I'm an unpleasant person. Though awestruck when I read personal essays about disability—the adaptation and triumph, the wryness, the discipline, the intelligence, the deeply held wisdomI leave the pages wretched, as though face-to-face with an unknowable language, since all THIS bitch thinks about every day is what a mess disability leaves and how much work it is to clean up. For the sake of color and charm, let me illustrate.

1. It's Sunday in the park with him and every single goddamn path is on an incline. I think this must be impossible (in the hard light of science) but every fucking inch of this hellish path around the lake is uphill. More irritating are all the overly vivacious joggers giving us a thumbs up, eyes shimmering with warmth of heart because they have (through their tax dollars) welcomed the differently-abled and hope we're thrilled to have lake access via circumnavigation of this pitted, pitched path. I'm screaming at them (in my head) THAT'S FINE IF YOU CAN AFFORD A POWER CHAIR TORQUED INTO OFF-ROAD MODE, BUT NOT SO HOT IF YOU DO-IT-YOURSELF—or are being pushed (that would be by me) uphill in every direction.

2. He is never out of discomfort, but some days the pain index shoots through the roof. This is one of those days. We visit the doctor (a path oft-trod) and a hospital procedure is scheduled, IN PREPARATION FOR WHICH he is to take several different emetics AND is required to drink 10oz. of water every hour on the hour for twelve hours. (Keep THAT plate spinning). Since so much is out of our control, I hold dear the belief we should control what we can. To which end I'm beside myself with glee when I find ONE DOZEN 10oz. bottles of spring water! FURTHERMORE, I computer label each with big black drinking times9am, 10am, 11amyou catch the plot.

When he returns from work that day, after assuring me (several times) on the phone that he's being diligent with his water, he leaves his bag on the chair (which I promptly rifle through) and I pull out 1pm and 4pm unopened! I nearly pass out from rage. I'm tight-lipped the remainder of the day and into the evening. I even retire early to avoid him; I do not trust the things that are on the tip of my tongue. For his part, he makes several timid overtures, but I meet each of them stonily.

At some point in the middle of the night, I wake up to visit the bathroom. On my way there I see he's lying in the hall. The few hours of sleep have nudged my fury aside and I ask him if he's alright. When he mumbles noncommittally (refusing to answer, it seems to me), I step over him and walk into the bathroom. It's fitting to be getting a taste of my own; I was in a snit dishing out the silence, so he is responding in kind. (Additionally, I have noted to myself that, whenever I'm angry with him, he becomes extra shaky, tending to trip and fall a bit moreas well as wax moronic, "HONEY, IF THE COMPUTER'S NOT ON AND I WANT TO TURN IT ON, WHAT DO I DO?" Which is to say, there's always SOME little thing when I'm angry with him.)

After bathroom business, I make my way back, stepping over him again, and return to bed. Awaking the next morning, the hospital procedure heavy on my mind, I discover him right next to me, snoring. I later find that the cat had revived him by licking his butt with intimacy.

3. He is taking a taxi home from work. The route necessarily includes one of the three steepest hills in the city. Eying the meter, but only halfway up the hill, he realizes he has insufficient funds for this trip, and (waving his cane) informs the driver of such, though assuring him he will be able to procure the remainder at home. The driver slams the car to a stop and tells him to get out there, and then speeds off. He crawls (that's right, on all fours) up the hill. Eventually, he reaches home. I suggest we get him a cell phone. He says he gets along fine without one. In my mind, I am thinking of rolling him down that hill.

4. We are out for dessert with friends. There is much frivolity, both in the café and in the parking lot. As I sit in the car and turn the key, I am SO busy laughing (and being subtly irritated that he couldn't keep up with the walking over the uneven pavement, down the steps and over so great a distance) that I forget he is still trying to get himself in the car. I forget this as I take off. Everyone is screaming. I can't figure out why they're upset. Then I realize I'm dragging him through the parking lot and, THEN, I'm even angrier with him for being so slow to get in.

5. We're visiting the Arizona Desert Museum. It's many miles outside of town. The morning's paper said it's the hottest day of the year (BLISTERING, EVEN FOR TUCSON!). At the front gate we are given a choice in wheelchairs: standard hospital issue or streamlined, highly flexible electric carts. He selects the manual version. (My head is flying off my shoulders.) We're in the middle of the desert (natural habitat in spades) with no shade, no rest area, no handy caféand he wants to wheel himself. It's not really that kind of chair under the best of circumstances and you may be suspecting that these circumstances are not those.

The path is said to be asphalt. We quickly discover it is in poor repair and most often simply sand and gravel. Of course his shoulder blows out after two minutes of trying to wheel the dinosaur uphill and through gravel/sand. I'm putting on a good face, twittering that the desert is lovely, if a trifle warm, and keep offering to push, which he will have none of because people will think he's disabled. (My head explodes.)

After another five minutes he can't move at all and the heat is blistering and, no matter how much he shakes the chair or tries to force the wheels, it remains immobile. So I declare Martial Law, take over and start pushing the chair through the habitat, pointing out all the factoid placards. He asks every ten seconds if this isn't too hard on me, what with the heaviness of the chair, the dune-like nature of the path and the sweltering heat. I keep it chipper, despite the fact that we are becoming more and more exhausted and desperate.

The Museum signage is frequent and informative, indicating the various wildlife we are spotting. Soon we know all their names. We know how they operate in packs. We know they're carnivorous. We know how they hunt. We know how they tend to focus on the weakest member/s of any possible prey, the ones who look like they're having trouble getting by. I grow considerably less chipper when I notice that the wildlife is enacting the described predatory behavior, approaching us more and more closely with (so it seemed at the time) relish and appetite. They know, hands down, they've got him, but they may grab us both if I don't high tail it out of there. To our mutual surprise (and in spite of hefty temptation), I find the strength of Samson and begin a frenzied push back to the entrance gate. He wonders why I am rushing past all the animals. Am I not enjoying myself? I lose connection with reality.

6. Home is a lovely thing. It can also be an easy and controlled thing EXCEPT for the fact that he blithely wanders through the pristine leaving chaos and debris in his wake. I employ several tactics to remedy this. I smile warmly and clean up/put away with no real thought of it. I smile warmly and clean up/put away while thinking rather a lot about it. I smile thinly and restore while resenting and tacitly rehearsing saucy remarks. I make exasperated sounds as I grab his shit and throw it in a corner. As I snap clothes, scrape dirty dishes and slam drawers, I tell him it would be a helluva lot easier on me if he would not throw his clothes on the floor or leave his crap wherever he happened to be.

Finally, he goes too far, and there I am standing in the kitchen doorway, in an apron, brandishing a rolling pin and screaming YOU LEFT YOUR GODDAMN WHEELCHAIR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LIVING ROOM.

Silence covers the earth. We know a line has been crossed.

It doesn't really matter what straw broke this back, or how exactly we got to this place on this day, but we look into one another's eyes, catch the tail end of whatever soul dares to remain, and begin to laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

We can smell our parents in the room, and their parents and, maybe, everyone's parents. And everyone's life.

It's a strange place we've got to. It's a hard place, with thorns. But, it's our place. Owned. Cherished. Guarded.

© 2004 Larry Connolly
Illustration © 2004 Mark McBeeth, IDEA | MONGER


 

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Larry Connolly writes fiction.
He lives in San Francisco.

 


 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/September 2004