86: Moving Forward in Reverse

86: Moving Forward in Reverse

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Moving Forward in Reverse

The excursion is the same when you go looking for your sorrow as when you go looking for your joy.

~Eudora Welty

I was full of joy and caught up in my thoughts, so I didn’t have time to react to the two girls who came sauntering around the corner, engrossed in conversation. I stumbled to my right, trying to avoid a collision. But I wasn’t fast enough: our shoulders jostled and I staggered sideways.

“Excuse me,” I called as I righted myself.

The girl I had bumped gasped and lifted one pink-manicured hand towards her friend for balance. “Ew!” I heard a voice cry behind me. I started to turn, curious what had caused her disgust.

“That man with no hands touched me!”

I froze. Her words seemed to reverberate towards me and through me. I was the thing causing her disgust, despite the appearance of the girls, with their bleached blond hair and overdone make-up.

Shrinking in on myself, I put my head down and subconsciously pulled my myoelectric hands towards my stomach. My emotions shut down. Sweat began to break out across my forehead. Fight or flight? Fight or flight?

I felt my heart race and dove for the sanctity of my office. The door was locked. I fumbled with the keys in my robotic hands. It took too many tries and too much concentration to single out the correct one. A screech like the yowling of a cat emanated from my hands with every motion of my fingers. I shied away from the sound, recoiling at the way it seemed to echo down the hallway. Once I had the key pinched between two fingers, I fought to navigate it into the keyhole and turn the lock. Without the use of a wrist, it was a trying feat on the best of days. And today was not the best of days.

Where had my confidence gone? I felt deflated and traumatized by what had just happened. I could feel the eyes of the other students on me, staring at my mannequin-like hands, judging me for my incompetence and handicap. I felt utterly inept and completely isolated.

When the key finally slid home and I managed to turn the latch, I rammed my shoulder into the door with unnecessary force. I stumbled across the threshold and quickly shut the door behind me, locking everyone else out.

My hands were shaking as I set the key on the edge of my L-shaped desk; my legs wobbled as I lowered myself into my chair. The only sounds were my panting and the creak of the hands as I laid them flat across my legs. I looked down at my lap, staring at the off-colored rubber that hid the metal fingers beneath. My handicap. Just when I thought I had made real progress in overcoming the hardships and self-consciousness having no hands or feet caused, something happened to knock me back down again. Hearing her words forced me to glimpse into the mirror reflecting my shattered self-image, and the broken figure I saw revolted me.

Maybe this is the new normal, I thought as I stared at the white, concrete wall before me. The rest of your life is going to be spent as the object of other people’s ridicule. Might as well get used to it, buddy. No one likes a handicapped person. Children gawk at you; adults avoid you; teens scorn you.

I lowered my chin to my chest and closed my eyes against my unfair reality. From a successful collegiate soccer coach and player to this: Could life take any larger a turn for the worse? Six months ago I would have gone out to the soccer field to kick the ball around after something like this. But six months ago I had hands and feet and “the flesh-eating disease” was a term reserved for medical dramas. Now it was the illness that threatened to deprive me of the thing I loved most: soccer.

Playing soccer had been my greatest form of expression — my art form. A soccer field was like a blank canvas and the ball my brush. With them both I could create any masterpiece I dreamt of; I could funnel my emotions into the creation of my design and leave them on the field when I was done.

Now I couldn’t even take the ball for a walk like I taught kids to do.

At least you still have a coaching career. This was true. I was still coaching and I still had my team. It seemed that was the only positive thing left in my life. But one positive is still better than none. As long as the players needed me — and hopefully wanted me — I would give them everything I had. Their canvas would become mine and I would teach them to paint like Jackson Pollock. If the rest of the university campus wanted to fear or ridicule me, so be it. I was a thirty-five-year-old man. I could handle a little bullying.

That was the last time I let myself think about the torments that threatened to pull me under. I put everything I had into developing the soccer program. I was able to recruit a few more strong players and implemented a new playing style to make up for our lack of a pure scorer. Long hours in the Soccer Office and as an Assistant Hall Director left me mercifully little time for self-pity and reminiscing.

It may have been avoiding a problem rather than confronting it, but I found that focusing on the good things I had going for me was better than worrying about the countless things stacked against me. Coaching was something I could excel at with or without hands and feet. As long as I was on the field or thinking about being on the field, I forgot that I had lost so much: I wasn’t The Man with No Hands or severely handicapped; I was just Scott Martin, coach and mentor. The longer the hours I worked, the more time I was able to live as only Scott, and the less apparent my poor self-confidence became.

My dedication paid off when we cracked the Top 10 ranking nationally that season and I was nominated for National Coach of the Year. I reveled in my team’s success and realized it didn’t matter if I wasn’t the man I used to be on the outside, because I still had it on the inside. Life wasn’t perfect: I still missed playing terribly and regularly dreamt I was running — more than once I woke after kicking the wall because I was playing soccer in my dream. In some ways, losing soccer was more devastating than the loss of my hands and feet. I could forget that I was handicapped at times, but I could never forget my longing to run the ball down field or the devastation at never being able to play as a part of a team again. But loss is a part of life and those who choose to focus on what is lost lose sight of what they have. And I still had a wonderful thing — myself.

~Scott Martin

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