Friday, November 26, 2010

Being Me

"I'm not like you, you know."

Her voice takes me by surprise. I'm sitting on the bus going to work. We had stopped about fifteen minutes before to pick up an orange haired woman riding in a black manual chair. A chair not unlike my own. She sat comfortably in her chair as she was pushed up the ramp. The chair was secured, she was strapped in, and we were on our way, all very efficient.

It had been pleasant enough. I said, 'good morning'. She said, 'good morning'. The driver said, 'good morning'. It was very ... very ... Waltons. Then we were off again. I was pleased because the door had been left open while she was being secured into place and the bus had become cold. Once we were driving again, the heater began pouring heat down on us in the back. It was a cosy feeling.

The driver and I had chatted in a lively manner on the way to pick up the next passenger but he and I were both talked out and content to ride in quiet to the next stop. I was looking out the window, thinking about the day to come, the weekend to come, the holidays to come. All that stuff.

Then she spoke. 'I'm not like you, you know.'

I turned to her. She had one of those faces that looked like it would be soft to the touch. She smiled in that way you expect Grandmothers to smile while offering you cake. I didn't know what to say, 'so you aren't a fat and balding gay man? seemed somehow inappropriate.

I've been to school.

I studied psychology.

I learned, at great cost to my parents, how to say, in an interested fashion, 'oh?'

It's a skill.

A very useful skill.

Encouraged, without knowing that she had just fallen prey to hours of study and practice, she said, 'I just broke my foot.' She pointed down to her foot that was in one of those plastic contraptions that they use now instead of casts. I called it a cast but she informed me, pleased with the knowledge, that it was called a 'boot'. I looked at her confused. What was she saying, I said, 'Oh.'

Encouraged, I told you I was good at this, she said, 'I'll be up and walking again as soon as it's mended. I'm not like you.'

I didn't know what to say, 'good for you' seemed oddly wrong. Or, 'lucky you' seemed counter to what I believe. Or, 'I don't give a flying fuck' which was closer to the truth, seemed unduly harsh to a woman with an 'I'm giving you cake' smile.

So I said, wait for it, 'Oh.'

That seemed to satisfy her.

She's not like me.

Surprisingly, really, really surprisingly, I'm totally OK with that.


Kristin said...

I just don't get people with her mentality.

Clay said...

She was right, y'know, she's not like you. She falls way, way, short.

Lori said...

I love your use of "Oh". I use "really?" a lot. Clay is right, she falls way short of being anything like you, and she's too dumb to even realize it. I wonder what the driver was thinking!

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says-
Breath-taking, isn't it? The fear that some people have of disability. How terrified that woman must be, that she has to point out that her mobility capacity is only temporarily impaired.
I agree with Clay. She's not half the human being you are. Not even close.

Schmulie said...

how rude of her!

Sonia Connolly said...

So glad to hear that her rudeness didn't hurt you! Such a relief when other people's issues don't hook our issues.

Thanks for sharing the story with humor. Made me smile, and also reminded me what a useful tool silence and "Oh" can be.

Clay said...

She probably broke her foot while kicking a dog.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Absolutely - she is not like you. She is not the least bit empathic.


MoonDog said...

completely offtopic but I thought of you the other day as we were in the airport in minneapolis. In the baggage claim area waiting for our family to pick us up. I REALLY needed to go to the bathroom. my choices were A) leave my children where I cant see them because they cant fit in the stall, or B) go with the door open so all can see me but I can see my children. then AHHHHHHHHHHH!!! like golden beams from heaven! a bathroom within a bathroom! large enough for them AND me. perfect! Room enough to transfer them so they could go too! and then we tried to enter. nope. nada. we could not get through the door to the golden bathroom beyond. nice. I dont know how wide a chair is but my stroller is designed to go through standard 36 inch doorways. if we couldnt get through chances are no one else could either, unless they were on foot. not sure why that made me think of you, maybe that you are ever encountering such purposeful exclusion and here it was in front of me. I decided to bail and find another bathroom and we did find another one elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I am happy that you are not like her!


Moose said...

I always get the reverse. "I'm just like you" when no, you're going to be up and walking with no problems in a few weeks. I'm not going to get 'better.'

Ettina said...

I'm not sure you can assume that she was afraid of being seen as disabled. I could see myself acting similarly, not out of fear of disability, but out of fear that I'd be accused of being an imposter. For example, sometimes when overloaded I lose the ability to speak effectively. At home, I'll sometimes deal with this by writing what I want to say and handing the paper to the person I'm talking to. But I'm really leery of doing that in public, because if I did and then later said something, people might think I was faking being unable to speak. So if I did write to communicate to a stranger in person, I'd probably note that 'most of the time I can talk fine, I'm just overwhelmed right now'. Not because I think I'm better than someone who can never talk, but I don't want to mislead them.