Last weekend I did something I have been afraid to do since becoming an amputee and joining the wheeled warriors of the world:
I wheeled my ass into a huge crowd of ablebodied people who were neither expecting to see a person in a wheelchair nor mentally and socially prepared to deal with one.
I went to the Parade of Lights downtown.
I don’t know about your town or city, but mine can get ridiculous at times with selfish, rude, and entitled behavior around the holidays. I saw it before, back when I was happily one of the taller versions of womankind wandering the world, ablebodied and elven, never needing to ask for help reaching things, able to look over the crowd and down on the world, and pretty difficult to miss, especially when I was dressed to kill and wearing amazing heels. Then I became wheelchair bound and discovered that people are far less jolly than I realized when I was tall. As I wait for prosthetics so height can become my normal again, I’ve had my entire view of the world changed significantly.
I feel at this juncture it is fair to warn you that despite my every attempt to find humor in what I experienced last weekend, I have been unable to do so.
Snark. Frustration. Sass. Annoyance.
When I got downtown I started looking for a handicapped accessible spot. Every spot was taken. I’m the kind of disabled justice warrior that pays attention to whether the person in the handicapped spot has a license plate or placard indicating disability. I can share with my peeps: you got there sooner because you planned ahead, sure you’re able to walk, but you are legit and I can deal. I cannot share with the kind of selfish asshat that thinks it’s no big deal to park their ablebodied selves in the handicapped spot because they’re in a hurry (I was late leaving work and I really need to get dinner going for my kids), they’re feeling sick (no really, the flu or a really bad cold makes you disabled), they’re only going to be 5 minutes (I mean, it’s only 5 minutes right?!), or it was the only spot near their destination.
This weekend the excuse given was that it was a special event and so since normal parking rules didn’t apply they thought the handicapped parking rule was one too. Plus they had a car full of kids. And disabled people don’t go to special events or anything like that. It’s really remarkable they let us out in public at all, to be honest!
My hand to God:
If you’re one of those selfish, ablebodied, asshats that EVER parks in handicapped spaces when you’re not disabled, you need to stop.
You also need to pray I don’t catch you because I will lay into you with the most incredible ass chewing that you won’t be able to sit for a week or look yourself in the eyes in the mirror for the amount of justifiable shame you will feel for taking that spot away from someone who really does fucking need it.
The same ass chewing will happen if you block the wheelchair ramp.
Or use the handicapped bathroom stall because you don’t want to be close to someone else when you wee.
Or push past someone handicapped getting on an elevator because your lazy ass doesn’t want to use your perfectly functioning fucking feet to walk up the stairs but somehow finds enough hustle to vault my wheelchair to get into the elevator.
Basically, if I catch you being a selfish and obtuse ablebodied jerk, I will make you cry.
Some things I can wait on Karma and God to sort out, but this isn’t any of those things.
So, there I was downtown circling every block seeing handicapped spot after spot being occupied by vehicles showing no accessibility placard and I felt my heat rising. “Not today, Gwendolyn, not today! The cops are busy anyway and you can’t get them all!” After spending more time than was reasonable searching and being too stubborn (I know you’re all surprised by this news) to wheel an extra 7 blocks from where there was street parking to the Parade, I turned the wrong way down a blocked off one way, pulled up next to a handsome police officer, rolled down my window, and let my Southern out:
“‘Scuse me, offic-ur?! I’m hopin’ y’all mite-could hey-elp me. I’m wheeeelcha-yer bay-yound and I ha-ave been drivin’ around jest lookin’ for a spot I can park iyen but they-yer jest doesn’ seem to be any-ol-spots ley-yeft. I don’ sup-pose yew know whey-yer I could park?! Dew yew?!”
He smiled sweetly, pointed to a handicapped spot inside the no go zone, tore the paper off the meter, and told me he would make sure I didn’t get a ticket.
“Thank yew! Yew are jest so swe-et! I don’ know whut I woulda done without yew!”
From there, I went to the Parade and into the unknown… at bum level. I know I have said it before but I’m going to say it again:
Being at the bum level of most of the rest of the world is unpleasant in layers that can only be described as onion-like.
In the first layers of this issue lie the facts that one’s head and face are always at the level of everyone else’s bathroom bits… and there are times when one may be horrifyingly aware of the lack of hygienic care given by others to their bodies. Smegma has a pungent and distinct odor. Men who have deployed around other men who didn’t take care of their *business* know even better than I how bad it can be, but consider the following: if I can smell it in 20 degree weather from a foot and a half away through 3 or 4 layers of warm clothing, it’s really bad. If you don’t happen to know what smegma is because you haven’t played Cards Against Humanity with someone who follows the rules for unknown vocabulary during the game (Rule: Google image search the word you don’t know) and choose to Google it yourself, I will not be held responsible for the vomit that is sure to cover your keyboard half a second after the results load; just accept the explanation that smegma is like very smelly belly button goop but that appears in private bits of the the very unhygienic person (particularly males).
Going a little deeper into the onion of fun there is the issue of quite literally being overlooked and therefore being ignored, missed, or tripped over. I was tripped over and toppled in a grocery store once before by someone who couldn’t see me (at least that is what was said) and I have learned how to handle being tripped over since then so that I don’t end up in a pile on the ground. This weekend there were a dozen times at least where someone was backing into me that I was both yelling and tapping on a shoulder trying to get their attention as they pushed me around with their body and I deftly avoided kissing someone’s ass. It took other people, people with height, to point down at me before I was seen. Usually when this pointing happened there was the apologetic face and moving from inside my bubble to allow me to move on… but not always.
As much as being overlooked, missed, and ignored are frustrating, the deepest layers of this onion of fun are when I’m not missed at all but instead flat out mistreated. I was stupefied by the number of times people looked right at me having walked into me or pushed me into an uncomfortable position only to continue to do what they had been doing without ever acknowledging what was happening.
Imagine, if you will, that you are walking down the street and someone twice as tall as you walked full force into your body, bumping their body into yours repeatedly with the effect of pushing you around with their weight, looking right at you, and never making any attempt to change course or apologize for having physically contacted and “manhandled” you with their body. How would you feel? Violated, that’s how, and incredulously annoyed.
You’d think to yourself, “Self, NEXT TIME back away, and move with a purpose!”
So the next time that body bumping behavior began you began to back away… but what if someone continued to walk into your bubble as you backed up and did your best to avoid contact to the effect of them backing you into a corner or doorway all while looking intensely at you? Sounds fun, right? What would your reaction be after you’ve been backed into a literal corner and the person towering over you became incredulous because they want to be in that corner or doorway themselves but you’re unable to move? Mine was to be stuck, use strong words (not too strong though, there were children), and have a puss-face. There was that. That definitely happened.
You know when you’re walking and someone walks into your side accidentally and they apologize? It didn’t happen like that this weekend. Multiple times people stepped in between my small front and big back wheels with their obnoxious ablebodied feet, walking right into me while I was moving (and while I was busy not tipping over because I learned that skill), having the effect of getting their toes run over. Who is at fault in such a case? Every one looked at me like I was the asshole. If you t-boned my car by failing to stop at a stop sign, whose fault would it be? Mine for being in the intersection or yours for not stopping? The same logic would seem to apply but apparently I was the only one who thought so.
None of this is to say that this type of behavior was the norm for the throngs of people at the Parade.
There were very polite people who saw me and moved when they needed to, who would offer to walk in front of me to part the seas, who were friendly and jocund, and who would (with their family and friends) make a way when there was none for me otherwise because, “Baby, it’s the holidays! Don’t they know Santa is watching?!” In fact, most of the people I encountered didn’t give me a second glance but also didn’t give me any reason to feel uncomfortable. Those who were gracious and lovely were almost as prevalent as those who made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe, but it was those bad eggs whose behavior ruled my experience.
To be completely honest, I have never felt so claustrophobic and anxious in my life. It is already uncomfortable to have gone from being 5’9″ flat-footed and over 6′ in heels (which I love to wear more than is reasonable) to sitting at the level of my own little tush when I’m that flat-footed me. To be pushed around, slammed into, ignored, backed into a corner, and glared at was uncomfortable enough to make me wonder if I was ever even remotely like those people.
So here is my request for you:
Don’t be one of those toads that made me wish I hadn’t gone out, be one of those lovely people that made me glad I did.
And please, don’t park in the handicapped spots. It’s just about the only thing we get that you don’t get but want. Let us have them!
If you have two legs that work, use them. There are plenty of us who would trade if we could.