There are a few freshmen in the building who have dubbed me: “Zombie Girl,” but actually, my name is Katherine Hill. I was born with cerebral palsy. (Don’t worry; I’ll save you the trouble of a Google search to try and figure out what that is). Cerebral palsy is a (non-contagious) disease that affects one’s ability to move and balance themselves correctly. It originates in the brain and is caused by abnormal developments like a premature birth or lack of oxygen at birth for a prolonged period. There are five varying stages of it. Believe it or not, I consider myself to be one of the lucky few with a type that does not render me completely immobile, unable to communicate, or dependent on aides or technology advancements. For this reason, my parents have me walk to and from school, on account of the fact that we live conveniently close by. I have made that short walk ever since freshman year, and have never faced any issues.
But after school on Wednesday, September 29th, I crossed paths with a Mishawaka freshman who I had never seen before. Her name remains forever irrelevant to me, and this is why: I crossed the street to home while she stayed at the corner to record me. Her video, which she later posted on Snapchat for my friends and me to find, highlighted the scissor-like way in which I walk, comparing it to a zombie in the caption. Don’t get me wrong, now that I think about it, this was a creative name. It was one that I hadn’t heard before, which meant, as my great friend Isabelle Bradley put it,
“They had to put effort into insulting you. You stayed in their memory; they spent time thinking about you.”
The event may have occurred nearly a month ago, but Bradley’s adamant advocacy for me is what motivates me to tell the story.
“Don’t ever downplay a thing like this,” she encouraged.
While I do not like to be confrontational, I am fed up with the lack of tolerance that some people possess. The saddest part is that I’m used to insults like these, but I draw the line when you record me. At that point, I have physical evidence of your harassment and don’t have to rely solely on what I hear people saying about me in the hallways, (yes, I hear you!). This is my way, my secure platform, to educate those who refuse to educate themselves, to make sure that a thing like this doesn’t get downplayed any longer, and that it doesn’t ever happen again.
I was born with cerebral palsy, but having lived with it for seventeen years, and due to the wisdom of one great teacher, I have learned some lessons about my diagnosis. The disease does not affect my ability to feel all of the love, pain, happiness, and anger that life has to offer. I was born with cerebral palsy, but the disease does not affect my ability to comprehend, to understand what is being said to, or about, me, and to formulate a response. I may walk differently, but that doesn’t mean I’m retarded by default. I was born with cerebral palsy, but the disease does not affect the fact that I have a firmly cemented support system and a memory that seldom forgets. Those who think otherwise should reevaluate themselves and their levels of patience, empathy, and self-security, because that’s a “you problem”, not a “me problem”. Unfortunately, this op-ed will probably never truly resonate with the people who need to hear it in order to create a more compassionate world, but that’s not to discourage its potential and significance. You never know what words, or actions, are capable of.
I am halfway through my high school experience, having remained silent and timid for the first half. I mistakenly thought my silence was for the greater good. But now, I see that I have a voice that is worthy of being heard; it’s well past time that I use it.
And to the other freshman girl who made this comment the day after:
Good luck surviving the apocalypse! “Zombie Girl” is hungry.