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.