie was driving it to the car. It takes time and determination, but Annie has that inner desire to solve problems. “We don’t try to limit her on anything – if she thinks she can do it, we try to put her out there and let her figure it out,” said Debbie. In third grade, Annie was mad because they wouldn’t let her drive a four-wheeler (the other two girls did). Finally, they said, “Annie, if you can figure it out – go ahead!” I believe she drove that 4-wheeler.
There was one other big accomplishment about that time of her life – in 3rd grade, she asked the school not to give her teaching aids. The aids were trying to do too much for her. She wanted to learn how to do things on her own, and she has done so ever since. What remarkable courage and stamina!
That’s not to say that life has been easy for Annie. I asked her what is the most challenging thing for her, and she said, “Everything.” What is most frustrating? “The fact that it takes me longer to do new things – it takes a while to figure things out.” The way she is treated by others is also very frustrating. She doesn’t have many friends in school; only about two or three of the girls in choir even talk to her or acknowledge her presence. She admitted, “People treat me differently from others, like I’m mentally ill or like I’m a germ. Adults are worse than children.” Once, in a store, a mother covered the eyes of her children so they wouldn’t see Annie. How do you think that made Annie feel? She left the store in tears.
In 6th grade, Annie and her family appeared on the Mauri Povich Talk Show in New York, but it was a devastating experience. They advised the family to cry, and act like life was horrible. They were demeaning to them and tried to write the story of Annie’s life in their own way. She only wanted to show how well she has adjusted to life; how happy and normal she can be. “Yeah, I may look different, but I’m just like everyone else. People should be friendly, and not treat me like I’m different – not make it more noticeable than it already is,” she said with a hearty giggle.
I love and admire Annie so much, and wanted you to know her as I do. Click here to read the second half of this post and click here to read Annie’s oratory about discrimination against disabled people.