It was ugly.
We had been wandering through the museum, sometimes ahead of, sometimes behind, a group of tourists. We both noticed that one of the men was having trouble walking and looked to be in some pain. But he came from my father's era of grit before grumble, so he just kept on. We'd see them all standing together, shoulder to shoulder, as a guide stopped a talked about various things they were seeing.
Near the end of our visit, and I think near the end of theirs, we rounded a corner and saw that the man who'd had trouble walking, was now sitting on a chair that someone had given him. He looked, for the first time, as if the pain was ebbing. But he also looked near tears. From a man like this, that's a big deal. Me, I cry, easily, and I'm OK with that, much to my father's horror.
What had upset him, upset both Joe and I as well. As soon as he sat down it was like he was cut from the herd. there was space all around him, where previously he'd been right in the thick of it. More than that, even though the chair was set to be near the front, people had stepped right in front of him, as if he wasn't there, as if he didn't need to see what was going on, as if he had dropped out of existence.
I'm used to people doing this to me in museums and galleries. I'm told by others with disabilities that it's a common phenomena. But I always thought that's because I was a stranger to them and as such my 'other' status left me irrelevant. This guy was with the group, they knew each other. They called each other by name. They travelled together in a bus.
And he was dead to them.
Maybe this is why so many people fear wheelchairs. Somewhere on their journey to needing an assistive devise of some kind, they experience the loss of status that comes with sitting down. I'd always thought that wheels were necessary to the experience.
But I was wrong.
It's not wheels.
You know what it is and I know what it is, but what is is, isn't wheels.