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Saturday, December 7, 2013

42 The Jackie Robinson Story, Disability and Loneliness

I find a host of black American writers inspiring. I am particularly drawn to Richard Wright, author of Native Son and Black Boy. However, it is Ralph Ellison's searing book  Invisible Man that is hands down my favorite. I have read Invisible Man many times.  One quote stands out and in my well worn copy it is highlighted in yellow and underlined in pen and has large stars around it: 

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.

People never see me. People see a wheelchair. From there they make all sorts of leaps in logic, none of them positive. Tragedy. Illness. Incompetence. Lack of ability. Cognitive impairment and physical impairment. Sadness. Bitterness. Anger. Asexual. Weak. Unemployed.  I need not open my mouth for people to leap to conclusions about my life. The fact none of the assumptions made about me are remotely correct means nothing. As Ellison wrote, the version of me that others create is distorted. When it comes to imagination and disability the results are always negative. I can never stack up to the almighty and powerful bipedal individuals that look down on me and judge my life as not worthy.  There are days I cannot take this. There are days I cannot leave my home. I cannot bring myself to educate the ignorant masses that routinely accost me. There are days when I cannot battle. I have had too many of these days recently. I am not happy and dread the so called holiday season. There will be no cheer in my house. I have no interest in seeing my family. I have no interest in spreading good cheer. I doubt I will unpack the holiday decorations. I see no point in making myself more miserable. I will forego a Christmas tree this year. I will do my level best to avoid people from now until after January 1. Every year it is the same. During the month of December everyone is eager to "help" me.  I am repeatedly told it is "good to see you out and about" as though I am a charity case. 

In an effort to cheer myself up I watched 42 The Jackie Robinson movie last night. Like the vast majority of sport movies, it was not very good. There were a multitude of factual errors. Despite the power of the Robinson's life story the movie was formulaic and overly sentimental. Far superior films exist such as Ken Burns Baseball. Like most Hollywood films, 42 is overly dramatic and covers well known ground such as Pee Wee Reese public embrace of Robinson. 42 does not let the facts get in the way of a a good story. Despite its flaws I liked the film. Robison is obviously the hero of the film--"superman" according to Branch Rickey. This characterization is double edged sword. Superman has feelings and the film demonstrates what a lonely struggle Robinson had. Yes, he had the support of  his wife, Branch Rickey and others, but the taunting and gross prejudice he experienced, the vitriol directed at him was nothing short of horrific. I have no doubt he felt very much alone and worse knew he could not reply in kind. This touched me because I have been dealing with a profound sense of loneliness. The sort of loneliness that eats away at your heart and causes a pain so indescribably difficult words fail me. I can relate to what Robinson experienced. Every where I went this semester a spectacle was sure to follow. A speaking podium that was taller than me. A speakers stage with no ramp. An entrance to a hotel through the luggage room. Side entrances to prestigious buildings that are filthy and in some cases dangerous. Inaccessible bathroom galore. Bars with tables that are well above my head. Wheelchair logos and signs that lead me nowhere. What is one too do? Like Robinson, I cannot fight back in kind. I cannot express my outrage in no uncertain terms. I am forced to be polite at all times. I am not an individual I am the exemplar for all disability. If I am bitter all people with a disability are bitter. If I get angry all people with a disability are angry.  It is a classic Catch 22 situation.

So what does a depressed and lonely bad cripple do? Well, thanks to my former lover and the recent purchase of a trainer I ride my handcycle. It is too cold to ride outside. I tried that this morning. Big mistake at 22 f.  It is just not safe to ride my handcycle at this time of year. I am very low to the ground and cars are not expecting to see me or any other bike rider for that matter. So where do I ride? My handcycle is smack dab in the middle of my living room. Here is the evidence.

One last quote from Ellison that illustrates the dilemma I am facing: "Perhaps to lose a sense of where you are implies the danger of losing a sense of who you are.”  That my friends is where I am at. I do not know where I am or who I am.  It would be an exaggeration to suggest my life is at a cross roads. I will endure, I am a survivor. I demonstrated that as a morbidly sick kid. I demonstrated that when I was bed bound and dependent upon my family in 2010.  I am lost and lonely as of today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.  Hard times indeed but I am hopeful for a great 2014. 


S.Kalyan Tagore said...

Hi William Peace...I am Kalyan from India. I was searching for a word for 'What disabled people use to walk'... turns out to be 'Crutches'..(My mothertongue is not English.. so I googled) And in this process I found you blog... I dont even know how you wud take it if I 'comment'... But as I am a budding film maker... I cant resist to read ur story and reply... All the best for your Book.

william Peace said...

Kalyan. Glad you commented. Film making is a hard field. I wish you well. Why were you go ogling crutches? Interesting you arrived here.

S.Kalyan Tagore said...

I am developing a story idea into a screenplay in which a 10 year girl could not walk and she uses 'Crutches'... The girl has some some special abilities like she can control peoples' minds... (like hypnotizing kind).

I have been working on this idea for some time but only now I get this feeling that - What kind of 'unknown philosophy' is hidden under this Character who cant walk, but has the ability to control others minds....

Do you mind sharing your view abt this!

william Peace said...

This blog is far afield from what I think you are going. But it does sound interesting. Wish I could control others.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am a somewhat new reader and first-time commenter, and I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your writing. Thank you for sharing your reflections and your rage with us, and for being a voice that urges our society to do more to become more accessible - in the broadest sense of the term - and to think more critically about disability and ableism. In solidarity.

lily said...

I go to your page every day. I'm not disappointed if there's no new content because I know the kind of writing that would have to be. I go to know I am not alone--that someone who writes more eloquently than me says what I can't. Thank you.