by Tamara Rozofsky
(Performed in Divercity 2016)
My name is Tammy. I am the second of six kids. I was born in Omaha, Nebraska. Back then, my parents were still new parents and beside themselves with wonder at every little thing their children did. My older brother and younger sister were adorable but until I turned seven, there was no question in anyone’s mind that I was the big deal.
When I was five, I remember we turned on the T.V. and saw that the local news was having a telethon for Cerebral Palsy. (I have C.P. from complications during labor.) My dad watched the program for about five minutes, and then he put me in the car and drove me to the television station. We agreed that I should sing the song from “Annie.”
(As kid Tammy singing):
The sun’ll come out, tomorrow!
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow,
There’ll be sun.
Just thinkin’ about tomorrow…
I forget the end.
The March of Dimes called later that week and asked to make me their new poster child. I was unfazed. Strangers would often come up to me and tell me how beautiful and intelligent I was, and I always agreed with them. “Yeah! I am awesome!”
One time, this man came up and asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, and he actually started crying when I answered.
(As crying man):
“A ballerina? (tearing up) Well, doggone it, Why not?! It’s 1985! Who knows what science might be capable of by the time you’re grown up?! (voice breaking) Keep believing in yourself and there’s nothing to stop you! You can be anything you want to be, kid. (crying) Never give up!”
My dad’s job transferred him to a very small town in Northern Florida called Perry. Sometimes, when I tell Midwesterners that I grew up in the South, I am met with the belief that Florida isn’t a southern state. Whenever that happens, I get a mental image of the huge red jar of pickled pigs feet I saw the first time I entered a Winn Dixie supermarket. It was horrifying.
I started second grade in Perry. The southern accents were too thick for me to understand, and it seemed like the whole town had a mullet. Everyone was related and bored with each other. Once, at a fast food restaurant, an older gentleman turned around and asked my sister and I:
“Pardon me. Y’all look like some nice, intelligent young ladies. How do you spell the word “confederacy,” as in, “Sons of the Confederacy?”
…Perry was the kind of town where people used the word “confederacy” but did not always know how to spell it. The town did have a newspaper and I was still very cute, so I was in it a lot, mostly for singing in talent shows, and once when my third grade class had a fitness challenge. When I finished, the teacher signed me up for an award.
(As Mrs. McClellan):
“Tam’ra honey, bless your heart I am so proud of you! I told I you you didn’t have to walk all those laps with the rest of the class but you did it! With that little walker! It was so brave. You did the best you could. Bless your little heart!”
“The Disney Dreamer and Doer Award” was given out by a celebrity M.C. at a fancy award ceremony in Disney World. Very exciting. Sitting in that ceremony, watching Mickey and Mr. Belvedere hand out medals, I started to notice that everybody else they called up was there because they had done something really difficult or really cool, or because they had worked really hard on a service project. I walked in circles with my friends because it was easier than sitting on a bench by myself.
I made it home and was looking forward to a break from the limelight, but a few weeks later the local Kawanis Club called to say that they were buying me a bike! I had never had a bike! It was amazing: it had two wheels in the front so it was more stable, and the pedals went up and down so it was easier to keep my feet on them. It wasn’t exactly a pink rocket ship, but it was my first taste of independence. Adventure was around every corner— I sold so many Girl Scout cookies that year!
We lived on a dirt road, so I got it stuck in mud and fire ants and the occasional ditch, but I did it with enthusiasm and I did it by myself.
Everybody hits an awkward phase at some point, right? If you’re lucky you can make it at least part of the way through without noticing you’re there. It was hard for me: I mean, I started out as the kid who was so cute that people called me up to give me stuff! And when you go from being someone people buy cool custom bikes for to being someone strangers avoid making direct eye contact with, it’s kind of a difficult transition.
I remember the exact moment when I knew that I was no longer cute. After fourth grade, my family was packing to move to Tallahassee—a much larger city about an hour away—and the Kawanis Club came to my house and asked me for the bike back.
(As Kawanis man)”
“The next kid is going to be glad you took such good care of this bicycle! Don’tncry now. Don’t you want the next kid to get a chance to ride your bike?”
I did not. At nine years old, I felt like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard or Bette Davis in All About Eve. I was an aging starlet realizing she couldn’t coast by on her good looks anymore.
I asked my mom about this a couple of years ago and she explained that it wasn’t me, it was small-town politics: the club didn’t want my family to move away with the visible evidence of their charity. They took my bike and gave it to another local kid, so that Perry could continue to remind itself what a compassionate and generous place it was.
It is fortunate that I am used to the admiration of strangers, because they still congratulate me for no reason. When I was in college, I got into an elevator on campus with this lady and pressed the button for my floor. “Good job!” she told me. At the grocery store another strange woman said, “I’m so proud of you!” when I reached for a box of cereal. I can’t begin to count the number of times passersby have earnestly whispered blessings at me as I am going about my day.
One time, I was singing trashy Loretta Lynn songs at a Karaoke bar when a woman in tears came up to me all choked up about how she had been feeling sorry for herself, but if I could have fun in my condition, what did she have to complain about?!
The Kawanis Club bought that bike, that drunk lady cried when I sang, “Fist City.” People can be assholes when they are uncomfortable and don’t want to admit it. It is easier to be inspired than to be honest about fear.
There is another day in my life that I remember as clearly as the day that I “stopped being cute:” the day that I finally realized it isn’t my job to be inspirational to anyone. Disability is uncomfortable for everyone. But disability isn’t exceptional. That is just the truth. Learning to be honest about that is one of the biggest obstacles I have overcome. You don’t have to be proud of me for that, but I am because I really am pretty awesome.