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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Loneliness Reinforced

A friend told me that I wrote quite a post yesterday. My new philosophy of life indicates that despite 40 years of progressive legislation society remains hostile to people with a disability. Access and equality is at best decades away. Given this, I am acting out of self preservation. I want to reduce emotional pain and negative social interaction as much as possible. Accordingly I go out at odd times. I often do grocery shopping at 5 or 6AM. No one is in the store. I do the same with with laundry--the laundromat attracts shall we say characters. I rarely go out on weekends. Weekends are high risk days. People abound and they usually have something to say that is far from positive. I was in my small local town this weekend and a store owner asked me if I could get a speeding ticket in my wheelchair. I just looked at him, my facial expression neutral, and said nothing. He was pleased with himself and laughing out loud (he does not know it but he lost my business).

I should know not to go to a diner on the weekend (Sunday is always a no go). But I had a yen for an egg sandwich and the local diner is pretty good. They have a one egg, thin slice of cheese and two pieces of bacon sandwich. Perfect for my limited appetite. I got there around 6:30AM, a bit later than I am comfortable with. The place was relatively empty. I see a table in an ideal location so the waitress or customers will not hit my wheelchair as they go by. With a minute of sitting down I observed three men my age drinking coffee. I can hear snippets of their conversation. They are discussing religion. The hair on the back of my neck goes up. This is trouble. I know they are going to say something given half a chance. I think I better move. I stopped myself though. I am being a bigot. I am assuming they will be trouble based on a sixth sense?  They could just be three guys who got into a religious discussion. Wrong.

I ordered my food and am reading the newspaper on my phone. The men in question have finished their food and as they walk by me the man in the center stops and they all turn to me. Oh, no. I have no where to go. I am trapped. The man says "We are going to pray for your crippled body and rotten soul.  We are going to pray for your sins and ask God not to strike you down again for you have sinned terribly". With that they got on their knees next to the table, heads down mumbling prayers". I too wanted to pray to God. I wanted to move my right leg and kick them in the balls.  They prayed for about 90 seconds, got up and walked out.

In retrospect, I wish I had taken a video with my cell phone. I have had comparable experiences a few times this year. Most incidents I can avoid but sometimes I get trapped in a Catch 22 situation like in the diner. After the men leave I contemplate my ruined appetite with the fact I already ordered food. I think for a minute and see the waitress. In a perfunctory way she says sorry and something about the men being regular customers. I say I will pay for the meal and just want to leave. She says forget about payment and gives a slightly more sincere sorry. She is a seasoned diner waitress with a deeply lined face. She has that indifferent body language of a person that has worked at diners for decades and has seen it all. There is slight smell of diner aroma mixed with cigarettes smoke that clings to her work clothing. I leave without a word and head to the laundromat. I wonder how is it that devout believers can be so cruel? Why do heavy duty Christians see me as a target of opportunity?

Let me return to my friend's line about yesterday's post. What incentive do I have to interact with the majority of the bipedal population? I am not a human being to many but the symbol of what can go wrong in life. My existence many assume is miserable. I have a very good life and simply do not want to be forced to defend it to the Christian men that verbally assaulted me. I have no doubt they were quite pleased with their actions. I am sure they think they did God's work. I know with certainty I will never go to that diner again. What took place was well out of the norm but has happened to me continually since I was paralyzed. Social interaction is regularly skewed and nothing average remains average long when I go out. Parking my car and getting my wheelchair assembled is as astounding as the Grand Canyon. I am regularly stared at. When I bike some people have stopped on a dime as I passed them on my hand cycle and yell at me to stop. In the distance I hear "I want to look at the bike". Some bikers have followed me for miles keeping a running commentary about how amazing I am. I now have a trainer and bike in my house. I do not want to be a stranger's super cripple. I am in reality an ordinary person. Yet I am barred from being ordinary.

Frankly, I have no incentive to interact with the vast majority of bipeds. Many have my lot in life already figured out. One thing is consistent. I am inferior physically and socially. I must always justify my existence and adjust myself to a world that would prefer I not exist. Life with a disability is a social death by billions of tiny paper cuts. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks I am going to be a bigot to people with a disability. But that does not make the degradation any less real. After 37 years I am done. I will trust the hair on the back of my neck. I will avoid bipeds I do not know. I will restrict myself to campus. I will be a ghost. And I must confess I yearn for a community of like minded people who get it. I am not a bigot. Lots of people who are bipedal get it. I will embrace all those that see what I and others with a disability can do. For that is my first thought when exposed to others with a disability. I see bad asses that have survived a hostile world and adapted and thrived. I can still thrive I choose to do so alone.


Matthew Smith said...

This reminds me of the debate we've been having about women-only carriages being reintroduced on trains in the UK (one of the candidates for the Labour leadership has said he's open to the idea, though not committed), which some women have asked for so that they feel safe when travelling alone, and sometimes because they get groped or insistently chatted up by men while on the train. Then I saw a FB post by Carly Findlay about how someone (she didn't say which gender) on the train had offered her a wet wipe because her face looked sweaty -- it was in fact the lotion she puts on to protect her skin (at least s/he didn't just go ahead and apply it). I thought of how disabled people often face harassment while out and about, not only hands-on or in-the-face praying but also unwanted physical interventions, threats, intrusive questions, which nobody has mentioned in this latest debate.

Just before the women-only carriage idea blew up last week, I saw some people on social media discussing having a 10pm curfew for men for one day a year, so that women can go about their business without fear of harassment. I wonder if they'd do the same for disabled people. People with learning disabilities get it worst. (But the dominant view seems to be "educate, don't segregate" for both situations; there is a lack of enforcement -- no staff other than the driver on some trains, for example -- and a "just ignore it" mentality when people complain.)

Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D., Instructor said...

Your experience in the diner made me ill. We all (the disabled), I expect, do things like that -- shop at odd hours, avoid places known to be heavily weighted with the religious, etc. When I could still walk, I loved to take the dog out for the fresh air and exercise. But I learned quickly to do it after dark, because it never failed that some yahoo raking his yard would yell out when I walked by, either that I looked like I was doing better (what the heck??) or that he was praying for me, and sometimes both, by way of taking credit for my imagined improvement, I suppose.

Another woman I know has learned to shop for food only at 2 and 3 in the morning, in order to avoid all the idiots who assume that she is using the scooters the store provides because she's fat and that it would be good for her to walk the store, and who are happy to corner her up against the dairy case and have this discussion.

It is a terribly lonely feeling that strikes on a deeply primal level, and why, back in the day, we probably would simply have curled up and died and been no further bother to the tribe.

Becs said...

The incident in the diner is beyond appalling. These men are throwbacks to at least a hundred years ago and their brand of "Christianity" is questionable. I'm sorry you experienced this, have experienced this more than once.

rh said...

Bill: Thanks for continuing to maintain this blog. I read it periodically (tho I rarely post comments anymore). I regret losing touch after your webinar a few years back. Recently saw that Alice Dreger resigned in protest after that Atrium affair and (of course) scrolled back to your post to get the back story.
I was recently in the Syracuse area for a family holiday and thought about you as we drove by the university.
Ronn Huff

william Peace said...

Ronn, Great to hear from you. Glad to know you read my posts once in a while. On losing touch... You know how is goes. A phone breaks, a computer is replaced and next thing you many addresses have been lost. Loving life in the Syracuse area. Ah, Alice Dreger. My favorite scholar and woman who is willing to fight for what she believes in. The response to the essay I had in Atrium was strange in the extreme. I knew I met some people but my gosh two people left Northwestern, the journal was censored and has ceased to exist. If you told me that was going to happen when I wrote it I would have fainted intake. My latest essay on the fiasco is below:

rh said...

Thanks for the link; great follow-up piece. While I selfishly regret the collateral damage that followed - (Atrium was one of the better journals of its kind and I'm sad to see it go) - your original article was important and deserving of publication. If the non-PC content was truly their only concern, then they could have simply included a short content warning at the beginning. And any reference to your piece being pornographic demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of that word.