I ate out last night with a friend in a cosy pub. Anita and I go back many years. We met at a club when we were in our early twenties. We both loved dancing and quickly developed a funny little duet. Last night we reminisced and thought back to when we were slim and could dance the night away. When I met Anita for the first time I didn’t notice that she wore a false arm. She was born with one shortened arm and no hand, but her left arm is normal. In fact many weeks went by before I noticed her disability. When I think of Anita I don’t think of her as disabled. It’s her lively, bubbly personality and interesting conversation that I think about.
Last night I told her about my new book, ‘Every Father’s Fear’ and how I approached the issues surrounding the character, Toby’s disability. When I asked her what things were like for her, growing up with the use of just one arm I realised that actually my approach to writing about Toby’s struggles was pretty accurate.
‘If you were born disabled you just get on with it,’ Anita said. ‘You learn ways to cope and deal with peoples’ attitudes towards you, but if you had an accident which led to your disability, that’s very hard having to adjust to a new way of life.’ Anita made me think of a chap I met last week who had stepped into the road and got run over. It was a hit and run. He broke his spine and is now in a wheelchair and at just 41 he’s living in an old peoples’ home because there was nowhere else with the right facilities and support. That driver went home, his life was unchanged, but his recklessness destroyed somebody else’s.
Like Toby’s parents, Rona and Bill in my novels, ‘Every Mother’s Fear’ and ‘Every Father’s Fear’ Anita’s parents tried to make her independent and helped her to be strong-willed and to think for herself. She’s a very resourceful lass and thinks her way around every tricky situation. Years ago she moved out of her parents’ home into a flat on her own and the first evening she fancied beans on toast for dinner but had no idea how she was going to open the tin. So she knocked on the neighbour’s door. ‘Would you mind opening this tin?’ she asked. After that they became good friends and helped each other out. ‘If you are disabled you just have to ask for help and most of the time people are happy to help.’
‘If you can laugh at yourself,’ Anita said, ‘it makes people feel comfortable with you and at ease. You must be able to talk about your disability. That’s absolutely the key to getting through life.’ Anita told me about some funny things that had happened to her and how she coped. A guy pulled her arm off during a disco. Her friend said, ‘was he trying to ask for your hand in marriage?’
‘I prefer people to ask me about my disability rather than just stare.’ I like Anita’s approach to her disability but some disabled people might find this too intrusive and personal. Everybody is different.
Like Toby in ‘Every Father’s Fear,’ Anita said she experienced bullying and nasty comments at school. She was called the one-armed bandit and other silly names. And incredibly she still experiences appalling behaviour even now as an adult living in 2020. There have been occasions when people have stared and pointed at her. And one day as she was queuing to go through the barriers on a London tube the woman behind her said, ‘I would have thought with your problem you’d be prepared.’
Anita is such a positive person. She has never let her shortcomings get her down and she is a lesson to us all.
Life is a struggle for some, but it’s interesting to learn how those people cope. Thank you Anita for sharing your story with me!
‘Every Mother’s Fear’ and ‘Every Father’s Fear’ are available on Amazon. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Every-Parents-Fear-2-Book/dp/B084KZ8NCB/