Wednesday, July 06, 2016

In The Shade of Silence

I ran into someone the other day, we haven't seen each other in years.

A lotta years.

In fact, I didn't recognize him at first as he ran over towards us. We had passed a patio that he was sitting on and barely heard him when our names were called. We turned and watched him approach. I asked Joe quietly, "Do you know who this is?" Joe answered in a whisper, "No." We took his warm greeting and after a couple of seconds I knew exactly who he was. I used his name in a sentence so that Joe would catch the drift as well. But even as I said his name I could see Joe had remembered.

We're going back to when we first moved to Toronto, late 70's, that's a long, long way back. He'd been a bartender in a bar that we used to go to all the time. It was a different era and you had to go down an alley and then down dark back stairs to get to it. I always felt safe going in, we could see the alley plainly, but no matter how drunk we were, I left wary. Opening a door onto an alley when you are a hated minority is never an easy thing to do. We were very lucky to never have been assaulted there, others were less lucky. Safety should never be a matter of luck.

It was nice chatting with him, he's still way younger than us, by 11 years. Those 11 years don't show now as much as they did then.  He seemed like such a kid back then. We're all pretty seasoned now. As our chat grew to a close he said that he'd recognized us immediately because "Neither of you has changed a bit."

Huh?

I'm sitting in a big ass wheelchair, I'll tell you for certain that it never went down those steep back stairs.

"We'll we've changed a bit," I said.

"No, not one bit," he said steadfastly ignoring the fact that I was sitting in a wheelchair looking up at him rather than on my feet looking down at him.

I pointed to the chair.

I didn't want to make further issue of it so I let it drop. We continued on and then it was time to part and we all agreed it was nice to see each other and catch up. And it was.

My guess was that he was 'being polite' and 'didn't want to mention the chair.' I have met with this before people 'being nice' and 'purposely not noticing the disability.'

Why is it polite, or nice, to erase a big part of my life. I have changed, yes. I have a disability now. It's OK, it's just change. It's just different. It isn't shameful. It isn't like a new piece of me that has to move back into the closet. For heaven's sake, I'm out about being gay and I'm out because I'm in a wheelchair.

It probably sounds like carping over something trivial, but to me it isn't. I don't like even a brush with shame, had enough of that in my younger years. That stuff stinks.

Pride is pride, isn't it? And it never blossoms in the shade of silence.

5 comments:

Unknown said...

It sounds like an otherwise warm interaction...and that 'you haven't changed a bit' white lie is pretty commonly used when 2 people meet who haven't seen each other in a period of years.....
clairesmum

Ron Arnold said...

"Neither of you has changed a bit" is kind of a cliche though - ain't it? He may have been referring to something other than what had obviously changed. (Your character, your speech patterns, your humor, has Joe always had that mustache?) For some folks that statement is a reassurance and a touchstone that things are right with their world. Even though you HAVE changed (haven't we all since the late 70's?) - to him - in the things that mattered about you to him . . . in his perception - you didn't.

Cari Watrous said...

I'm always tied in that kind of situation between are they ignoring the elephant because - it's the because that matters - because they believe it shames me and they are being kind or because they don't know how to address the elephant or do they even see what I consider the elephant? Usually from tone or unwillingness to look me in the eye or let's just hurry up and get this uncomfortable encounter to a close I know which it is. Not being in your shoes, I can't be sure but there are a couple of things in his favor - he sought you out, recognized you even with the elephant but the crux of it would come down to the moment when he repeated nothing's changed.

mary ruebens said...

Id agree with Ron. My husband is a wheelchair user and people often see him not his chair and he has used a wheelchair for many years..we have been together nearly 20 years and he was using a chair when i met him and fell in love with him. MAny people dont "see" his wheelchair they see the guy that is their buddy..they know he has a chair he has had it for a long time...even with going places...people invite and dont always consider accessibility or other times it is "we got bodys we will get you in"...i always leave that decision to him...

Sherry-Lynn K said...

It IS a tough one! My sons disability is not who he is, but it is an integral part of who he is. It's hard when people pretend they don't see it, because then it's like dismissing something that does matter. He's not ashamed of his disability, or of his wheelchair,and he loves when his friends are able to embrace it as part of him. He recently got a FreeWheel, and one of his buddies spotted a pretty inaccessible area (lots of bushes and generally nasty terrain that would be hard to hike through, never mind wheel through) and said, "I bet you could crash through this with that thing!" He videoed while my son attempted it...when he got good and stuck, his buddy pulled while he pushed and, between them, they figured out how to break through the bushes. :D Good times :p