Grace eludes you

I leave the restaurant after the sun has set. Rome is dark. I’m tired and need the shortest route to my hotel so I cut down a dim alley. The road turns rough. I trip along the way. I keep my head down, eyes squinting at my path, and so I don’t see the men first but hear them. They’re laughing. I move to one side of the alley and they move to the same side. I step the other way and so do they. There are four of them. I hear one speaking to me, but I don’t know what he is saying.

Their interest in me, their sound, turns me stony. I open my mouth and out comes not words, but strained guttural notes.

One man jogs past to stand behind me. Another puts his hand on my shoulder and backs me up, toward the wall, toward his friend. His friend is tall. They want to take my picture standing next to him. I’m short, a dwarf, which is funny, hysterical. I’m not real. Just a strange thing in the alley. The flash of their camera. I freeze. Then I’m back in the dark.

When I was a teenager, a man once watched me going up some stairs and he said, “Grace eludes you.” I seemed to be struggling, which struck him, I suppose, as ugly.

Does this man remember what he said to me? Does he return to the memory each time he sees stairs?

I still — two decades after this man watched me walk up the stairs — step aside to tie my shoe to allow people to go ahead of me. I fake phone calls so that others will walk up without me. I pretend to wait for someone who isn’t coming. I bide my time, clinging to my weak ruse of self protection, until no one is looking. I do not climb stairs until I can do so unobserved. I’ve never stopped preparing for the next person who will see me walk and deny me grace.

The way words stay, the way sentences stay, the way memories invade my present, the way a stranger looks at me and speaks: shards that become a mirror.

In Rome, men block my path. They are drunk. The tall one wants to leave, done with this picture project. Another man drops his phone. His friends laugh at his clumsiness. One taps the other’s chest and just like that they’re distracted by a new plan, a diverting interest, and they leave me without further incident and carry on with their night, never to think of this moment again.

Chloé Cooper Jones, Easy Beauty: A Memoir (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, April 5, 2022)

“I am in a bar in Brooklyn, listening to two men, my friends, discuss whether my life is worth living.”

So begins Chloé Cooper Jones’s bold, revealing account of moving through the world in a body that looks different than most. Jones learned early on to factor “pain calculations” into every plan, every situation. Born with a rare congenital condition called sacral agenesis which affects both her stature and gait, her pain is physical. But there is also the pain of being judged and pitied for her appearance, of being dismissed as “less than.” The way she has been seen—or not seen—has informed her lens on the world her entire life. She resisted this reality by excelling academically and retreating to “the neutral room in her mind” until it passed. But after unexpectedly becoming a mother (in violation of unspoken social taboos about the disabled body), something in her shifts, and Jones sets off on a journey across the globe, reclaiming the spaces she’d been denied, and denied herself.

Comments

  1. Oh man… this sounds like another to add to my TBR list.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had to come back. “Grace eludes you.” has remained stuck in my head. I am so often taken aback by things one human can say to another. It reminded me of a former co-worker who joined the company after having surgery for throat cancer (she was all of 25 and had never smoked a day in her life). Her scar across her throat was still rather raw. One of the directors looked at her and said: “They really did a shitty job with your scar.” and walked away. Noelle was left dumb-founded, needless to say. She told me her retort of “But I survived!” didn’t come till way later so she muffled it. I can never forget the cruelty.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Right between the eyes….usually not my genre, but I think I’ll have to get this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How wonderful that becoming a mother gave Chloé courage! She’ll be more fully accessible to her child…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Grace eludes you!? If she had thought to say it, she should have told him “Good manners elude YOU.” Also, she should know better than to take a shortcut through a dim alley. But I do sympathize with her – the challenges she faces to deal with scorn, pity, scrutiny, all of it. Good writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sounds insightful and inspiring. Will need to read!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reading this made me nearly sick. To see to what our world has come; how insensitive and impolite ppl have become. And yet….. I know of myself to have spoken words that gave my ‘vis-à-vis’ a terrible impression. And I know I didn’t mean them in that way they were ‘received’. But that’s just looking for excuses. Hurting somebody in ANY way, be it with words, or deeds, is wrong! And I’m happy for this wonderful writer that becoming a mother has changed her denial into ‘I can do’. I wish her the very best for her future, her and her child and family.
    (I know a bit something about this ‘classifying’ of people through being friends with children big and small who live with ADHS, autism, aspergers, Down syndrom etc. All that, the understanding, handling, how to approach them was a huge learning curve.)

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Why oh why don’t folks understand how piercing their words can be? Sounds like another ‘must’ for the queue, pal.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. How raw and disturbing.
    Stick with James Nestor. At least we get a sense of control in our own lives 💛

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Just re read about her journey. Now that is something 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I have spent much of my community work life advocating for people like Grace. If it is exhausting for me, I can only imagine what it is like for my clients. On my to read list for sure. Thanks for sharing! 🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Wow. I wonder how many times I see a man shaking in need of a fix or a mama with babies and something other than a card like mine to pay for groceries that I (of course) don’t say it, but maybe my eyes do…”grace has eluded you.”?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Oh. My.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Anonymous says:

    “She resisted this reality by excelling academically and retreating to “the neutral room in her mind” – I so understand Chloe’s retreating into the inner workings of her mind. For me my brain would tingle & hurt as the pain moved deeply, inward, with each Soul impacting insult, delivered to me. I am so Proud of Chole for recognizing her worth and for finding her inner and outer strength. She grew into a capable, loving person and mother. She has passed on to her child a strength, love, passion for life. Assume a forgiveness, in the ability to Rise Above.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. what a beautiful person. she is so much more fully developed than most people who have typical bodies, i’d say she is the epitome of grace.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. How many of us aren’t seen for who we are, walking around in life aware of the dichotomy between what is hidden and what is apparent. My heart hurts at the thought that anyone would be able to steal another’s grace. In her words there is grace, and pain and coping mechanisms that she has a perfected…and a powerful urge to rail at the insensitivity of others while returning grace ti her beautiful spirit,

    Liked by 2 people

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