"Alone??" he said, and then to clarify, "All alone?"
I had been making my way north on Church Street, headed towards the pub. I ran into an acquaintance who, actually, we see most often at the pub. After a brief hello, he commented on my state of being 'alone' on the street at that moment. I told him that I was indeed alone and before I could continue to say that I was meeting Joe at the pub, he said, "Are you allowed to be alone?"
This guy has seen me in a pub, chatting with people. This guy knows from conversation that I go to work every day. This guy knows all that and he asks me if I'm allowed to be alone. I said, "Of course I'm allowed to be alone!" I'd answered before I realized that I didn't need to answer - I don't have to check in with him or explain to anyone who I am or what I'm doing or why I'm freaking alone. He didn't drop it, "Where's Joe right now?" he asked.
"Listen," I said, "this is silly, you see that right?"
"I just want to make sure that you are OK being all by yourself."
This guy KNOWS me.
"Fuck man, give me a break here," I said, "just because you walk and I roll doesn't automatically make you responsible for me, you are not my minder."
"Well, if you're going to be like that, go head, get run over," and off he stalked.
For those of you who are worried, I didn't get run over.
I recognize that many people who know us casually pretty much always see Joe and I together. But that's because we do stuff together, we go places together, we live with each other and we like each other's company. I assumed that people had that figured, now after two or tree variants of this 'alone' conversation, I wondered if they think we are together all the time because I need care taken of me all the time. (I don't.)
So, at the bar, which, inspirationally, I arrived on my own, I asked Joe if people ever comment on him being alone when I'm not with him. He thought for a second and said, "People will say, 'Where's Dave?' or 'Where's the big guy?' but they don't often make a comment about him being alone.
The strength of a stereotype: disabled people as constantly needy and as constantly requiring care - can be measured I think in situations like this. Even though this man knows me as a working adult, who does adult things like hang around in pubs, the disability shouts while familiarity whispers. Stereotypes can be, I discover, stronger than actual interpersonal experiences.
That makes this work so much harder.
But at least I'm not in it alone.