Friday, June 22, 2018

I Don't Care ...

"I don't care what you think," I said.

I felt the power of those words, when spoken. The annoyance and even maybe anger was nearly overwhelming - I hadn't liked being told what I should do with my body and what the wheelchair was supposed to represent. I hadn't liked being followed in the parking lot as I pushed myself towards a park. I hadn't liked any of it.

I hadn't liked the gentle tone that he put into his voice as he gave me his advice. I hadn't liked the feel of his hand on my shoulder. I hadn't liked the look of concern he had on his face as he spoke to me. I hadn't liked his intrusion into what had been a lovely morning. I hadn't liked being diagnosed by someone who didn't even know my name.

"I don't care what you think," I said.

I had wanted to stop him. I wanted to stop the flow of words over me. I wanted to have him understand that what he was doing and saying was both meaningless and full of meaning all at the same time. I had wanted to go back to a place of peace on a beautiful day. I had wanted to resume my push through the lot, feel my strength and the roll of the chair. I had wanted him to stop. Just stop.

"I don't care what you think," I said.

But.

I did.

I'm a human being. I'm a pack animal. I am influenced by those about me, even those who aren't part of my circle, not part of my group. I react when people give me advice about my body and my disability and my wheelchair. I know they know nothing about me, but it doesn't matter. I can't talk myself out of caring, even if it's just a little bit, about what someone says to me.

Words have power.

Too much power.

But they do.

I cared. That's why it matters what we say to each other because I believe very few of us say, "I don't care what you think!" and really deep, down. actually don't.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Home

What a night!

Joe and I were at a meeting in the community center in the area in which we live. We were both tired from the trip from which we'd just returned but we were looking forward to going to the meeting and playing out part in the life of this community. I hopped into my power chair, which I haven't used in weeks, and we sailed down to the meeting.

After the meeting was over I had to stay a little bit longer because I'm on the board and we had a few things to vote on. I turned on my chair to turn it around and it just died. Simply, quickly, died. So instead of me going down to the rest of the group, they shimmied down to where I was sitting. I was informed that the hall in which we had met was empty the next day so we could leave the chair there overnight if we needed. I was lent a phone to call Joe and ask him to bring my manual down so I could get home.

After the votes were over and we adjourned for the night. Joe came and we were trying to figure out timing we had a full day the next day. In both our minds we were worried about Joe pushing the chair up the hill to our place. The chair can be disengaged and pushed, but it's a big, heavy chair. Our first problem though was the fact that Joe had been unable to get the lever that disengages the chair and turns it into a push chair to work.

Just then I saw a young guy come into the community centre where this was all happening, he was called into the room and asked if he could help with the lever which seemed to be stuck. Joe showed him by saying, and showing, "You just need to do this," and with those words, the lever worked.

There were others around from the board meeting and suddenly discussions were happening about the chair and getting it up to our place. A women, with organization skills aplenty, suggested that Joe drive me and my manual back to our place and this young guy push the chair for us and meet us there. Joe and I protested and they protested right back, "Not a big deal," he said, "I'm glad to do it."

On my way out of the building I said to everyone and no one, "When you have something really shitty happen and then someone does something nice the world comes right again." And that's what it felt like. A crisis had been averted. There's still the problem of the chair but that now moves into a some "tomorrow" sometime situation.

We got home and he'd beat us there, it's a long push, and a hard push, but he was there with the chair. We thanked him for his help, he assured us that he was glad to help. And we were home.

When a community is a community, when a community lives up to it's potential as a community, everyone benefits. Joe and I, who strive to be self sufficient, sometimes aren't. It's nice to know that we live in a place where neighbours matter, where help is given because it's needed, where the principles of community are upheld.

We've never felt so at home anywhere in our lives.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

One Boat, Two Women

We got on the boat from Nanaimo to Vancouver with our emergency flashers on and with a bright red wheelchair placard given us from the woman who took our payment and instructed us to put it on the dashboard. These things alerted the folks who load the boat that I use a wheelchair and to place us strategically so we would have maximum access. They have done this every time unerringly, frankly, they must hire people based on a Tetris aptitude test of some kind.

The fellow who spotted the lights came over and asked which side we needed room on and when we said, "Well, kinda both," he said, "No problem pull over here and I'll load some more on and then I'll tell you when to move ahead." The did as he promised and a few minutes later pointed to where we were to park. We were a couple feet back from the car in front of us but right beside a blue access symbol that lead to the elevator.

Joe got out of the car and found himself confronted by a woman in a car in the next lane. She was practically yelling at him to get back in the car and move it forward. Joe stated that we parked exactly where we were told to and that if he moved I wouldn't be able to get out my side and he couldn't get the chair out the other. She didn't care. She wanted the car moved and NOW! Joe stood his ground and she left shaking her head in disgust.

Normally it's me targeted with this kind of thing and while it wasn't nice for Joe to take the brunt of her upset, I was glad to be left out of it. He said, as I got in the chair, "You're the one with the blog, this isn't supposed to be about me." We laughed it off and headed for the elevator.

When we got there there was a family of four waiting. A mom, a dad and a boy and a girl both close to their teen years. I pulled in and sat back to wait, we were in no hurry, but then, the mother spoke up to her kids. "He," she said referring to me, "has the right of way here, we can all take the stairs." Then, they were gone. Just like that. Moments later the elevator arrived, empty and we made our journey up.

There's nothing so odd as people. We can never predict from whence will come the anger and from whom will come the kindness. It keeps us alert. Very.

But what's nice here is that that nasty woman yelling at Joe, she's going to be gone in a few months from our memory, she will just blend in amongst those who were and are similarly grouped tightly under the nastiness umbrella. But the other woman, will stay, I think I will remember her and her voice and her gentle urging of her family to move along and create space for us for a long, long time.

Beyond being kind.

What an inspired act of parenting.

And absolutely inspired act.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Aunt Vesta

Years ago my Aunt Vesta came to stay with Joe and I in Toronto for a little while. When we got the call that she was coming we were panic struck. We were not 'out' to many of my family, it was still in era in Canada where acceptance and welcome of gay people was not the norm. We had a one bedroom apartment. We lived in the gay area of the city. Most of our friends were gay. Even the art we hung on our walls were done by gay artists active at the time.

What were we going to do?

I knew Aunt Vesta from growing up. I knew several things about her. She had the best laugh. She was easy to be around. She was a patient listener and thoughtful in what she had to say. And, best of all, she had a wicked good sense of humour. This is to say, she was a nice person. But, we'd had 'nice people' turn on us instantaneously upon finding out that we were a couple. We knew that we couldn't predict how people would react. We knew that love of family isn't always there as greeting cards proclaim.

But.

We had to tell her.

We decided to let her get settled in. Didn't want to tell her on the ride from the airport. The closer we got to the 'telling' the less we wanted to have to tell her. But it had to be done, there was no way we'd be able to de-gay our lives like many of our friends did when parents visited. While waiting to tell her I was reminded about how nice a person she was, how she was able to embrace us with her warmth. I didn't want to lose that, it was just too valuable.

But.

We had to tell her.

We took her out for dinner, figuring a public place was safer, and we told her. She nodded after having heard our announcement and said, "... is this supposed to matter to me?" In six words she acknowledged us, accepted us and welcomed us into her heart. Then, we were done with it. Over her visit we went to gay bars, she insisted, and she charmed everyone.

Aunt Vesta, and her reaction, set her apart from so many people at the time. In fact, it sets her apart from so many people now. She had the depth of understanding that people were simply people. All different, all the same, all to be respected.

After she left we felt a hole in our lives.

But.

There was something I had to tell her.

I hadn't been able to articulate to Aunt Vesta how much it meant to me, and to Joe, to have her embrace us and our relationship. I would have started crying and I didn't want to be maudlin. So I waited for a couple of months and then I called her and we talked about telling her.

I could tell that she was touched by what I said but I could also tell that she didn't understand the big deal. She didn't understand what a big deal it was to have a heart as big as hers was. She didn't understand that we'd been prepared for her rejection and what it was like to anticipate the worst but get the best of someone.

This is now Pride Week. I've been thinking of some of the people in my life who helped me along on the way to pride.

Aunt Vesta was one of those who stood on the side of the road and pointed to a world wherein it was possible to be loved, not tolerated, but loved instead of rejected. To a world where difference was just difference, nothing more, nothing less. To a world where one's heart was free to love as one pleased. I always knew that my heart loved differently, that's how people define who I am.

But it was amazing to see how Aunt Vesta loved differently too ... she loved inclusively.

Monday, June 18, 2018

From Us Gearboxes

Three flags flying in front of the Tyee Plaza in Campbell River. The tallest is the Canadian flag and then two flags of equal height, the LGBT2SQQ pride flag and the British Columbia provincial flag, are caught flying in the breeze.
When we drove into Campbell River on Friday one of the first things we noticed was a sign announcing a Pride Celebration. We went by so quickly that we weren't able to read the dates or times. We looked it up, kind of hoping it might be this weekend past, and found that it's happening next weekend. We were busy, getting into the hotel, arranging to see various and sundry family members and organizing our suitcases which had become a little dangerous to zip open and almost impossible to zip closed, so I didn't have a chance to think about the celebration and the flag, and we didn't have a chance to talk about it.

The next morning began with Joe and I heading over to the laundromat to do piles and piles of laundry. The web site had been wrong about the opening time so we were there an hour early. I rolled down to the flags intent on taking a picture. We both chose not to make it a 'selfie' because, well, we couldn't. Just couldn't.

I know we are told to live in the present but any thinking, reflecting human being knows that the present has echoes of the past that will reverberate into the future. Joe had been horribly bullied in school with a nickname so vile I won't even record here, except to say that it targeted his sexuality and his masculinity and his right to belong. I met Joe in CARIHI the high school here in grade 12, and that's were our relationship began.

CARIHI apparently has done things to be more inclusive to lgbt2sqq kids now, but, then, violence, social, verbal, psychological and physical were to be expected if we were ever caught. Other kids, the straight ones were dating and making very public displays of their love, their orientation and their expectation of welcome. Everywhere you looked the constant celebration of heterosexual pride and privilege was on display.

The most common word linked to homosexuality back then was one we still don't understand to this very day. It was 'gearbox' or more accurately 'fucking gearboxes.' People we knew, were never people who knew us, we couldn't allow that to happen, we learned to pretend in public and live in private, but those we knew threw that word, and others around all the time, fully confident that there were none of 'those' here.

CARIHI was a place of welcome for most and terror for us. There were so many ways to slip up. So many opportunities to be suddenly seen. Every single day, every single moment, was one of either fear or terror or anticipation of social violence. High school was a dangerous place, high school should have been full of memories - happy ones, not the ones we carry.

Campbell River, too, was a mill town. Men were men and, when people say that as a good thing, I tremble. Those good men would turn evil at the suggestion that a fucking gearbox might be in the vicinity. Campbell River did not value diversity in a variety of ways, and so we lived on the margins trying desperately to exist without notice. Our love made us vulnerable. Think about that.

And now, there's the Pride flag.

And now, there's a Pride celebration.

We're glad of that, the both of us, but ... how can anyplace embrace Pride without the acknowledgement that Pride is not something gifted by city council, Pride was something that people fought to have, in places like this, and against all odds.

How can Campbell River celebrate Pride now when in inflicted Shame then?

Where is the apology?

Where is the acknowledgement of the damage done?

If you actively participate in smashing someone's windows, you apologize and then you fix.

But if you actively participate in smashing someone's soul, you look up at a flag and wonder at how far you've come.

We both wish the citizens, all the citizens, of Campbell River a happy Pride celebration. However as people who come from before, we know your hearts, show us that you've changed. Not by flying a flag, but by acknowledging your history, and pledging, no more.

No.

More.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day: Enough

Dad's not here.

It's Father's Day and this is the first one where he will not be in attendance. I've been thinking about him a lot because I've been seeing things in the stores that I would ordinarily buy and send off to him. But, not this year.

My father and I did not have a close relationship. He was very uncomfortable in speaking with me, so he typically said, when answering the phone to my call, "Here's your mother." We once had a fight about that, and as a result he tried to chat for a bit before turning the phone over but it was a conversation that came wrapped in discomfort and artificiality. I came to wish the fight had never happened and that the idea of 'trying' to talk with someone makes whatever said nonsense.

I visited a few times over his last months and the last time I was there, we both knew it was the last time. Joe and I visited in the early afternoon when no one else was there and I noted a subtle change in the room and with my dad. There was an intimacy and a desire for intimacy. It started with Dad telling us some stories from the war. Turns out my dad was one hell of a story teller. He was funny and had the gift of knowing when to pause and when to deliver a line. We laughed, loudly, listening to him. He was enjoying himself. There was no 'trying.'

When the moment was right, I decided to let go of this wrapped up thing I'd held in my heart for a very long time. There was something I wanted to say to him, something I wanted to thank him for, but it was so personal that I thought that I'd never get to say it. But I did. It took him by surprise, thinking, probably, that I only held anger in my heart with no room for gratitude at all. Then he said that he was pleased because I'd landed right. I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do and living with the man I was supposed to be living with. He called me lucky.

I don't know when he came to that realization, I don't know if it was the hours in the hospital that gave him time to think or if he'd been carrying that too. In the end, it doesn't matter.

What mattered was that I came to peace with my father.

When we left and said goodbye, we knew we'd talk on the phone, but we knew that we'd not see each other again. But while we were both aware that there had been a thousand and seven missed opportunities, we had come to peace.

And, in the end, that was enough.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Johnson Street Bridge

Yesterday I took a giant step towards being 'the guy' that I want to be ... in my mind. I'm not talking about 'THE guy' ... that nice, thoughtful and caring one that escapes my grasp so often, but the one who can physically push himself outdoors. I see wheelchair users sailing on their own steam up and down streets looking relaxed and fit and totally in control. Well, I'm no where near relaxed and fit and in control, I struggle and pant and sweat and occasionally curse. But ...

We were going out for dinner to a restaurant in Market Square in Victoria and I really wanted to push myself there and back. It wasn't a great distance from the hotel but it required pushing up a fairly steep incline, going over a walkway spanning Johnson Street and then over the bridge to the square. I'd looked at it several times over the day and decided that I was going to give it a go.

I suggested to Joe that we leave an hour early because I figured that it would take me a long while to make the push. The steep bits are, for me, quite steep. I wanted time to pause, push my lungs back into place and start again. So, we set off.

The first few feet were fine, but it was flat. Then started the climb. It got steeper and steeper and I went slower and slower. I didn't use my safety breaks, which allow the chair to go forward but not backwards, because I don't want to start relying on them. So I was pushing hard and grunting loudly and absolutely not caring what people might have thought. Joe stood guard to ensure that no one helped me. It wasn't much of a struggle as, it turned out, most people seemed to respect what I was doing and left me alone to do it.

Once over the walkway it was downhill until the bridge and the climb up the bridge once again slowed me down. But, again, I used every bit of power I had to make it up and crest that little hill and then it was easy to the restaurant. We were there in about 15 minutes. That was a shock.

With the extra time I pushed up Johnson Street to the first crosswalk and then headed back. I felt victorious but remembered that going back had the longer incline, though not the steepest. After a fun dinner we headed back and again, with one notable exception, people left me alone. I can't say how much I appreciated that. I knew I was going to make it and I didn't want someone to steal that from me but shoving me a foot or two.

On arrival back at the hotel, I was winded but not exhausted, I was sore but not really hurting. I silently thanked the gym back home where I work out and practice ramps. It was marvelous.

I know that I'm a long way, really long way, from where I want to be.

But I'm a little closer.

And that's worth something.