Monday, March 16, 2015

Sturm Und Drang on the Subway

After 8 years, it finally happened. I felt sick about it. My apology was brushed off, I wanted, I wished, that it had been taken seriously as it was seriously intended. But afterwards, maybe an hour, my upset at myself was being tempered by my upset at the need I have for unrequested, but extremely needed, assistance from strangers, even ones I can't see.

You are probably confused.

Let me give you the context to all of this sturm und drang.

I was on the subway heading down to Dundas Station. That's a very busy station and the train is always packed by the time we get there, and, of course, most people on the train get off there. When the doors opened I let a few people in front of me through the door and then headed there myself. I had to turn the wheelchair so it goes straight through the door. There is a huge gap there and I need to go over it with a little bit of speed. I've done this a thousand times.

All those thousands of times that I've done this, I've done this in subway cars that are always packed. So I've come to expect that subway riders can see me, see the movements of my chair, and are willing to give me space, even if only not to be run over. In fact, I've never run over anyone, or even bumped into anyone. People have bumped into me, but that's a different issue. Me. I'm careful. I know I'm heavy. I know my chair is heavy. So I'm really careful.

I was just about finishing lining up the chair (this sounds like I take a long time but I'm quick) and a woman rushed behind me and my back tire turned and caught the side of her shoe. She was startled and cried out, not from pain but from surprise, I shot forward and out of the train. I turned to apologize to her and, even though she was complaining about nearly being run over to a friend with her, she brushed my apology away saying that I hadn't actually hurt her. She walked away, without a limp, clearly still angered by what had happened.

And I felt sick.

I am so careful in my chair.

But, I need people who are around me, particularly around the back of the chair, even more particularly when it's crowded, to work with me as I move the chair. The same way they work with those who have strollers, or prams, or shopping carts, or walkers, or bicycles. I'm not asking for more than others. I just need a kind of active, yet not interactive, help. Like other people do.

I need to use the subway. I need it on cold days. I need it when I'm on a deadline. I need it for the same reasons other people need it. I had to push away the thought 'I won't go on the subway any more, there is too much risk for others.' Then I remember that this is one person in thousands of people who have travelled on the same train to the same station with no incident at all. It's just one person. I didn't actually run over her foot.

But even now, writing about it. I feel terrible.

Both at what happened.

And at knowing exactly, ex-freaking-actly, that I don't figure well into the story she's telling today. And from that story prejudice and animosity towards those of us in power chairs and scooters will be reinforced.



Louise said...

Fact of the road: those behind are always at fault.

Anonymous said...

This bugs the $hit out of me!!! I work with wheelchair users on a daily basis and I am quite sensitive to how others treat them. For example, one individual I support is blind in one eye and has partial vision in the other; he also has an Intellectual Disability and wears hearing aids so he hear. More often, than not people will comment to him when he is backing up..."Watch where you're going!" or "You backed into me" or they will simply walk in front of him then tell him to slow down because he "nearly ran them over". These comments are coming from sighted people, people who have the ability to quickly, move out HIS way or to excuse themselves from walking in front of him and cutting him off. I work with another individual, who moves slowly through doorways...people will come from behind him and push him through the door without asking him if he needs/wants assistance...I will take the person aside and ask them if they would push a non wheelchair user through a doorway...they respond with No! But he moves so slow....excuses, excuses!!! But never EXCUSE Me!
Some people are.over- dramatic.a$$hole$, Dave. You have no control over the way she will share her experience with others. From my own experience, I know she will share the incident with someone who will tell her to build a bridge and get over it...;)

Anonymous said...

Person texting steps off the curb and gets hit by a truck. Whose fault is it?

Person out in public is not paying attention to her surroundings, and gets bumped. Whose fault is it?

The person not paying attention.

Yes, it would be lovely if we could all worry about everyone in our vicinity all the time and never bump into anyone.

It kind of requires some cooperation on their side, Dave.

Would you feel as bad if you had been pushing a stroller and the same thing had happened?

Frankly, as you are a large person, on a large chair!, she had to be really unattentive to not see you.

I think you're overreacting, even though I agree she is probably blaming you. People don't like accepting the consequences of their own lack of attention. It is easier to blame the other.

As you said, you've done this successfully a thousand times before.

Maritime law applies: the ship with the most mobility has to give the right of way to the ship which has a harder time moving out of the way.

You don't have to be perfect. Really.


sandi said...

Dave, you've done nothing wrong. Mentally put the wrongdoing back on her. She dodged in behind the chair, making a choice to fit through a gap that she thought was big enough, only to discover that it wasn't. Her brush off and discomfort was probably more to do with her embarrassment at herself, rather than upset with you.

But even if she does paint you as the bad guy, you don't need to take that on. She dodged, the wheel caught her, you apologised and everyone goes on their way. People bump into others all the time. You don't need to be perfect, just like any person who walks needs to be perfect. Generally, people all try and look around and be aware of others, but accidents happen and people say sorry.

Don't feel you have to hold yourself to a higher standard than would be expected of anyone else.

Her response to the event is just that - HERS.

Try be gentle with yourself.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. :(

I don't think it was your fault.


Andrea S. said...

Agreed with others -- not your fault. But it's sad that you mentally went to a place, even if only momentarily, where you had to push away the thought that you shouldn't go out on the subway any more. I'm guessing that may be at least as much a reaction to the many other times people have made you feel like you were "in the way" when you very much were NOT, as it was reaction to this one encounter.

CapriUni said...

I know you know you did nothing wrong, here.

But I just wanted to say: "I feel ya, Bro!"

It seems like this woman chose (subliminally) not to see you, acted as if you weren't there, brushed off your apology, and chose to get angry. These are all the hallmarks of bigotry. And from that fleeting glimpse of her as she walked (unlimpingly) away, it seems as if the encounter will only reinforce her bigotry.

Doesn't really matter that neither that encounter, nor her bigotry, are your fault, does it? Sisyphus comes to mind. And it stinks.

I don't have any advice. But I will join you in the expletive: "Shit!"

Ezzy said...

In motorized vehicles the rule is that if you are rear ended, it is the fault of the person in the rear. So, not your fault. Let it go. Forgive yourself. People will never learn patience and tolerance and understanding if they are not exposed to situations that require it. Be gentle with yourself Dave.