I sat in the auditorium of the Anne Simley Theater at Hamline University along with my graduating class of July 2017. Beside me, my crew of three ASL interpreters got ready.
A team of three interpreters was needed because they worked long hours, from nine a.m. until five p.m. and often into the evening. They took turns interpreting for me. These three particular ASL interpreters worked with me throughout my Hamline experience. They were my “crew.”
“Reid, Christy,” the director of the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (MFAC) program called.
As we stood to begin our journey to the stage, a faculty member began reading an excerpt from my creative thesis The Hunter.
“… Another string and another balloon, hundreds of balloons, floating…”
Being deaf and using a cochlear implant, I still couldn’t hear her voice. I concentrated on the task at hand.
Brenda Needham, one of my crew of interpreters, walked on my left holding my elbow, while Claire Alexander, a second crewmember, held my right elbow. Meghan Devlin, the third crewmember, strode ahead of us, pushing my rollator walker. My legs wobble like a newborn colt’s due to ataxia and I couldn’t walk without support. But determination spurred me to proceed up to the stage.
We reached the few steps that led to the side of the stage. Brenda and Claire steadied me as I slowly climbed upward while Brenda bent down and placed my foot on each step — having severe neuropathy, my feet are numb and I couldn’t feel the steps. I also have very little functional vision and couldn’t see them, either. I am deaf, blind, and mobility impaired.
Meghan carried my walker up to the stage. Arriving at the top, I sat down on the seat of my rollator and she rolled me towards the waiting faculty. Because I couldn’t visually read ASL, Claire signed into my left hand.
I received my graduate cape and many hugs and claps on my back. The program director handed my diploma to me and gave me a huge, heart-felt hug. I hugged her back. Even though I only communicated with these people through my ASL interpreters, I knew them. We had worked together. They had become an important part of my life— I had learned so much from them.
I received the letter of acceptance in May 2015. Thrilled that I’d been accepted into the MFAC program, I was also scared. At age fifty, it had been thirty years or so since I was in school at Gallaudet University. Back then, I didn’t have wobbly legs or numb feet and I had more vision. A rare genetic disorder caused ataxia and neuropathy to develop and now, I couldn’t get around on my own in unfamiliar places. But I had braille skills and a strong desire to succeed.
Still, the letter said I would need to arrive at Hamline University campus for the ten-day July residency. I could stay at an apartment in the dorm on campus and eat meals in the cafeteria. How was I going to manage that? My husband, Bill, couldn’t stay with me— he needed to be home with our two sons.
I sent an email to the assistant dean who oversaw the logistics of residencies and asked if I could do it online instead of going to the campus.
“The director is in Europe right now, but I don’t think so,” he replied. He encouraged me to meet with the director of the office for students with disabilities and to check out the dorm.
I made the appointment and we went to meet the director of the office for students with disabilities. He scheduled an ASL interpreter for the meeting. While there, I also met the assistant dean of the MFAC program who would play a key role throughout my Hamline experience.
“The important thing is to read all the workshop pieces and write comments before residency begins,” he told me.
The director of the disability office arranged for a staff person to show me the apartment in the dorm. We rode a golf cart across campus to the dorm. I liked the apartment — small, simple, with a full kitchen and a bedroom next to the bathroom. I could handle living there for ten days.
I returned home feeling a bit reassured. Everyone I had met was so friendly and eager to help. I wanted to do my very best.
Christy Reid lives in Faribault, MN with her husband, two of their sons, and their cats. She earned a MFA In Writing for Children And Young Adults in July, 2019 at Hamline University. Follow her on twitter: @bluebellbuzzard.