Disability and I: Juliana Que

I am in elementary school, and I love writing.

I write my first novel when I’m 11. It’s very bad, but it’s also a novel, so I’m pretty proud of myself.

My favorite things to write are song lyrics. During fifth grade I write a new song every single week and sing it to my class. In hindsight I will realize these are also very bad, but it will be years before I learn to regret them. I am young and precocious and proud.

One thing I’m especially proud of is how I remember all of the songs I’ve written. No matter how many I write I never forget the lyrics.

I have an excellent memory.

 

 

I am in high school and looking through all of my old writing notebooks. I’m expecting to find some cringe-worthy poetry to reminisce about, maybe realize how much I’ve grown as a writer. Instead I find an alternate version of my childhood.

All of the songs and poems are there, the same as I remember. There is not a single lyric out of place; each verse is one I greet like a longtime friend. But in the corner of the pages are notes, explanations on why I was writing and what I was writing about.

None of these words are familiar to me.

I experience these comments as if they were written by someone else, a stranger’s notes. Reading them, I find many of the pieces I thought were based in fiction were not. There are metaphors that I’m shocked to find the meanings of and allusions that I never recognized. Some topics, like the abuse, are things I know about but do not remember happening so long ago. Other events I remember, but within completely different contexts.

Just as I am realizing what this means I flip to the end of the journal. There, in what is unmistakably my handwriting, is a message I do not remember writing.

“I have been losing my memories,” the page declares. The letters are shaky and irregular, erratic with emotion. An explanation follows, describing the process of looking back through the journals and comparing the recorded past with the falsified one in my head.

A few pages later, written in a notably different pencil, is a similar message.

I put the journal down. There is an emptiness in me that I can’t put into words, despite all my practice with them. Within that emptiness, one thought surfaces: this is not the first time amnesia has rewritten my memories, and from the looks of it, it won’t be the last.

 

I am in college and writing has become the thing that ties me to myself.

I am a published author now. Multiple nonfiction pieces, essays, and poems appear in literary journals under my name. I’m also a performance poet, immersed in the vibrant poetry hub that is Minneapolis, and president of my university’s slam poetry club.

Most of my writing focuses on abuse, mental illness (including dissociative amnesia), and disability advocacy. I’m by no means well known, but I’m well on my way to building some sort of foundation for myself. The goal is that, with a large enough body of work, the future will open up opportunities for me as a disability advocate.

I still don’t have my memories, but I finally feel like I know myself.

I’m still holding onto the old journals, the ones filled with a past I do not know and may not ever know outside of writing. Old diaries and song lyrics have become my history books. I put all of my trust in this younger me, this precocious and prideful and foolish child, hoping that what they wrote down was not just more fictions for their collection of stories. But it is hard to not to believe those words when my brain has repeatedly attempted to rebury them—I am confident now in my identity as a trauma survivor and as a disabled person.

But writing is not just a way to read about myself. And it is more than just a means to an end, a way to get to a future I want to live in. My writing connected me to who I was, and allowed me to understand who I am. Now, maybe more importantly, it connects me to others. My writing saved me; and now as I perform throughout the Twin Cities, I hope it can save others as well.

 

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Follow Juliana on Twitter to keep up to date with them and see more of their work

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