"Have you been left all alone?" Her tone was suitable for a dog who's been tethered up outside a store, a dog looking eagerly at the door for the return of its master. Her tone was suitable for a small baby, sitting in the childseat of a grocery cart as its mother is picking up milk a few feet away. Her tone was entirely unsuitable for my situation. Waiting for the car to be pulled around before pushing out into the wind, the cold and the ice.
She was old enough to be my grandmother, and I'm 55. She reached out to pat my shoulder but I automatically pulled away so she stopped and smiled at me as if I was errant in my behaviour. As the car pulled into view and I pushed out, I forgot her. Didn't even tell Joe about her, so common is the experience of being spoken to as something less than adult, something more than a fern, that I brush it away. A little social violence. I brush it away.
At home I took a tour of a few disability sites as something was tickling the back of my brain. A thought that occurred, unbidden and unwanted, in my head. A thought appearing of its own volition. A thought I don't want to acknowledge. "Stop talking to me like I'm Retarded."
Forgive me, please. I hate that word. I don't use that word. I've written letters to complain about the use of that word in print, in television, in film. I use the word here because, first, it's what I thought - second, it's the only one that works to express what I want to say here. It's 6:30, my blog is usually published long before now, but I'm struggling to say what I want to say. So please ... let me try. And if I fail, I want to be valiant in my attempt.
A common theme throughout many of the sites I went to, those that published lists of 'how to be with / interact with / talk with someone with a disability" was exactly what I had thought. "Don't treat me, speak to me, approach me as if I was R*******". All blogs are innocently making a point, a firm point, but a point. Or maybe the point isn't that innocent.
But to me, yesterday, on getting home and thinking about the elderly woman with the voice that strangled self esteem, I came to realize that there is something bigger here. Why aren't these blogs, why aren't I, asking a much different question. Let me explain ...
Trust me on this ...
There is a voice that says ...
You are less than me.
You are less than most.
You are an object of pity.
You are an object of scorn.
You are an object of low worth.
You are blessed to hear my voice.
You are blessed by my compassion.
You are enriched by my attention.
You have nothing.
You want less.
You'll be satisfied by a drop of social honey.
You need my charity.
You want my compassion.
You deserve niether.
There are words that mean ...
I am grateful not to be you.
I am thankful that you are not mine.
I am able to give, you can only recieve.
I am worth much, you little.
I am a source of pride, you shame.
I am gladdened by you to be me.
I am speaking to you to be seen.
There is a voice that means ...
You are nothing, really, nothing.
No one wants to hear that voice. Website after website rails against the tone that dismisses and denies. Don't talk to me like I'm R*******!
Why should they hear it?
Why isn't the voice, the tone, those words that slap - why isn't it questioned by all?
Why do these websites, written by those with disabilities, why did I - automatically assume that there is a group of people that that tone IS appropriate for? A group of people who welcome pity the way hookers welcome what wives spurn.
Why aren't we saying ...
"Don't speak to me as if I'm less."
"Don't pat me on the head with your words."
"Don't slap me about with your tone."
"Don't hurl kindness at me from the height of your superiority."
Why are we suggesting that these verbal evil-doers treat me with respect and cart their unwanted sloppy kisses over to those who truely deserve it, want it, need it ... you know the R*******. Why are we wanting to separate ourselves, as people with physical disabilities from those with intellectual disabilities? What is there in our insecurity as people that we kind of don't want them on the disability boat? What is there in our own manner that makes us givers of offence rather than as recievers?
Enough, again I say, ENOUGH.
That tone of voice leads directly to social death and social isolation. It leads to the destruction of self esteem and the creation of inferiority. It leads to youth kissing fists and then beating to death someone less, much less ...
That old lady thought she was being nice.
She was being hateful.
And so are you.
Whenever you use that voice.
The voice that begins with assault and ends with murder.
The voice that none should hear.