(I've actually been worried about writing my blog today. Once again, its set in the food court of a mall near here. You are going to think I live in malls and food courts. Winter hit hard this year and we've got two or three feet of snow on the ground. Everywhere we go we have to deal with snow and ice. Last year, and indeed the year before, we had little snow through the holiday season. I could go anywhere and didn't have to think about getting around in my wheelchair. This year with all the snow, the world is so much more restricted. My wheels slip, get wet and become impossible to push, my hands freeze. So, when we go out, like I like to every day, we've been going to the mall. There's a drop off place where I can get into the mall without my tires getting wet and in a few minutes my wheels have warmed up. This all means I've become a mall rat, already recognizable to some of the other regulars, but hey, this is not the story. The story takes place at the food court.)
We were, together, 5 of us. Mike was, like me, getting a falafel pita, Joe was over getting a vegetarian Thai soup and Joseph was at Taco Bell getting his meal. Ruby tagged along with Joe as Mike helped me. He carried the tray and I was pushing over to the disabled table. There were two women sitting there along with a small child. It bothers me that people take these tables, the blue wheelchair guy is clearly on the table. I like these tables, they are on the edge so easier to get into, they are slightly taller so a more comfortable fit for a wheelchair user. I said to Mike in a loudish voice, "The wheelchair table is around here somewhere." They actually pushed burger wrapping over the little symbol and kept eating!
Joe came and saw that the table next to the disabled take was just coming free. He suggested we take this one. This means I'm going to be stuck out in the aisle rather than tucked into a table. I glared over at one of the women, who relented and said, "Go ahead take this one, we'll move to that one." I'm mad now so I just say, "No, no, we'll sit here, we wouldn't want to disturb your lunch." So I sat with my angry back to them and we could all hear them suck their food back quicker than what was good for their health. Then they were gone.
Immediately upon their leaving, two other women sat down at the table and congratluated themselves on finding a table right away. I didn't say anything, I resolved to just let it go. I knew if I did I'd embarass Joseph, who as a teen boy has adaped to my disability with remarkable ease. Adults always judge themselves differently when being looked at by teenagers, I think. But then these two women are joined by the husband of one of them, he looks at the symbol on the table and says, "We can't sit here, this is reserved for people with disabilities," then he noticed that the table on the other side of us was free now. He indicated for them to join him, and the food he was carrying, at that table.
The women refused to move and became increasingly angry at him not just joining them at the table. He was steadfast, "That's the disabled table," he kept telling them. One woman turned to the other, "He can be such a stubborn asshole sometimes." I figured the speaker to be the wife. I've noticed that when married one feels free to use the harshest words to describe the marriage partner. It also pissed me off. I gave Joe a look, "I'm joining in right now."
I turned and politely said, "He's right, these tables are for those of us with disabilities. The reason that I'm sitting here at this table, sticking out into the aisle, making everyone squeeze around me is that other people like you - thoughtless, ignorant - sat at that table before you. You can sit there if you want, I'm not going to kick up a fuss, I just want you to know that your husband is right and you are lucky to be with someone who considers the needs of others before his own. Maybe if you open your eyes, you can learn from him."
Then I went back to my falafel and my friends. They sat a minute stunned, then got up and moved tables. All I heard was the husband saying, "What did he say to you?" and one of the women answering, "Nothing, he didn't say anything."
On our way out of the mall Joseph was pushing the wheelchair. He'd asked to help but he likes doing it because the likes to bend over and pretend he's pushing someone three times my weight - it's a funny act he puts on but I wish he wouldn't do it. But I say nothing, he's only kidding around. When we got to the door he said, "I think it's good that you told those women to move. I never speak up because I'm too shy. But I think it's good that you can."
Now we have ourselves a conversation about assertion and how it's important to know how and when to speak up to others. He's 13, these are big concepts. He's a bit shy, these are frightening concepts. But I'm glad we had the talk. I know he's thinking about it. Maybe someone in a wheelchair can be a roll model after all.