Leaning against a pair of crutches in the back of Ms. Tyler Stewart’s classroom, sophomore Mary Hart subconsciously stares at her feet as I interview her. As we talk, I also notice her feet, a shiny gray Sperry boat shoe on her right foot and an unsightly black, heavy ankle brace on her left.
Her slow, soft voice pauses for a moment as she makes eye contact and smiles at fellow sophomore Julia Hammond, who sports a similar boot from an unrelated incident. Mary adjusts her leg so that the weight of her body lies on her uninjured foot.
She recaps how it all happened. The horrific sound of her ankle “cracking” after she tripped over the ball during a practice drill for JV soccer. The painful moment after she tried to stand back up, but her leg started shaking and she fell back down. The embarrassing scenario when she had to be transported from the field to the school trainer via an old wheelchair that her teammates found at the TNT sale. The “cussing rant” that resulted when she decided to sit through the rest of practice after her injury, because she didn’t want to call her mom, who Mary knew would “totally freak out”.
When I ask her about the worst part of being a cripple, I anticipate an answer about not being able to fulfill her role as the JV goalie, having to be in constant pain, and perhaps just the inconvenience of having an ugly boot strapped to her leg for four weeks. Instead, she can come up with only one thing.
“Yeah, like the worst part is the baths. Yeah, definitely having to take baths…they’re so nasty, like I mean, I hate baths.”
Sort of confused, I let out one of those tentative, awkward “heh, heh” fake laughs, assuming she’s trying to be sarcastic or funny. I wait for her to tell me her actual answer. Come on, I thought, this is an interview for the Dart. Just give me answers.
Instead of describing the disadvantages of her hairline ankle fracture, she proceeds to tell me it’s actually not as bad as I might think, smiling as she continues.
“Come on, Sara. It’s pretty nice to make people do things for me all the time. I always have personal assistants around and people to give me sympathy.”
This time I realize she actually is serious, so I laugh for real, not too tentatively. She describes how she uses her injury as a way to force her nine year old sister to clean out her car, muddle her way out of a three page essay, be late to every class, convince her parents to exempt her from daily chores, and have random strangers hold the door for her.
“No, like, honestly. So many people are so much nicer to me now.”
I wonder to myself, why would people suddenly like you more just because you have crutches? Before I can ask her, she laughs softly, and resumes her theory.
“I’m pretty sure it’s ‘cause everyone wants to ride the elevator with me.”
It’s clear to me now that despite the fact that while most teenage girls would be completely mortified about such a serious drawback, Mary “[doesn’t] really even mind it that much”.