“Un paso más Noelia, se que lo puedes hacer,” my uncle told me as I stumbled and waddled towards him with a wide smile on my flushed face, the afternoon sun radiant over our yard in the Dominican Republic. With every step I took, my smile widened and the feeling of satisfaction in my heart grew. Then, the inevitable occurred: I fell and could feel the cold ground colliding with my body as a painful cry escaped from my mouth.
Most people have no memory of learning how to walk. They fill this void in their lives with baby pictures taken at just the right moment and vivid stories told by their nostalgic parents of those beautiful and carefree days. I can’t say the same thing, for learning how to walk remains one of the most memorable and painful experiences of my life. I can recall sitting on the porch of my small, bright pink home, a cloud of humidity resting in the air as my mom picked up toys. One at a time, she would identify their color and shape in a thick, smooth Spanish accent as I listened on. I couldn’t have been more interested in the sea of toys that laid scattered around me. All I could manage to do was stare off at the busy street. Occasionally, fast cars sped by but most of the time the young kids in the neighborhood stood jump roping in the street. Like a flower dragged by the wind, their feet jumped, skipped, and hopped without the smallest sign of effort. A strong feeling of envy developed inside me-- for I wasn’t like those kids. I couldn’t place one foot in front of the other to get somewhere. The disability I was born with was like a chain, twisting my legs inward and holding me back from taking on the world. I was restricted to seeing the people around me stand up for what they believed in while I felt cemented to the ground.
I held on to this belief until my uncle opened my eyes to my own potential and told me he was with me in this fight. Every day, my mom would wake me up from a deep sleep and drop me off at my uncle’s house, kiss my forehead, and remind me to stay strong, then hurried off to work. “During your time here, I promise you will learn to walk, Noelia,” he told me the first day I arrived. Day in and day out, my uncle would force me to take an extra step. He fashioned homemade stilts and a wooden cast to help straighten my legs. It was painful and I fell often but the day I was able to walk across the room alone to join him on the couch remains a milestone in my memory. To an outsider, I am sure it seemed like a small step; to me, it was the beginning of a new life.
Today, I can walk strong and able without a second thought. When I dance to a soft tune or I run in the basketball court, I can see my uncle looking down on me. The legacy he left after his sudden death lives on every day I am on this planet. He has taught me to believe that anything is possible and has encouraged me to be a helping hand to my peers and the people around me.