Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Ride Home

I hopped on the subway, heading home. The moment I entered the car two out of the three people who were sitting in the parking area for wheelchairs got up and folded up their chairs. The third, the one at the end, did not. She was sitting in the primary seat that allows access to the space, with her there, even with the other two empty, I cant get into the space. I ask her, nicely, if she could move so I could use the space. She takes her ear phones out, looks at me, puts them back in and stays seated.

I roll back and hold on to another rail, extremely aware that I was a bit unstable and that I was in the space of a lot of people. Fortunately for me, not her, the energy and focus in the car was directed towards her sitting in that seat. Suddenly, she began to cry, not loudly. She wiped at the tears on her face looking extremely embarrassed. We came to the next stop, I had to scramble to get out of the way of the door to allow others out and others in.

At this point a woman sitting in the next row got up, reached over to her, tapped her on her shoulder to get her attention and then pointing at the wheelchair symbol, prominently displayed, and then indicating that I needed that space. She got up quickly and moved. I moved into that space, it felt good to have a good grip and to be out of everyone's way.

I felt terrible when I saw the woman sitting there crying. I had no intention of upsetting anyone. I hadn't been rude, I hadn't made comment to her, I just moved to another space.

Joe said that he thought the tears had nothing to do with what happened.

And even though I don't understand what happened, I think that the tears were a result of our encounter, my request, her refusal.

Sometimes I want to simply ride the subway. Get on, get into the designated space for wheelchairs, and ride. Too often needing specific space, even space clearly designated, brings with it interactions. Some requiring and deserving thanks. Some requiring a bit of assertion and conflict. Some, like this one, that are just baffling.

All I want is to ride, like everyone else, in silence and anonymity.

That's all.


Anonymous said...


this time I think Joe is right. As you know I have years and years of bad experience traveling by subway. I had to use it every weekday to travel to work for over 40 minutes. I was tired. It was exhausting. The people were loud, smelling bad, coughing at me, listening to overloud technomusic and I was so tired going to work and travelling back even more.
My nerves were wrecked. Sometimes I just could sit, think of everything together and nothing at all. I would listeto music over my headphones and hope to get to my silent home.

Some of the conersations directed my way I wouldnt even have noticed. And if realy exhausted it would have been impossible for me to get up.

I am now on disability leave and my life doesnt hurt half as much as when I had to go to work.

So it could have been me sitting there, at first not understanding what you want from me, than sad, beccause I felt bad about not getting up in time.

Sometimes I just silently cried because I was so exhausted.

I will never go back to this workplace...


Maggie said...

This time I think Joe is right. I'm glad the other woman got her attention, I'm glad she moved then, I'm sorry she didn't respond to your request at first. And I don't know why she was crying. But it bet it wasn't about you.

On a completely different topic: Some time ago you recommended a book called Good Kings, Bad Kings, by Susan Nussbaum. I ordered it and forgot about it. But last week it arrived, and I started reading it. I thought it would last a week of reading-while-waiting (in doctor's offices, for heavy traffic to clear, whatever). Instead, I finished it in two evenings.

I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the book, and how much her characters' voices match the voices of people I have worked with, in and out of institutions. How lovely to have a book in which the characters are themselves, disabilities and all, and don't stand in as symbols or foils for anything.

Thanks for the recommendation!

... and a query: Is there a whole list of fiction you would recommend?

Wishing you plenty of love, light and laughter


Anonymous said...

I think Joe is right. Her tears probably don't have anything to do with her current ignorance and rudeness. No doubt there are other and deeper issues. I know in my life I have been controlled by people and even circumstances so much that I sometimes take a stance for myself in inappropriate ways or at improper times. The moment of triumph is just that, a moment, then reality floods in. In saying this I am NOT excusing her behavior. She should have moved, no question. How sad.

Anonymous said...

I guess we will never know why she didn't move when you asked her, and why she cried.
I'm thinking about the desire for anonymity, as a person of colour living in an area where people of colour are the exception and individuals not a community. I think it's not gonna happen. I think I stopped wanting it when I was an older teenager. I DESPERATELY wanted it when I was a kid and I hated anything that drew attention to me- things not connected with my ethnicity like our slightly weird postal address. Now I'm still a bit annoyed by the stares and find the excessive interest in anything ethnic I've done a bit irksome. Just a thought arising from your story.

Anonymous said...

I ordered good kings bad kings when you mentioned it too and read it over Christmas, I couldn't put it down and read late into the night. There's so much to say about it, I can't begin to say it in this box. So thank you so much for the recommendation.

wheeliecrone said...

I think her tears were about her. Whatever is going on in her life.
That's it.
I'm guessing that you tell people every day that they are not responsible for other people's behaviour. Now I'm telling you that you are not responsible for the behaviour of other people. Not. Responsible.

Anonymous said...

Dave - I do think Joe was right. That woman could have very easily been me.

I suffer from pretty crippling bipolar disorder and stressful days really cause me to pull inward. During those times, I really have a hard time understanding very obvious social cues. In a situation similar to yours, I was on the subway and a blind woman entered the car I was in. I see her almost every day, I know she needs that seat I was sitting in, her guide dog was staring at me and I still couldn't understand what I needed to do. It causes an incredible amount of shame. I'm sure she was grateful that the other woman gave her an out - having someone give you a concrete description of what to do can be a lifesaver.

I know it's incredible tough for people around me, on better days I really try to compensate, but I know it doesn't make up for the bad days.

- Heidi

Donna Kirk said...

Hi Dave,
I was so glad to come across this blog. I have some of your books and have listened to you speak about sexuality and developmental disabilities at (then) Oaklands Regional Centre. Then, my son Matthew, loved in this institution.
I thoroughly enjoyed "The Ride Home" and, funnily enough, I enjoyed the comments even more. They made me sit up and take notice. Everyone had a different, sensible and intelligent slant of the woman who cried. Particularly Heidi. Thanks for giving me anew and valuable insight into bipolar disorder, and thanks even more for signing your name. Mental health issues are important to me. Matthew, my son, suffered terribly.
Donna Kirk

Dave Hingsburger said...

Thanks for all the comments and discussion. I want to clarify though that I didn't know why she started to cry. The issue for me was that there was an issue at all. Like I said sometimes I just want to ride the subway without any kind of incident or interaction that centres me out. Anonymity - blending in, that's sometimes all I want.

Utter Randomness said...

I would like to bring up a possible other side to this story.

I'm unable to stand on a moving vehicle. I use a seat. The seats that I can get to before the bus or subway moves are the priority seats. When someone asks me to move and there aren't any safe seats for me to move to, I can't. I also cannot move to a different seat, if one is even available, if the vehicle is already moving. I know this is true of others as well.

You never know who needs a seat. Those judgmental stares from others make me cry often. I too would just like to ride public transit without incident. Perhaps that lady needed the seat, and cried because she was being shamed out of it. Please remember that not all disabilities are obvious and that you do not know someone's circumstance. Yes, you should be able to ride public transit without incident, but that applies to others too.