Last night I went to spend some quality time with some children in not the best of neighborhoods from a lower socioeconomic bracket, sowing wisdom, teaching reading and math, and bolstering self esteem. It was a night like most weeknights for me, filled with the satisfaction of watching someone young blossom a wee bit from learning something they didn’t know, learning the satisfaction of knowing, and being seen and cared for by an adult who sees more than a kid in front of a TV, a test score, or a human being that is disoriented in their world by no fault of their own. It’s impossible to be cranky when I’m with children especially when seeing them learn and become. So when I left, I left happy…
Until I got to where my car was parked.
The first rule of wheelchair life or mobility aid life is knowing where the ramps are between the parking lot and the sidewalk. Handicap parking aside, it’s best to be closest to the ramp.
I learned the truth early on in this journey that being in a wheelchair has made me invisible to a vast majority of the population.
It’s why I have been knocked over and knocked out of my chair in the grocery store.
It’s why I’ve been stopped short by people who are oblivious to the fact that I was rolling through that space.
It’s how I’ve been punched and clotheslined unintentionally.
It’s as if this wheelchair has a cloaking device so if it’s dangerous to be around pedestrians in the chair because of my cloak of invisibility, imagine being in a parking lot. I’ve nearly become a speed bump more than once!
Just as I have a hundreds of times before, I had found the handicap spot right next to the ramp knowing I’d be safely-ish able to get in and out of my car. Just as I have dozens of times before, I got back to where my car was parked to find someone had parked in the ramp.
No big deal… find another ramp, right?
Wrong. There often is only one ramp.
And when there is more than one ramp, there may be a pothole filled or gravely parking lot to traverse…
Or it may be taking one’s life in one’s hands to wheel across rows of cars when people don’t pay attention and you’re invisible.
If it were so safe, why do we all worry about and teach children so fervently to not chase the ball into the street, to stay by our sides in the parking lot, to look both ways before crossing… twice?!
So I got to where my car was parked and I found my ramp blocked by a car. A car with disability tags. For me to get to my car, I’d have needed crutches to crutch down the curb and away from the sidewalk enough to be able to pull the chair to myself without it knocking me over, but I didn’t have my crutches. My only other choice would have been to get off my chair, crawl on the ground, and pull my chair with me.
I live in a first world country with accessibility laws meant to protect my body and my humanity and meant to ensure my ability to be independent in my daily living by making the world accessible to me.
The driver of that car ~ that car with disablity tags ~ left me, another human being with a disability, with the choice to crawl on the ground through garbage, putrid goo, puddles of unknown liquid, and broken glass to reach my car.
Normally when this kind of thing happens I get annoyed, rub my earlobes, say some soothing words (or cuss words, depending), and move on. Normally there’s a way to move on or I don’t have someplace else to be.
Some stranger went inside to find the owner of the car. I watched as he was approached and he waved the employees off shrugging like he was saying he couldn’t care. So I did the only thing left to do other than crawling on the ground: I called the police. People saw. People told that man I made a call.
That was when things got ugly.
This man came out clenching his fists: 6 foot something, throwing his shoulders into every stomped step, and angrily looming over me as he yelled.
He was angry at me.
He yelled that I was starting things and causing him trouble.
He was parked in the handicap ramp, breaking the law, but I was causing him trouble because I needed that ramp and because I needed to call the police before he would move his car so I could use it.
He called me a slur and told me to get my raggedy, crippled, old ass out of there…
“No one wants to see your crippled ass.
“You disgust me.
“No one wants you… cripple.”
To the man who called me cripple ~
I pity the people who call you family.
I pity them because I know we put our best foot forward to the world, masking our ugly bits, and showing the truth to those who love us most, which means that the people who love you most probably see an even uglier soul than the one I did.
So, yes, I pity them.
And I pity the ones who buy into your self-selected victimhood.
They’re probably as miserable as soul as you.
But mostly I pity you.
I pity you for the selfish hole you have where a heart should be.
I pity you for the self-entitlement you use to justify doing whatever you want at the expense of others.
I pity you for the denial and anger you hold that thinks it is acceptable to break the law for your convenience and to blame others when you might find yourself in trouble for your choice to do the wrong thing.
I pity you because to be able to justify to yourself the “rightness” of what you did wrong and in order to feel strong, you had to yell at, try to intimidate, and verbally abuse a disabled woman in a wheelchair…
Knowing all along, according to your tags, you’re disabled too.
I pity you because when I didn’t bite on that bait, when I didn’t flinch at your aggressive posturing, your fist clenching, your chest puffing and shoulder throwing, and when the looming wrongness of what you’d done had already gnawed on your insides while I went about getting calmly into my car, you stooped to the most childish of bullying taunts: cripple.
I pity you because I know right now you’ve told yourself the story of what happened over and over in such a way to make yourself the victim of a defenseless, crippled woman in a wheelchair.
I know you left before the police arrived.
Such a big man you are to abuse a disabled woman and run away.
I know you ran away because you knew you were wrong.
If you were right you’d have no reason to run.
You made it away without a ticket and the embarrassment of being spoken to by the police for being the asshat who thinks he’s more important than everyone else.
That’s fine. I’m not worried about it.
The only cripple between the two of us in that conversation last night was you.
You’re soul is crippled and I pity you because you have no love, no compassion, and no empathy for anyone beyond yourself.