BEFORE

IT MATTERED

by T. J. Boothroyd
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You enter the room. You see me. Our eyes meet. I don't know what it is, but you smile. You notice that I am with a group of people, but none of them are sitting close to me, not as close as you would like to be. You smile again, and you see me return your smile. Your smile brightens your eyes and everything around you.

You notice one of my friends looking at you with a coy grin and you know you're safe. You walk towards me, still checking out the situation. There seems to be something there. And you have that . . . look.

Is something floating through your mind? Do you have that odd feeling inside, that flutter? My God, you're nervous. You're worried about saying hello to me. What's happening? Could this be . . . It?

You reach my table and, standing across from me, looking straight into my eyes, you manage to say hello. Someone offers you a chair and you join us. You share some small talk with my friends and within a few minutes you think, Nice people, a lot like your own friends. As we talk, you begin to feel as if we are alone. My friends, understanding the situation, start wandering off.

You finally get to sit beside me where I'm backed into the corner. What is it—my eyes, my smilethat first brought you across the room? Our conversation stays simple: jobs, my dog, local restaurants, movies (we are both movie buffs), my classic Italian convertible. You, it turns out, have a passion for back-road driving through the mountains.

You think: I like himwell spoken, stable, nice guy, probably a great guy. You smile again and I feel something inside. Nice guy, I think, smart, attentivegreat guy.

What is it about your eyes that makes my heart skip? Could this be It? Could you be . . . Him?

Have you taken a good look at me? Have you noticed? Of course you have. How could you have not?

My friends keep wandering by, keeping an eye on me. They care, they love me, I am their rock. I am always there for them and tonight they are here for me. We sit and talk, we laugh, we make each other smile. As you reach for your drink your hand touches mine. My heart skips a beat. Are the planets aligned? Are the stars out tonight? This doesn't happen to me, I am thinking, as you think the same.

My friends start wandering back, and one of them asks if you want to dance. You turn to me and say Come on, let's. As my friends start joking that you'll never get me on the dance floor, you reach for my chair, you tell me to come on. And then your fingers feel something: and it is not my chair. It is my tires.

Five seconds ago you were smiling, five seconds ago I thought you had noticed. Five seconds agobefore it mattered. Say something. Say anything. And then you do. You apologize. Oh God, not that one, not the Pity Look.

You're looking past me now, not at me, as you tell me that you need to go, it's getting late. You head for the door, glancing back just once. My friendsgotta love 'emknow that I have to get out of here, so I give you a few minutes to be gone, then head for the door. When I get outside I see that you're standing there, and there's nowhere to go but past you.

A friend on his way in stops to say Hey, and I do my usual, pop back on two wheels and spin. OK, I may be a cripple but I am a cripple with style. I tell my friend I'm heading home . . . and I pop the curb.

And then, still not looking me in the eye, you find your voice: "Can I help you to your van?" Thanks but no thanks. And I don't drive a . . . van.

You follow about five feet behind me (figures that you're parked so close). You watch as I take my wheelchair apart and drop it into the back seat of my VW Beetle and I think, Don't worry about it, everyone stares when I do this. But if you're going to say something, if you want to say somethingsay it now!

I start up my car and back out and there you are, standing by your car, just standing there, with that look in your eyes. I ask if you're alright, and you say Yes. You apologize again, and I tell you it's cool, don't worry about it.

I lie. But hey, I don't want you going home feeling as bad as I do.

©2003 T.J. Boothroyd


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T. J. Boothroyd has been a C7 neuro para for the last six years. He is single, lives on his own and works fulltime. He enjoys waterskiing, downhill skiing, sled ice-hockey, and is learning to fence. He volunteers at the Patricia Neal Center in Knoxville, TN.


 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/March 2003