It was a miserable September afternoon, the 19th if I’m not mistaken, and I was sitting in the Hilton Hotel in Kilmainham with a man I’d only met once before, having coffee in the middle of the day. Sounds sordid, but I assure you it wasn’t. It was purely business. You see, I’d written a monologue and I was due to perform it in the Mansion House at a massive disability event on 23rd September, but something about the piece felt hollow, and so Peter was trying to encourage me to inject a bit of personality into it.
‘Who is this character?’ he demanded as we reread the script, me eyeing him warily. Surely he wasn’t suggesting that my perfectly written script required an overhaul, four days before the bloody event?
‘What do you mean? It’s an everyman-type character.’
‘Well, where’s she from at least?’
I knew the answer to this. ‘She’s from Kinvara. My aunt lives just outside it, in the Burren. What I’ve always found interesting about Kinvara is that it’s in County Galway, kind of on the Clare border. I thought that it’d be a good metaphor for this character, who’s stuck between having a disability and needing services to live independently, and being capable in so many ways too. She’s confused and angry about how society defines her.’
‘And if she were an animal, what would she be?’ he asked. He’s lost it, I thought. Finally I answered:
‘A caged tiger.’
‘And what is it that fuels her anger?’
I composed a perfectly generic answer: ‘The way in with society treats her like an ‘other’ and as I said before, confusion about her place in society.’
Peter wasn’t happy with my answer. ‘Be more specific. What fuels your anger?’ A lump formed in my throat.
‘The way I was treated after my daughter was born.’ As I told Peter the story, my heart broke in the same places it did nearly six years ago when I found myself trying to convince medical ‘experts’ – as well as myself – that I was a capable mother. After I finished, Peter grinned.
‘Now that’s a story worthy of drama.’ I went cold. Was he seriously suggesting I get emotionally naked in front of two hundred people?
He certainly was.
And so, on the 23rd September, I performed a monologue that I had co-written (I don’t normally write in collaboration, but it’s time to open up my mind to new experiences) in front of two hundred people. And since 3 December marks International Day of People with Disabilities, I thought it would be appropriate to share it with you today.
Rachel from Kinvara, by Peter Kearns and Sarah Fitzgerald
(Rachel is sitting in a chair and a woman dressed in a white coat is sticking labels on her – scrounger, handicap, vulnerable, waste-of-space etc)
Go away. I said – go away.
Just five minutes. five minutes – that’s all I ask.
And don’t worry, I won’t forget I’m not ‘normal’
I can’t forget – I’m not allowed to forget – we are never allowed to forget!
Well I wish I could forget you… this horrible pain you’ve inflicted upon me…
But you don’t understand. I tried – I did my best…
Yes – yes I did…
people never get to hear my voice…
You say it’s because ‘they’ – those ‘mainstreamers’ – won’t understand me.
Instead you encourage them to pity me, to try and ‘cure’ me….
I am broken because you have broken me.
You told me that the only way that my life could be better
was if I improved, if I made the effort…
You promised me if my impairment were cured, that I could have everything…
I did the exercises – stretched on the hard, sticky medicine ball and I endured your prodding and poking, cutting me open and sewing me back together and – Look at me!
What do you see when you look at me?!
I don’t know how you look people in the eye…
Convince them that you know what’s best for me…
Convince me -and them – I know nothing about running my own life…
Will you be the one to bend down and kiss me on the cheek
And stick me into a Galway or Clare nursing home
Take me out to your AGM – that once a year ‘thing’ that makes you feel good
And then store me away like normies store their Christmas decorations in the attic –
Never to be seen from one end of the year to the next?
Am I starting to sound like a broken record?
Normies think that it’s okay that I have to give twenty four hours’ notice before using public transport?
That I would rather laze around on benefits than contribute to society?
Loads – I’ve shitloads – Loads to say… but hey…
It’s easier to believe I’m a freeloading scrounger rather than someone, who could be… someone….
Actually I am someone. Seven years ago I became a wife and two years later I became a mother. But you couldn’t let me have that, could you?
Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.
You told me that I would be a danger to my own baby.
And… even after doing all the ‘normal’ things – the Leaving Cert – battling access in an inaccessible college – being a wobbly yummy mummy was taking that mainstreaming that little bit too far.
I caught you spying on me while I struggled in the playground with those shitty nappies, staring while I tried to breastfeed – your stares dried up my milk, your judgement lessened my embraces.
I felt worthless, damaged. For a long time you led me to believe I was not a proper mother.
Do you know how good it feels to have proven you wrong?
And how degrading it was to have to do it in the first place?
I have a daughter, she calls me mummy
I care for her, not the other way round. Of all the labels you’ve placed on me, it’s my label – my favourite.
She is my proudest achievement – my legacy.
And you won’t ever be able to take that from me – would you – could you?
So here I am… in Kinvara… neither Galway nor Clare… neither specialised nor mainstreamed – literally ‘idir eatha’ as the mystics would say, ‘between worlds’ – the hard world of your anxious clinical society and a place I know in myself, in the unfolding mystery of my daughter…
… and her name is… (lights down)