An Irreverent Tale of Disability Unawareness
fifth date that she realized I was in a wheelchair. When the reality hit her, she felt foolish, especially after having bought me a Stairmaster for my birthday.
Actually, Sharon never really had a problem with the chair – as long as I wasn’t in it. If we were on the couch or in her car, everything was great. Once I got into my chair, however, things suddenly became confusing and she wasn’t sure how she felt. Psychologists refer to this
condition as “cognitive half-person befuddlement.”
As time went on, Sharon and I got closer – mostly because I agreed to spend more time lying on the floor, which eased her stress considerably. In exchange, she agreed to scrub my bathtub and change the kitty litter. We had a wonderful relationship and soon
it came time to meet her family.
That special day happened to be Easter Sunday and, as we pulled into St. Luke’s parking lot, I noticed a beautifully constructed wooden ramp leading into the church. I was very impressed, since in rural America, “accessibility” often means that there are doors that do open and the steps leading to the bathroom are the wide type, so that the wheelchair can bounce more smoothly on the way down.
As I transferred out of the car, several members of the congregation gathered around me, telling me how courageous I was and wanting to help in any way they could. It was fortunate they were there, for I wouldn’t have fallen out of the chair without them. Eventually, Sharon’s brother Mark helped me up the ramp and was considerate enough to make that cute little vaaarrooooom noise as he pushed.
I wheeled into the church and soon met Leon. He shook my hand and proudly said, “The retard… I mean… the handicapped section is in the front of the church.” I thanked him and inquired as to whether there would be room for both of us, but he was probably too busy admiring my courage to understand what I meant.
As I took my place in the front pew, a middle-aged woman patted me on the head and handed me about 12 Mass books. I wasn’t sure what to do with all of them, so I autographed one or two of the books and gave them back. She then asked me if this was my first trip to St. Luke’s. I nodded and asked her why she was yelling in a church. I thought maybe it was some sort of Yorkville Easter tradition.
The Mass proceeded swimmingly until it came time for communion. As the priest gave the host to each person in line, I noticed an older gentleman standing close by with a chalice. Each parishioner walked past the priest, took some wine, then returned to his or her respective pew. Soon it was my turn and, after taking the host, I waited for the wine guy to walk down the step and approach me with the chalice. Instead, he just looked at me nervously. I felt like Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral as we stared each other down. I was tempted to take my shirt off and yell,
“What’s a guy gotta do to get a drink around here?” After several minutes, he turned around, walked back to the altar and stood near the priest.
When Mass was over, the priest sheepishly apologized for the misunderstanding. I just smiled and said, “That’s okay, Father, just give me a double shot next time.”
As for Sharon, things just didn’t work out. We discovered that we had little in common. One night, she confided in me how much she loved sports, especially pole vaulting and surfing. In fact, her life was pole vaulting and surfing. She confessed that she had spent more than 20 years looking for a companion with whom to share these activities. Though I tried to be accommodating, the wheelchair eventually reared its ugly head.
Sharon grew frustrated and finally ended the relationship. She tried to let me down easy, telling me that she just preferred taller men, but I knew the truth. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about her, especially when I’m at a track and field event or whenever the surf’s up.
Rob Kocur is a freelance writer living in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
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