The Friendship Decade

Greetings, Internet! I thought about doing one of those paragraph-long Facebook posts that recaps 2010-2019, but then I thought, “I have a blog! I should do one of those posts where I ramble and get all introspective for several paragraphs.” Also, one of my new year’s resolutions is to publish at least twelve blog posts in 2020 (probably including this one), so I should really get on that. 

I’ve yet to come across a social media post that underplays the significance of how the past ten years have impacted whomever did the posting. This is not shocking. Ten years is a long time. That’s a PhD and/or a post-doc right there. Heck, within this past decade, my sister met her future husband, married him, and now they have a one-year-old who is definitely more intelligent than she lets on. I have friends my age who finished college and an additional degree or two, are working, have gotten married/engaged, have said goodbye to beloved pets, have relocated, or are living their lives and looking back just now to realize that quite a bit has happened.

For the most part, I don’t enjoy looking back at the January 2010 version of myself, because I can’t give her a hug. She’s stuck in a house in southern Brooklyn bundled in Stuyvesant track hoodies and Facebook-stalking the people she wished were still her friends, but who most definitely have moved on from her. She’s pining for a guy who basically implied to her about a year prior that if he were in her situation, he’d kill himself. Her blood pressure plays games with her in the morning, and her bladder has an agenda of its own. A doctor told her to watch out for pressure sores everywhere, and so, just to be safe, she wears shoes and pants that are a size too big. She can’t be alone with her thoughts at night, so she watches SportsCenter to help her sleep. Her family is trying to help her, but the post-injury life has been hard on them, too. The gap year ends and college begins in the fall.

Day one of freshman move-in, I remember (and I think I’ve mentioned this in a blog post before) sobbing in my bathroom and asking my parents if I could leave, because I was so worried that high school was going to repeat itself. Students were going to see my wheelchair, get uncomfortable, and then I’d be stuck eating lunch in a corner of a humanities building to prevent any awkward encounters.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t taken that gap year, and had started college on time instead. To be clear, I think dealing in counterfactuals is a terrible idea because you never know what would’ve happened one way or another. I also know that if I started on time, I would have been physically unprepared (much of my gap year involved Push to Walk, but more on that in another post). But I know that starting a year later meant that I would meet an entirely different group of people, all of whom would be introduced to post-injury Val. How would they react if this was the only version of me that they knew?

I remember how shocked I was the day that one of my not-yet blockmates texted and asked if I wanted to hang out with her in Boston. Me? With you? You want to be seen in public with me? And hang out we did. I thought she was just trying to be nice. I mean, she was and still is as friendly as a Disney princess, but she wanted to be my friend. It doesn’t sound like a radical notion, but I had spent the previous year relatively friendless and the companionship came as a bit of a shock.

Blockmates Holiday 2011
The first blockmate holiday picture ❤

I also somehow befriended a group of people who lived two floors above me in my freshman dorm. I honestly do not remember how this happened, but I am eternally grateful that it did. Maybe they let me sit with them in the dining hall on more than one occasion and someone got my number? They would later text me when they were going to the dining hall for meals, and at first I thought they were just being polite. Then one day it hit me that they wanted me there. We’d hang out on weekends and some of us would stay up until 3am watching YouTube videos.

During spring semester (so, technically 2011), I ran into a couple friends from this upstairs group while they were on their way to buy a birthday cake for another group member. Her birthday was three days before mine. I had been invited to the birthday party, and so I offered to pitch in for the cake, but was refused. I remember thinking, “Oh silly Val, they really were just being polite this whole time. Maybe they felt obligated to invite you to the party.” I went to the party later that night, only to find that the cake was to celebrate my birthday as well, and that’s why I wasn’t allowed to pitch in. Oh silly Val, they wanted you there.

Me Tasha Birthday 2011
They like me! They really like me! (And I love them 3000, but that goes without saying)

The fall of 2010 is also when I realized that I didn’t just have a casual obsession with the Middle Ages via Monty Python. No, I needed it in my life (bye, law school). And the medieval community at my college was all for recruiting undergrads to the dark side (light side? You know, it was never made explicit whether my professors were Sith lords, or just exceptionally good at Jedi mind tricks). My thesis advisor often forgot that I used a wheelchair, because he would ask me to do things that were physically ridiculous (e.g. check out a 12-volume Old-French-to-German dictionary). I nearly got trapped in the bowels of Widener three times, and once nearly fell off a half-floor in the stacks. I mean, if you’re going to become a ghost, the main university library is the place to do it. But still. Something about the dangers of research and the high expectations that professors placed on my work made me feel like a nerd again. And now I’m riding that nerdy wave into a dissertation.

Looking back, I don’t think I realized how much I still needed to process my post-injury life in 2010. I was so insecure about how other people saw me and about my own capabilities, and I definitely still am insecure in many respects, but not nearly as much as before. I count myself lucky that 2010 was the start (and in a few cases, revivals) of some of the best friendships I could have hoped for, and that they’ve continued to grow. I also found a professional goal to latch onto, and guidance to be my best nerdy self. I know that resilience has been getting a lot of airtime recently, but I don’t buy into the theory that any one person is resilient. I never could have been resilient on my own. I needed people. And I am so grateful that they were there.

Other things have happened from 2010-2019. I glowed up, for sure (thank you, YouTube beauty addiction). My pants and shoes now fit the way they’re supposed to. My blood pressure and I mostly get along now. The same could be said for my bladder. People have tried to faith heal me, but I find that I prefer plain old exercise more than anything. I moved to NYC and have no intention of leaving anytime soon. I became an auntie (just to repeat, to a girl who is absolutely brilliant and knows it). My writing has gotten published, I’ve presented at conferences, and I passed my general exams last spring. I haven’t hit every goal I’ve set, but things are moving along. Here’s to keeping them moving in 2020 and beyond.

Thanks so much for reading! If you’re interested in reading more about the life of a PhD student with paralysis, then please feel free to subscribe!

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