Life is a series of fractures. I don’t just say this because I’ve been known by the somewhat offensive, but warmly meant, nickname of “Gimpy”—after I fell down two flights of cement stairs and busted myself up thoroughly on the first day of class—or because I’ve been known as “accident prone” since I was twelve, injuring myself so often that when I moved back from the East Coast I donated five pairs of crutches meant to be used in different types of weather. I say this, because, in my experience, it is the truth. Whether those fractures be emotional or physical, there will come a time when something will damage you, fracture you, but you will come out of it a stronger and better person.
Bones are commonly believed—but not scientifically proven—to be stronger after they heal from a fracture or a break. Like these healed bones, every person carries the hidden scars of events that made him or her a stronger, more beautiful person who can positively affect others.
Although many events have been significant in my life, I can trace my current path to one moment. I have always been a dancer. It is a well-known family story that I potty trained myself so that I would be permitted to take ballet. After all, only “Big Girls” are allowed to dance. I was the youngest girl in my ballet classes by several years and both the oldest and quietest in school, so I was often teased. But when I danced, the whole world faded away and I was, if only for that moment, wholly alive and the stage was a world where I belonged. My dream was always to be a professional ballerina and much of my life revolved around me going to classes and rehearsals.
In the Spring of my twelfth year, I was two weeks away from getting fitted for the ever-coveted pointe shoes, when I blew out both of my ankles, both knees, and my left hip in one fell swoop. I crumpled to the ground and my life was never the same. The doctors told my parents that the only way to fix it was to break my legs in six places and correct the damage through surgery, resulting in a period of time in a wheelchair, then crutches. Maybe, after all that, I could dance again and reach my goal but they were warned that the surgery and rehab were no guarantee; many companies don’t take dancers with injuries like that. My parents said, “No”—not telling me until I was in high school because they knew I would have begged for the surgery— and I spent the rest of the year in physical therapy, watching the other girls get toe shoes, bake them, gain the calluses and blisters, and use endless rounds of tape and wads of cotton. I had never wanted something so badly, nor had a dream so close without being able to achieve it through my own determination. Physically, I had reached the limit and for years anything ballet-related was painful to the point of tears. However, the anguish of that loss forced me to grow.
Science tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and when I lost ballet, the reaction was astounding. Until I was forcibly removed from ballet, soccer, tennis, and track—in my mind, sports conditioned me for dance—I never considered a career that was not ballet related. That summer, my mother gave me a journal and I went from writing short stories to writing my first novel. I poured my heart into piano and chanting at church while learning everything I could about stagecraft. Once my legs had healed enough, I studied hip-hop, lyrical, and jazz dance. I even joined my school swim team and started working at an afterschool program where I found that I had an abiding love for sharing my passions.
When we moved to California I was fourteen. The first person I met was a boy who belongs to a family of actors, musicians, hospital owners, restaurateurs and everything in-between. They encouraged me to keep on with all of my pursuits and I became progressively more serious, getting involved with every play, competition, and recital I could find. By the time I got around to applying for college I didn’t know what I would be, but I knew that it had to involve the Arts.
During college applications, my mother asked me what I was going to do with my life. I shrugged and went out with my friends. When I came back I simply said, “I’m going to be a teacher” and just like that, I had a new goal. Because of the variation of activities that came from losing ballet, I received the Boston Pops Scholarship, which allowed me to afford Boston College, where I continued pursuing the Arts and became involved in inner-city education.
While teaching inner-city, I found that two things would happen each time I had new students: 1. Some brave soul would ask me if it bothered me that I was the only white person in the room (to which I would respond, “No, does it bother you?”) and 2. The students who didn’t quite fit, were a little different, felt marginalized, or were searching always found me. Being forced to evolve at twelve meant that whatever they were into, at some point I’d tried it or wanted to learn about it. Although not all of my students loved my class, we respected each other and they felt empowered in my room, a fact recognized by those who dubbed me “School Mom.”
In Fall River, we created a family of our own. My English Language Learner classes, dance programs, and involvement with theatre there meant that students who felt lost found a home. Some students saw me from seven in the morning to ten o’clock at night with only certain class times for separation. Those students became “Ms. T’s Kids” and once again, my life was never the same.
In 2009, many teachers lost their jobs, myself included. Most my kids are in college now, some have graduated, and some have even gotten engaged or married, many are parents. I still get regular updates from a goodly portion of them, and regardless of being three thousand miles away, we are still family. For all I lost when my joints blew and all the pain of the injuries since, I wouldn’t For all I lost when my joints gave out and my bones started collecting fractures, I would never trade the life I dreamed of for the one I have.