An odd thing happened at the Duty Free.
We were both tired, but we stopped to pick up cheap beer and to 'spend a penny' as my Grandmother used to say. I rolled down the steep ramp and used the momentum to carry myself straight to the car. I locked wheels, swung off the footrests, got up and hoisted myself into the car. Joe went round to take out some of the food cartons that were cluttering up the back seat and after having deposited them, hopped in the car. Just as he was turning on the car and turning around to see if anyone was coming, he noticed that we'd left the wheelchair sitting alongside the car. If he hadn't looked, we'd have driven off without it. The mere thought fills me with horror.
I think this moment represents a huge step in my development as a person with a disability. Really. I do. It's hard to explain but I'll try by telling you another story:
When I first came to Toronto I worked as a classroom assistant with students who had physical disabilities. They were fully integrated into the regular classes in the school but had a segregated home room. The home room provided both a respite from the task of integrating the classrooms of others (difficult work, seldom honoured) and all sorts of adaptive equipment and a huge accessible washroom. There were two classroom assistants, one male, one female and one home room teacher. I wasn't much older that many of the kids in the classroom, having only just graduated from University, and I got along quite well with most of them.
One day, I was walking head of a woman who was powering her wheelchair along behind me, we were deep in conversation. She was the woman who introduced me to the idea of disability pride and the concept of 'embraced identity' for people with disabilities. She was far ahead of her time. So, we were talking. I walked through the door and let it close right in her face. I took a couple of steps and realized, 'Oh, Gosh, I'm supposed to be here to hold doors and make access possible.' I opened the door to find her laughing. She said, 'You forgot there for a minute didn't you?' I admitted that I had. She said, that I shouldn't worry that she simply forgets sometimes too.
When disability becomes fully part of you, it's hard to see it represented as something a concrete as a wheelchair or a held open door. I was in the car, therefore, that's all that was needed. Somehow it was easy to forget something that both is me and isn't me at the same time - something like my wheelchair.
I just read this over and I'm not sure I'm making any sense at all. But I'm convinced that this happens to all with disabilities. I think I've seen people with Down Syndrome lose their extra chromosome down the sofa cushions. I think I've seen people with cerebral palsy have moments when their cerebral forgets their palsy. Then we all have, 'oh, yeah' moments. And rush to get what we've left behind. Because it's part of us. Because we value what it is and what it means. Because it is who we are even though it isn't what we are.
I'm confusing myself.
I've decided not to wipe out the post and start again, because I think I'll end up with pretty much the same mess as I have here now.
Thing is - we almost drove off, leaving my wheelchair behind - and somehow I think that's significant.