By Tanya L., 14
LA Youth, Los Angeles
I was born with a physical disability. Three of the fingers on my left hand are very small. It’s hard to hold things, like my tray at lunch, and I need people to help me to do stuff like make my bed and carry my laundry basket.
In elementary school, the kids would tease me about my hand almost every day. I used to go home and tell my mom the kids were making fun of me and cry. My mom would meet with my teachers to try to solve it, but it didn’t help. The kids just thought I was a snitch.
What made me feel worse was that my dad left when I was a kid. I thought he left because of my hand. I thought nobody loved me. Sometimes I prayed, “Please God, make me a new life.” But it didn’t work.
When I was in fifth grade, the kids were saying a boy wouldn’t like me because of my hand. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I went up the stairs, walked to the railing, and was about to jump. The school therapist ran over and said, “Calm down, everything’s going to be all right.” It made me angry. I didn’t believe him. Then the cops came and grabbed my wrists and helped me down.
I went to a mental hospital for two weeks. When I left, the hospital recommended that I go to a new school. It was smaller. I didn’t get teased, and it was fun. For middle school, I went to a special ed school. I liked it at first. Then after a month, the kids started being mean. The boys would say, “Look at her hand. She’s weird.”
I didn’t talk to anyone about being bullied. I never told the teachers, because I didn’t want to be called a snitch again. When my mom saw I was sad and asked, “What’s wrong?” I would say “Nothing” because I didn’t want her to talk to the principal. But I wanted to talk to someone. I felt like I was trapped. Then I had to go to the mental hospital again.
I stayed there for a month, then went to a treatment center where I couldn’t leave the grounds. I was scared about being in a new place. I pulled the sleeves of my sweater down to hide my hand or kept my hand in my pocket. A few weeks later, I told the kids, “I’ve been teased a lot,” and I showed them my hand. They asked me what happened. I told them, “I was born this way.” They didn’t make fun of me. They said not to worry.
Even though the kids were nice, I really wanted to go home. I missed my mom. I could see her for only three hours a week. It felt like jail. One day I drank shampoo and started vomiting. Another time I ran out the front door. I got across the street and the staff caught me.
I went to court, and the judge said, “You’re not going to go home if you keep doing this.” I decided to start doing good because I wanted to see my family.
The staff was there for me. They helped me express myself in words instead of going off and yelling, hitting people, and running away. Having support from the kids helped me, too. We had group meetings where we talked about our problems. We would stand up and hold each other’s hands. The kids held my hand and squeezed it. It made me feel like they weren’t scared of me and supported me.
A few weeks after I’d gone to court, my therapist recommended that I be allowed to go on visits with my family. She said I had improved. The court said OK.
After I had been there a year and a half, the staff said I was ready to leave. They said I’d matured a lot. They found me a group home with fewer restrictions. If I do good, eventually I’ll get to go home.
Now if people ask about my hand, I say that God sent me like that. When someone teases me, I ignore it or I stand up for myself. I’m not embarrassed anymore. I accept myself now. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. It doesn’t matter how you’re born or what people think of you, what matters is what’s inside.
© 2009 L.A. Youth, the newspaper by and for Los Angeles Teens, http://www.layouth.com.