Friday was a 'they pay me for this' day. It was 'Fun Day' at Vita and our programme at Tycos hosted a huge party for Vita members and staff. I went last year and couldn't wait to go again this year. It's wonderful to be 'just us' all together. I did have a purpose to be there, beyond having fun and chatting with various and sundry. I needed to write the day up, immediately, so that it could be included in the organizational newsletter. A spot had been held for the article and I needed to write it just before noon.
It was easy to write. Looking around you saw evidence that the Tyco's crew, members and staff, had worked hard for months to prepare for the day. Decorations and murals were everywhere. Activities ringed the back parking lot and there were people everywhere having fun. Joe and I (Joe doesn't work at Vita but wouldn't miss fun day for the world) tried some of the games and discovered that we were equally bad at basketball and shuffleboard. We can never retire.
The article was written just before lunch and when I came back out from the computer room the smell of Bar B Que was everywhere. Awesome. There was a choice of regular burgers, veggie burgers, halal burgers ... the choice was endless. A reflection of a diverse agency, a reflection of respect for differences. At one point I was beckoned over to chat with a woman I have known for several years. I couldn't come at that point so I called to her that I would chat with her later.
Indeed, when I was free I went in search of her. Promise made ... you know the drill. I found her and she was just finishing a hot dog. I asked her if it was good and she said, 'Vita has the best hot dogs!' I laughed and said, 'Didn't they have Bar B. Ques in the institution?'
She looked at me queerly. (Shut up that's exactly the right word.)
I waited for her to answer and she said, 'What did you say.' There was incredulity in her voice.
I knew I'd said something wrong but there was nothing to do but answer her, 'I asked if they had Bar B. Ques in the institution.'
She shook her head and said, 'David, you know none of those count.'
And I guess they don't. Food eaten in captivity will never taste like food eaten in freedom. I keep forgetting that people with disabilities felt their captivity which means they tasted incarceration as a spice cooked into food. I said to her, 'You're right, I'm sorry, I should have known.'
She's a wise one, she said, 'But how could you?'
I can never know what it feels like to walk down long corridors, to eat lukewarm food, to look out the window and watch people freely walk by. I can never know what it feels like to have been designated, because of who I am in the world, inappropriate to live in the world. Disability, the crime of being.
But for her, now, she is here and she is free. I know she doesn't want me to dwell on our conversation, but I do. Because I learned from her. I learned to taste, with every bite, the freedom that I live.
And. My. God. It's a wonderful flavour.