The Others

Recently I was walking on the platform at a subway station.  I didn’t knock into anyone, nor did I ask anyone to move.  I just put myself in the queue, like all the other worker bees.  A woman grazed me as she hurried past me, bumping my cane and almost forcing me to fall.  I caught myself while she muttered the following words, “Crap! Why don’t you move your f****** cane.  And get out of my way.”

Taking one’s disability on the road, especially on the transit system, is an experience not for the weak of heart. (No pun intended; apologies to my friends with heart conditions.).  I’ve found that the federal government has helped me by demanding that able-bodied riders give up a seat to disabled riders.  Too bad they couldn’t mandate good manners or a sense of humor, or better yet—patience.

I used to rush around before I was disabled.  I wonder who I ignored in the self-importance of my daily life.  Yes, it’s easy to overlook in the blur of modern society, an entire “other” community of disabled people who are professionals, writers, inventors, artists, teachers, and more.

I’ve figured out that I now do everything too slowly for most people.  Getting up from a seat towards the train door, or crossing a street are huge requirements for my bones.  I am an inconvenience when walking with folks younger than myself sometimes, or business friends who are going somewhere important with very little time to spare, so they tell me.  But when I finally get there, who do you think they remember best?  That’s right.  The lady with the cane!

In my subway station experience, I felt embarrassed for a nanosecond.  I felt in the way and very uncool.  And then I got angry.  All the times I had been shoved aside came rushing to my head.  I struggled over to where she stood.  “What did you say to me?” I asked her with all the depth I could conjure up in my voice, holding my cane like a bat this time.

She was stunned that a short, grey-haired arthritic woman was unafraid of her.  I repeated myself.  “What did you say about my cane?”  She looked away this time, deliberately ignoring me.  I confronted her one more time and said loudly.  “That’s right, you coward!  What you said was very rude.  Leave me alone.  Don’t even look in my direction.  Got that?”  And then I walked away, head held high, with what I fantasized was a swagger, though I’m sure it was only me dragging my bad leg, taking baby steps.  But in my head, it was a swagger.  (And if you’re wondering, nooo, of course, I wouldn’t have smacked her.)

Each morning my hands are stiff with pain, as are my legs and hips.  My body just aches all over.  It hurts to stand, to walk, to sit, and even–to sleep.  Nothing brings me comfort but a pain pill or a strong dose of denial.  And denial used to be the most affordable way to get me through the work day, with the help of my cane and a make-shift walker — but not anymore.  Since I’m now in my 10th year of this physical disability, it’s safe to conclude — I’m disabled.

Everything has changed in my life because of my physical challenge.  No longer do flirtatious women and men offer me a seat just for the chance to sit next to me when I board the train.  It’s all changed.  I have to say, becoming disabled as an adult has been like rediscovering racism, poverty, and the patriarchy all rolled into one.  I thought I had already grown my thicker skin and was done with having to explain why I deserved to live and work.  But it’s a new game with new rules, and one that I’m still determined to win.

Pilar Gonzales, a seasoned fundraising coach and direct marketing copywriter, lives a purposeful life with her family in California.  You can read more about her here

4 Responses

  1. Join the club! I go from nice “old Asian lady” starting with “excuse me, would you please give your seat up?” And when all I get is a frown or dirty look and the person doesn’t get up — and mind you, I have a big blue walker, a basketful of 4 oxygen tanks, and a canulla up my nose! So this is a no joke disability! Then I go into my “civil rights ADA” mode and say in my deepest American soul sistah voice- “it is federal law in case you don’t know it. It says right there on the back of the seat. And if you do not get up in a second, I will sit on you. Watch me.” Or I say something like “If I was your grandmother, I hope you wouldn’t treat her this way.”

    By then the recalcitrant person has gotten a hundred dagger looks and a thousand death wishes (from me); and once, I got a standing ovation! Sorry – after ten years, I do not take sh@&*# from anyone. Young or old, white or people of color. But let me tell you, I’ve never approached a person of color who didn’t get up quickly and said “I am sorry”. And the young ones add “ma’am” I think they’ve been raised well or afraid of their dead grandmas!!! Oye vey…the daily conundrums of disabled people. Again, join the club, Pilar. Thanks for your missive. I would never have thought of sharing this story. Beth Rosale

  2. Beth, I’m still laughing at your chutzpah and loving you for it! And thanks to you, Rickie and Marc, for your acknowledgment. It takes a village ….

  3. Public transit is a BIG challenge with a disability—especially one of mobility. (Though crossing a street can be a big deal, too!—as I found after a severe ankle break that took 6 months of various casts, a walker & physicla therapy learning to wallk again showed me). I am regularly shocked by the RUDENESS of people–of ALL AGES & ALL COLORS. Once saw an African-American teenage girl publicaly humiliate a man in a wheelchair struggling to get his change together to pay his fare. He started apologiziing & NO ONE was saying anything to the young woman loudly berating him so I challenged her–said I doubted her mother had taught her to be so rude & mean to others–then,the bus driver an African-American woman about the same middle-age I was—piped up & told her to shut up or get off the bus. I’ve had people regularly ask me “what’s wrong with your eyees?” or tell me I need new glasses or once an African-American man LITERALLY took the book i was reading OUT OF MY HAND & said since I obviously was ahving a hard time seeing it he’d read to me!!!

    I mention race since the previous poster BETH said her expereince was tha people of color

  4. Clair

    My arthritis was really bad last year (greatly improved with 7,500mg rosehip daily – see Daily Mail articles). Your experience is what happens in urban areas. People are under too much pressure. I moved to a semi rural area where people are much more relaxed. And there were more older people. When people saw my stick they gave me more space and time to move out of the way. You get a lot of rude people in cities .

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