Sunday, September 14, 2008


It was out of my mouth before I'd realized I'd said it. And once it was said there was no way to take it back. I got a look of almost pity from the couple I'd spoken too, it was pity not wanted, not deserved ... it was inaccurate pity. Suddenly I realized that everyone around me had heard me. Oh, man.

Thursday and Friday were busy days, Nigel Devine was here in Toronto with a group of folks from the UK on a study tour. They spent a couple of days at Vita attending presentations and making visits. To a one they were lovely and a pleasure to have around. On Friday, we went with Nigel to the Panorama bar, which is 51 floors above Toronto. Right in the heart of downtown. A few others from the tour joined us on the patio and we chatted for a few hours.

The next day we arranged to get together with Nigel and go see Burn After Reading at a local cinema. Joe got me into the theatre, parking me in the wheelchair spot. The two seats next to me were empty and it was my job to keep them free while they got the popcorn and treats. The theatre was packed and I watched anxiously for them to come back because I knew if they weren't there soon I'd have to shoo people away from the seats.

Sure enough a young couple approaches the seats.

And I said it.


I said, "These are for my companions."

The language on the side of the chair "companion seating" just jumped into my mouth (it had the flavour of stale bubble gum). To me companion isn't what Joe and Nigel are. Friends, mates, buds, any of those, but companion?

Old ladies hire wan young girls to be a companion.

We knew a woman named Gladys who paid for schooling by being a 'companion' to an old gentleman that she despised.


The word glanced off the couple's eyes ... and then they shone with understanding and pity. Shit. Nigel is a friend. Joe is quite a bit more than that. But the language of disability slipped in, unbidden and unwanted.

My antennae are up ... I never want to call myself 'special'.


rickismom said...

Well, you blew it! LOL We all do, one way or another. Welcome to the human race!
Also, theoretically, a "companion" IS a friend.(Look it up in Webster's!). It is they who have the negative connotation. Because the world has its prejudices, it is getting increasingly difficult to use English without some of the garbage (Ie., prejudice) sticking to regular words.
I think the only way out would have been: these seats are taken. They just went to buy popcorn...."
But its always easier afterwards, isn't it?

Glee said...

It's hard to avoid eh Dave. I got a small lecture from a new crip colleague the other day about me using the word crip. She said it upsets and offends her and not to ever call her that. So I won't.

But I will continue to use it to refer to my people and myself as I hate the connotations and assumptions that go with the word disabled. Bugger it. I like 'crip', it's strong and short and is a new word if you like to look at it that way.

Glee crip

Anonymous said...

Quite often, I've found that those kind of words are the only terms most able bodies folks will understand immediately.
When telling people where I live, I've learnt it's easiest to say a 'blind institute/school'. I don't like that term, but when I explain it in other ways, people just get confused.

stevethehydra said...

erm... you should watch Firefly...

Shan said...


Yeah Dave - did you know there's a whole ACADEMY for training companions?

Susan said...

My personal least favourite of those words is "individual". I hate the way that word gets used.

Ettina said...

'Companion' literally means 'person who is accompanying you'. Nothing more specific than that.