Friday, September 17, 2010

A Drunk, An Elevator ... you know the rest

We'd arrived home from a short lecture trip, are home for one night and then are gone again on another. On the trip home we organized ourselves, setting out tasks so we could get everything done quickly and efficiently. I was given the job of getting up to the bank, I would hop in my power chair and head out while Joe stayed and carted stuff up from the car.

There were few people on the street so I could open the chair up and fly up to the bank. The was no line up at the bank machines and I even got the one that is slightly modified for people with disabilities. Banking done, I quickly rushed back home. I noticed that Joe was down at the car so I scooted past the front of the bulding to meet him in the parking lot. He saw me and then piled some stuff on the back of the chair.

Because of the speed of my chair, I got into the building first. I pushed the button for an elevator that was already there. It openned and, as people coming into the lobby getting keys out to enter all saw, it was impossible to back up slide over and get in during the time alloted for the door to open. They arrived and Joe arrived at the same time. I was in front of the door and when the button was pushed, they all climbed over me like I was a JungleJim and filled the elevator. I backed up and away a little upset. Joe smiled and said, 'I'll get in too so you can have the next one to yourself.' He had lots of bags and did take up room.

The next elevator came several minutes later and again there were lots of people. That was ok, there was lots of room. I got them to get in first and then I pulled in. I had forgotten that I had a bag on the back of the chair and as it happened, the door didn't want to close because the bag stuck out a bit too far. A fellow, pissed drunk, noticed and leaned over and lifted the bag off my chair. That was ok with me, it made sense. I asked him to simply hand the bag back to me and I'd carry it off. He refused. Flat out refused. He was determined to get the bag back on the back of the chair.

Now he his body, which stank of smoke and sweat and booze, was pressed right up against me. He was grunting as he was trying to get the damn bag back over the two arms. All the time I'm protesting. Just give me the bag, I can carry it. Suddenly he's an angry drunk, he informed me in no uncertain terms, that that bag was going on that chair. Angry drunks can turn so I just fell silent. By the time he had tried everything, I had had to shut the chair off because his leg was up and over the chair arm as he reached back. I was covered in his smell and his sweat. I was afraid of him.

Finally he gave up and he's even mader now, but also finally we were on my floor and the door openned. He threw the bag at me in a fit of fury. I thanked him for his 'help' and got off. I could see that the others on the elevator were scared of him too. The door closed and I was shaking and crying as I drove down to the door of my apartment.

It was hard to think that 'there was a time he'd never have treated me that way' thought. Because the fault didn't lie in my wheelchair, it didn't lie in my disability. It lied in the fact that our voices, individually, and our voices, collectively, have yet to become valued as authoritative about our own lives and our own needs.

I teach people with disability to have a voice and to speak their own minds.

I need to teach others to have ears and to listen past their prejudices.

It's been said that there is a message that God gave us two ears and one mouth ... yeah, I get that, but unfortunately, without calculators at ready hand. It seems many can no longer do math


stephanie said...

That must have been absolutely frightening! But there were others in the elevator. No one came forward to lend a hand? Even to just lend a hand to the man trying to get the bag off your wheelchair? Even if only to try to keep him calm?
But good thing you kept your cool, it could have gotten worse. good thinking.

Andrea S. said...

Teaching people to listen (whether with ears, for hearing people, or with their eyes, for us deaf people) is often much harder than teaching people to speak up. I've run into my share of hearing people who (can you see the irony saturating this situation?) don't know how to listen. And yet the metaphor that many hearing people choose for people who don't listen is "deaf." Seems to me the metaphor needs fixing, given that it never seems connectted to reality.

Brenda said...

What a terrible thing to have happen! I think, upon leaving the elevator, I might have taken the opportunity to not only thank him (as you did), but also to say "Thanks for your help, everybody - I really appreciate it!" Perhaps a little dose of shame might jar them out of their apathetic inaction, and prod them to lend a hand the next time a person in a wheelchair is accosted by someone.

Anonymous said...

I think you and everyone in the elevator did the right thing. You can't reason with a drunk.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

One part of this whole situation that really gets to me is that people just climbed over you to get to the elevator the first time. Where was their empathy? Their sense of fairness? Their humanity? People in the larger culture don't think that we autistics have any empathy, and yet, I'm quite certain that it was "normal" people treating you like you weren't there. Believe me, I would *never* have done that, at any point in my life; I would have been thinking "This man needs some space to get into the elevator. I need to give him that space." I wonder why people think autistic means "no feelings" when they themselves act without any sensitivity at all, and I'm left reading posts like this and wanting to cry.

Kristin said...

Oh Dave, I'm so sorry you had to go through that.

Lauren said...

Men do that to me, as a woman, all the time. They just make up their minds that they have do it their way and have to "conquer" the task. And that goes for sober or drunk! I hope more men will learn to control their tempers and listen to others when things don't go the way the expect, because angry drunks are scary!

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