Another child is dead. Another parent is getting sympathy as if the life of her beautiful Disabled child meant nothing.
We are told to walk in their shoes, the parents, the murderers. Over and over the pattern repeats. Their shoes, their excuses, are flung around, insulting the memory of the deceased. Nobody cares about the victim’s shoes. They are Disabled, they can’t have shoes, they can’t have value. They don’t deserve to live.
In 2012, Melissa Stoddard died. (TW, child abuse in that link) She was Autistic and her father and stepmother tortured her to death. She was eleven. Others spoke of her passionate and enthusiastic nature. I always wanted a daughter, and I always thought if I had a daughter, she’d be a lot like Melissa. Maybe that is why I think of her so often.
Of all the murders, of all the names on the list, Melissa Stoddard has been the one whose face I see most often. Descriptions of her make me think of my own son, but also of me at her age. Pictures of her haunt me, her eyes so large, so pretty and seem so full of curiosity and wonder. I have a hard time looking people in the eye, but I think that eyes are gorgeous. Dark brown eyes like Melissa Stoddard’s eyes, so bright and beautiful. Her smile makes me think it would be hard not to smile back. Impossible, even. I see her face a lot. And I am not normally good with faces, with recognizing people, especially those I don’t know in person. Her face though, it is one I will never forget.
Before Melissa Stoddard was brutally murdered, I cared about disability issues. I cared about autism acceptance. I talked about neurodiversity, I talked about a better way to parent Autistic children, more respectful ways to think about Autistic and Disabled lives. I cared a lot. But when Melissa Stoddard was murdered, something inside of me changed.
I knew that talking wasn’t enough, but I didn’t know what to do to help make the lives of Autistic people better. It was too late for Melissa Stoddard, and too late for so many others.
My local community is very small. The library that I run is even smaller. There are times when nobody wants anything to do with what I am offering, which is acceptance. It’s what I think is a better way. Learning from Autistic adults, learning from Disability activists and advocates who have been changing the world behind the scenes for so long. Most people don’t know anything about Disability History. They know even less about such things as Disability Pride, Disability Justice and Rights. Many people even laugh at me or tell me I’m a terrible mother for teaching these concepts to my Disabled son. Because to them, disability is shameful, it must be “overcome”. To me, and to my son, it is a source of pride. And I know it can be to you, to your kids, to our communities.
I get discouraged at times, because these ideas are still seen as somewhat radical. The negativity I face, it does hurt. A lot.
The times I get discouraged, I see Melissa Stoddard’s face. I will always see her face, because her life mattered. I see the faces of so many, and now I will see the sweet face of London McCabe too. I wish I had seen their faces as adults, as activists, as advocates, or just as everyday people who are living their lives the way they wanted to.
But I can’t.
And that breaks my heart every day.
Their lives deserve to be celebrated. I want to live my life honoring theirs. In my own small way, I hope that I am able to do that, but I know that it will never be enough because I can't bring them back.