This piece was written by Julie, as part of our 'Disability pride starts here' project.
Julie writes: "This scene is an excerpt from my contemporary YA novel work-in-progress The Map from Me to You. Teddy, a seventeen-year-old teenager with achondroplasia, embarks on a road trip to meet other short-statured individuals who will help her make a life-changing decision about if she should take a drug thatcould make her taller. "
It’s pitch black when we roll into Taree and pull up at the housewe’re couch surfing at. Cars pack the driveway and kerb, and a throbbing bass is coming from inside the house. My heart races. Crap. We chose a party house. I nudge Asher in the side which is our code forgiving each other a look.
‘Yes!’ says Nick, punching the air. ‘A party house! Let’s go!’
‘Wait,’ I say, feeling sick in the stomach, but it’s too late. Nick has already run ahead and is running through the front gate.
‘Teddy,’ says Asher. ‘If we feel uncomfortable tonight, we’ll use the code—I need to use the bathroom.’
We mastered it a few years ago, it fits into conversation easily, and it doesn’t feel out of place.
‘Okay.’ I smile. Asher finds my hand and squeezes it.
We walk up the front steps, and the music gets louder –it’s almost deafening. My heart is pounding. I take a deep breath, and Asher yanks me inside. It’s packed, and I feel claustrophobic. Asher squeezes my upper shoulder. He doesn’t want to stand out with his cane, but mostly it’s because it’s usually way too crowded for him to use it. Nick melts into the crowd, slapping a guy’s shoulder, acting like they’ve been best friends for years. I feel a pang of jealousy—I wish socialising was that effortless for me.
A girl wearing purple star-shaped sunnies is staring at us while talking to another girl. She’s probably gawking at my shortness, or maybe she’s figured out Asher is blind. She walks up to us, so I inform Asher of her presence.
‘Hey, do I know you guys?’ she shouts over the music.
‘We’re from out of town,’ says Asher.
‘Oh, like Wingham?’
‘No, like almost two and a half hours north out of town—we’re from Coffs Harbour. We’re on a road trip.’
‘Ah, cool. I’m Cara.’
‘Yep, that would be me.’
‘We’re couch surfing at your place tonight.’
‘Ahh, cool! Just dump your stuff anywhere. I hope you don’t mind we’re having a party.’ She’s wearing sunnies inside, which makes me think she’s also blind. ‘Do you guys want drinks?’ Before waiting for us to respond, she turns around and motions for us to follow her. The crowd parts effortlessly for her—she must be small-town royalty … or blind. In the kitchen, she opens the fridge and turns to us, waiting for us to respond.
‘Beer,’ says Asher, a safe answer. Is that really the best idea? I pinch him—which is our blind code for ‘glare’.
Cara passes me a Sprite, and then she impatiently holds out the beer can for Asher. ‘What, are you blind?’
‘Yeah, I am, actually.’
‘Oh. I thought you were just another weirdo who was wearing sunnies inside, and I thought we were going to be soulmates,’ she deadpans, placing the drink in his hand.
Asher and I stare at her quizzically, not yet privy to her sarcasm.
‘Jordyn, one of my housemates, used to be colour blind, so I started writing sunnies all the time in solidarity, so I saw everything in the same muted colours she did. But her eyesight worsened due to a genetic condition, and now she’s legally blind.’
‘Aww, that’s sweet,’ I say.
Cara shrugs. ‘Customers also prefer it because they can’t see me rolling my eyes at them.’
‘Can we sit down?’ I ask. I hate craning my neck up at people at parties because I can’t hear them.
She motions for us to lead her down the hall. We arrive in a room at the end of the hall. She knocks twice before peering inside. ‘All clear.’ After we walk in, she locks the door behind us. I lead Asher to the double bed, and we both sit down on it. Cara sits in the hanging egg chair across from us, gently swinging herself back and forth.
I look around the room. There are posters of tarot cards on the wall, and there’s a massive sunglasses collection on display on the dresser.
‘So,’ begins Cara. ‘Where are you guys …’
‘Where’s the bathroom?’ interrupts Asher.
‘Oh. Mine is the first door to your left. You better have good aim and not get any urine on my bath bombs.’
On Asher’s way past, he pinches Cara’s arm.
‘Ow, what was that for?’ cries Cara.
I laugh. ‘It’s our code for glare.’
‘Jordyn’s code is trodding on my foot. The number of times she’s trodden on thin air, I tell ya.’ Cara giggles.
The door clicks shut behind Asher.
‘So, where are you going on your road trip?’ asks Cara, jumping next to me on the bed, making me bounce a little.
‘We’re on a road trip to Shepparton in Victoria.’
‘Ah, cool. That’s the place famous for the weird painted cows, right?’
I laugh. ‘We’re going to the Short Statured People of Australia national convention. My parents think it’ll be good for me to meet people like me.’
‘Cool. I love a road trip. So, this is your first time meeting other short statured people, huh?’
‘Yeah.’ I let out an exhale, focusing on the Wheel of Fortune tarot card poster on her wall.‘I’m finally going to be at eye level with people. Or maybe a bit taller than some people for a change. And there’s gonna be a lot of them. Like … a lot.’ My eyes widen, recalling the afternoon Nick, Asher, and I spent scrolling through photos from previous conventions on the SSPA’s Facebook page – particularly the big group photos.
‘It’s normal to feel nervous, especially since you’re meeting a big group of them all at once. Talk about being thrown into the deep end.’
‘But I always hate it when average height people are shocked when they meet me just because I’m short statured. Like, I’m just shorter than them. It’s no big deal.’
‘Jordyn gets that all the time.’ Cara rolls her eyes. In a high-pitched voice, she says, ‘Oh my god! Blindness is contagious! Stay away from me! Stay away!’
‘And now … now I kind of feel the same way – how they feel about me is how I feel about meeting/seeing other short statured people at this convention.’ I blush, fiddling with the tassels of the blanket I’m sitting on.
‘It seems completely different to me. They’re meeting one person who’s physically different to them in a world where they’re still the majority. Whereas you’re meeting a whole group of people who are like you –you’re gonna be in the majority for the first time in your life. That takes guts. I’d be too scared to even go.’
‘Yeah. I think you should give yourself permission to be vulnerable. I’m sure everyone else in that room will either feel the same way as you or will have felt it before.Your friend Asher seems pretty awesome. And that other guy … the one who started a dance-off?’
‘He seems kind of weird but kind of cool. I think you should let yourself fall back on them for a change. They’ve got your back. And I’ll have your back too.’ Cara smiles.
‘What? You think I’m gonna miss out on an opportunity to see these famous weird painted cows?’
Cara and I laugh, and my smile lingers.
Meet the writer
Julie (she/her) is a short statured writer and editor based in Naarm. She enjoys reading and writing contemporary young adult novels. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) at Deakin University.
In 2022, she received a The Write Space fellowship from Varuna and a Hot Desk fellowship from The Wheeler Centre. She is a hardcover book and journal collector, obsessed with drinking bubble tea, and is an avid oxford comma user.