top of page
  • Audrey T. Carroll

Broken Patterns

Updated: May 3


figuring out where to put my cane when it’s not in use. In my classroom, I memorize the spots where it’s the least likely to fall and interrupt my lessons with a thunderous thump. In my car and my apartment and my office, there are designated places for it, like a holy object. As I sat next to my husband on a Friday night, waiting for comedian John Mulaney to come on stage, I had with me a purse, a jacket, and a new red oak cane that I’d bought with some birthday money from relatives. When you’re in tight quarters in a folding chair on bleachers you’ve never sat in before, situating a cane can take some trial and error. Luckily, I was able to set my cane next to me in my seat so that it lay flat against my hip. All this to say: I was diligent in not letting it get in anyone’s way.

A young woman sat next to me as I fought against light sensitivity-induced migraines from the neon bright screens hanging from the ceiling. People, as a general rule, think they’re much more subtle than they actually are. To me, the woman leaning over to talk to the man next to her was barely worth observing; staring at me when she first spoke was odd. But most uncomfortable of all was the pointing of her finger up and down the length of my cane, tracing it in the air, as though I might not get the sense that she was noticing my difference, something that, in the past, has resulted in pitying, ignorant remarks about my appearance and/or my disability. As some small mercy, she didn’t say anything directly to me. 

But it made me think of days earlier, a Tuesday morning. I took my two-year-old daughter to the library for stories and songs and crafts. She ran around with the other children at the end. I came over to supervise her. Usually, I’m seated, my cane tucked under my chair away from little toddler hands eager for a new weapon. But right then, standing, I needed my cane. My daughter was running and giggling. The little girl currently with her, maybe two or three years older with a tutu-ed Minnie Mouse dress that my daughter loved, stopped cold in her tracks. As my daughter kept up the Wild Thing routine, the girl looked at my cane, looked up at me with a scrunched-up face, looked down at my cane again. 

And then, as though prophecy unfolding, I saw her look to my daughter and her expression changed, some kind of skepticism present there. It was one of my worst fears made manifest—my daughter being looked at differently because someone had noticed my difference. It was a moment that I had envisioned, feared, since she was born. The second half of the prophecy has my daughter look at me differently when someone else confronts her about my cane and its oddity; luckily, this particular Tuesday is not that day and the children go on to play in peace. I don’t know if this little girl had ever seen a cane in use before, but she was innocently noticing a difference, a break in the pattern of life. We’re hardwired to notice difference. I wish that I could say it was a teachable moment, that she had asked about my cane and I explained the beauty of variety. Difference, after all, is not the problem—difference linked with derision is the problem. But I’m sorry to report the teachable moment didn’t happen, either. 

About six weeks earlier, while walking from my car to my office, I noticed a young man staring at my cane. He slowed down as we neared one another, his head tilted to a full forty-five-degree angle. I, too, slowed down, anticipating a comment. And he did speak. He said that my cane was beautiful and asked about the craftsmanship, so I shared with him the wood type, the handle’s material, what the ring was made of. When he had no more questions, he ended with “Sorry to bother you!” and walked in the other direction. I called after him “It’s not a problem at all!” And as I continued to my office, a certain lightness in my chest, I found myself wishing that strangers noticing my differences would always be so genuinely pleasant an experience.


Audrey T. Carroll is the author of the What Blooms in the Dark (ELJ Editions, 2024), Parts of Speech: A Disabled Dictionary (Alien Buddha Press, 2023), and In My Next Queer Life, I Want to Be (kith books, 2023). Her writing has appeared in Lost Balloon, CRAFT, JMWW, Bending Genres, and others. She is a bi/queer/genderqueer and disabled/chronically ill writer. She serves as a Diversity & Inclusion Editor for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies, and as a Fiction Editor for Chaotic Merge Magazine. She can be found at and @AudreyTCarroll on Twitter/Instagram.



Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page