This evening a group of people will get together, in one of Tessa's favourite spots in the city, and remember her life and her contributions. We won't be there, we're hours north doing training. We'd had a chat with Tessa while she was in the hospital and she told us, graciously, that she knew we may be travelling when the service happened - we were not to worry or to stress about not being there. Our work was important. She knew that we would remember her in our own way and in our own time.
Tessa was the first friend I made, after I became disabled, who also had a mobility disability. She used a scooter, I used a power chair. She was new to the 'concept' of disability and therefore even though she had been officially disabled longer than I had - she knew little of disability politics or disability identity. But let me tell you, as a 'old feminist', as she referred to herself, she took to these ideas like a duck to water. She began exploring her world in a much more adventuresome way.
I remember her first subway ride of the scooter. She was scared spitless but she held on to her scooter and flew on to the subway car. She was exhilarated at her own courage - she was doing what she never thought she could. She'd given up on going to the movies, she had no idea that she'd be able to go in and park her scooter. As a non-disabled woman she hadn't noticed that there were places and spaces for people who move differently. Her first movie in years was one of the Harry Potter films. She was awed by how big the movies had become - she loved it.
We, Tessa and I, formed a voting block so that we could always outvote Joe ... who slowed us up by walking. We teased him about being in the minority when we were out. It was all in good fun though. It was just nice to be able to play with the idea of being different and being in control. It was fun.
As Tessa got sicker we took on the role of helpful neighbour and would often shop for her. Joe and I began cooking larger meals and taking her over a serving of soup or stew or casserole. We had similar tastes in food, but it did take her a bit to get used to vegetarian cooking. In the end, she was just eating Popsicles and yogurt. She joked once that she had moved into 'Mr. Roger's neighbourhood. I joked that I'd moved into a crippled ghetto.
It meant so much to me to have someone to share the disability experience with. We went out for tea at least once a week, when we were home, and she always had a tale of dealing with real world situations and people ... she was finding her voice as a disabled woman. She was beginning to realize that she need not feel grateful for what others took for granted. Her disability identity informed her in the same way feminism had inspired her. 'I am woman, hear my scooter roar!'
Yesterday when leaving to go north for work, we ran into people moving big pieces of furniture out of her apartment. She loved that place. She loved her life there. It's hard to describe how powerful it was to see a cabinet being carted down the hallway to the waiting elevator. It signified the end of an era, an end to a friendship.
Tonight when they all say goodbye, and tell a story or two, Joe and I will do the same.
It's all we can do for her now.