I had asked Joe to pull up, very near the door. The parking lot was fully of snow and slush and I wanted to get into the store with my wheels as dry as possible. First, it makes for easier pushing, second, it makes for easier pushing. Joe left plenty of space in front of the car for people to get in an out of the store so I didn't think it was an issue. Once I was in the store, I pushed myself around while Joe went then and parked in the disabled bay.
On the way out of the store, we reversed the procedure. I waited just inside the door and when Joe pulled up, I pushed out. Again, there was plenty of room in front of the car for people to have easy access to the store. I was waiting beside the car as Joe opened the hatch and was rounding the back of the car to help me get out of my chair and get the chair loaded into the back.
A man, who I had noticed glance at me on his way in, came out of the store and stood, his hands on his hips staring at us. His face was angry. I didn't say anything to him, I've learned not to initiate converstations with people with that kind of face on.
"You people think you can get away with anything," he starts up.
I'm now in the car but the door is open, "What?"
"Just because you have a disability you feel you can take all sorts of liberties. Pulling up here, blocking the entrance, making it difficult for everyone else, just because you are in a wheelchair."
Where the hell is this all coming from? We aren't blocking the door. I don't want to talk to this guy. I hear Joe rushing to get the chair in the back of the car. The guy advances towards me and I become afraid, he's young, he looks strong, and for some reason he's very very angry. I don't want to get in a verbal sparring match with him. I know I could win it. But he looks very, very strong and he looks like he wants to hurt me.
"I'm sorry, it's just that it's winter and my chair gets all mucked up."
"Why is that anyone's problem but your own, this isn't a drop off area, they've already given you," here he makes quotation marks with his fingers, "special parking but that isn't enough for you is it?"
I want to say that the "special parking" in this case is still a fair bit away, down a slope that's covered with snow and ice. I don't. I decide just to apologize. "You're right, I'm sorry, we shouldn't have pulled up here. We won't do it again."
His knuckles are white, but he backs off and heads back to the store, "Fucking cripples" he says glancing back at me for the last time.
Joe gets into the car, I close my door. We drive away in silence. We don't say a word to each other. Suddenly I find that I'm crying. I don't know what else to do. I had been so incredibly frightened. I can't believe that I just backed down like that. I thought he was going to attack me. It all took only seconds but it felt like time had slowed and a long time had passed.
"Thankyou for not getting into a fight with him," Joe says, his voice shaking. I could tell he had been traumatized too, "I don't think I could have protected you from him."
We had both felt vulnerable to his anger, his youth and his strength.
I have paused several times, even in writing this, I don't understand that kind of hatred. I don't understand what makes people like that. I don't understand why he needed to do what he did. But I do understand, deeply and for the first time, my own vulnerablity to another's hatred. And the realization churns in my stomach.
And I'm crying again.