Sunday, August 30, 2015

His Voice, Another's Words

Photo Description: Handwritten words in capital letters reading: Tomorrow you'll have to live with the things you said.
I understand the difference between coincidence and causation, I do. Even so, it's hard, sometimes, not to jump from one to the other. I'll admit, in this instance, I did.

We were on a brief vacation and though the weather was unseasonably cold the whole time, we had a good time. One day we were out walking with Ruby and Sadie, heading over the the museum, when we walked by a car filled to the brim with children and noise and chaos. Suddenly something smashed to the ground and an angry father appeared out of nowhere. "You stupid, stupid boy!!! You can't do anything right!!" Tears flowed silently down the boys face. I felt Sadie's hand slip into my own, it seemed that she had been frightened by the man's voice and felt his anger reverberate through the air. I too felt the narrow timbers that hold up my self esteem tremble as words, not aimed at me, nonetheless echoed within.

They were gone.

Car and all.

When we walked back.

Today Joe and I were headed down to do our grocery shopping. We like to go early so that the store isn't packed and the streets are quiet. We walked by a young man, sitting on the pavement where he'd slept the night before. His head was down and his voice a mumble, his face was hidden by the brim of a baseball cap, tattoos of red dragons chased each other around one leg. Just as we passed by the mumbles got louder. A block away, his voice exploded into the air. It was an angry voice, a harsh and hateful voice, his voice, saying another's words, "YOU STUPID, STUPID BOY!!!! YOU'LL BE NOTHING. NOTHING! NOTHING!!" Silence. Then. A sob.

I had change in my pocket on the way back.

But he was gone.

As if he'd become ... nothing.



Saturday, August 29, 2015

Howdy Sailor

We were visiting the Grace and Speed Muskoka Boat Museum with the kids and wandering around looking at the exhibits. They have a newly installed 'kids zone' where the girls had had a wonderful time on a flight simulator for a small plane, working on a water table the demonstrated how locks work, and putting on a puppet show where the plot was thin until the tiger attacked the cow and ... well ... there was blood.

We came upon an 'officer' welcoming people aboard a replica of a steamship. He was a friendly looking sort:

Photo description: Joe with his arm around a life sized cut out of a sea faring captain.
I immediately thought of a fun picture to take and I got Joe over to the cut out and had him put his arm around the captain's shoulders. He did. Then looking to see that no one was around, I asked him to give the fellow a kiss on the cheek. Just as he was about to do this another couple came into the area, Ruby and Sadie were inside the replica watching a short film. I quickly said to Joe, "Wait, wait," and indicated that others were around.

Joe looked at me, quizzically, and said, "Who cares?"

He was right. I still have what I call 'closet hangover' where I worry too much about how others may respond to our relationship. We were there having fun. The place is designed to have fun. I'm sure the cardboard fellow has been kissed any number of times.

But never so well.

Photo Description: Joe kissing cardboard cut out of a sailor man.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Last Day

While there is the weekend yet to go, today is the last day of our vacation. We've been away since Monday on our annual trip up to Muskoka. This was the first year of many that the weather's not been great. It's been grey and cold and damp the whole time. We managed to fit everything in; the trip to Santa's village, the annual night out to Boston Pizza, the scavenger hunt, but we did these with an eye to the sky the entire time. Rain threatened every day and we became masters at getting out and staying dry.

A big part of being here is strolling the boardwalk around the lake. It's a beautiful walk with places that are perfect to stop, with the kids, and look for wildlife and be amazed by the nature around us. One spot is a small bridge, very small bridge, where the girls can stand on tippy toes or crouch down to look through the slats, and count ducks or heron or beaver. This year beautiful lilies are blooming amongst the pads.

I love these walks. There is something about that walk that seems to relax everyone who makes it. Since the get go, it's been a welcoming place. Everyone greets everyone else. Either a nod of the head or, more commonly, a hello and a few words of conversation. It just feels so nice. Everyone acknowledging everyone. Those with dogs are stopped often and dogs, when permission has been given, get lavish attention which they revel in.

Me, I love the fact that, on these walks, I'm spoken to, equally and inclusively, with the rest of my family. The chatter flows naturally and people seem to both acknowledge and forget my differences at the same time. I like this.

I will miss this.

When I get home.

I will miss the sense of being fully human, fully different, when we are out. I will miss having time and space where I feel safe and welcome all at the same time.

I say we come up here for the kids, but I realize, that's not completely true.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

OMG put to good use

I was following the natural flow of people as we all got off the elevator. Joe and I always get off last when the small space is crowded so there were several people ahead of me, all going towards the lobby and outside. The flowing line passed by a woman, with a walker, slowly walking on our right. As we neared the lobby a woman and her friend stopped to chat, interrupting the flow and suddenly blocking me as they stood right in my way.

They saw me and indicated to the woman with the walker to get out of the way. She wasn't in the way, I was nearly by her. THEY were in the way. When the woman with the walker didn't immediately respond, one of them reached forward, past me, and grabbed the sleeve of her coat pulling it, again indicating the she was in the way. She now noticed, saw me, and moved a quarter inch to the right, she was right by the wall, she had no room to manoeuvre but she tried anyway.

The two women looked at me, apologizing for the other woman's behaviour, and then headed out. Joe was right behind me. We got out and I was fuming. I swung my chair around and said to Joe, with the loudness that anger gives voices, "Did you see that? Did you see that?" The two women who had blocked my path stopped at their car, looking back at me, questions in their eyes. They had no idea why I was upset.

"There is the assumption, always the assumption, that the disabled person is in the way. IN THE WAY|!!! That poor woman with a walker was made to feel as if she was the problem, that she was in the way. I know exactly, EXACTLY how she feels. Those two women," who were still listening, "stepped into the flow of traffic, expected everyone to move for them, never thinking that maybe it was they who were creating the problem. No they identified a disabled woman who WASN'T IN THE WAY as the problem. They TOUCHED| her, PULLED AT HER, made her the problem. What the hell is wrong with non-disabled people anyways. Why do they assume all space is theirs and any we disabled people take up is somehow STOLEN FROM THEM?"

Somewhere in that rant they got in their car. But they didn't drive away. They sat there talking animatedly with each other.

I don't know what they said to each other.

I probably don't want to know.

But I hope it was anything that follows first realization and then the words, "OH MY GOD ..."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fred and Me

Photo Description: Fred Flintstone holding a steaming foot after he'd used as brakes for his car.
It was colder than we expected it to be. The skies threatened rain. But we were undeterred, we headed off to  Santa's Village for our annual pilgrimage. We've been going since the Ruby was a toddler and Sadie a babe in arms. We got there and found that there were fewer people than in previous years, kept away by the cold I imagine, and we and the other families there had the run of the place. We started with the girls taking 16 rides on the roller coaster in a row. They'd get off, get in the short line up, and go again and again. It's wonderful seeing kids so happy.

I love going there for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, it's an amazing place to take kids. The admission pays for the rides so there's no fuss, no line ups to buy tickets, no hassle with keeping track of or counting out payment once inside. Second, it's a lovely place for adults. It's like taking a stroll through a beautiful park while the kids burn up energy darting from place to place.

We crossed over to Elves Island and found that they'd installed a new climbing devise and Ruby and Sadie were braving it. We watched as they traversed various challenges ten feet up in the air. They were completely absorbed. And that's when the rain finally began to fall. This was our last stop in the park anyway so we were about to head back to the van. We spoke to Mike and said that we'd head back and get in the van, as it takes time, and he could follow with the girls once they'd done their adventure.

At the gift store there is a longish ramp down to the walkway out. I've done this every year, no problem. But this year, I didn't take into the equation that the ramp might be slippery. I headed down as I usually did, and about half way down, I lost control of the chair, it tipped forward off it's back wheels, and I began to slide. Panic took over and I shot my leg out, being tipped over I could easily reach the ground with my foot. I Fred Flinstoned the chair using my foot as a break. Now, I don't wear shoes, only socks, so I could feel every bump on the ramp, Pain shot through my body but I kept my foot there until it had slowed the slide and my chair fell back into proper position.

When I was at a stop, Joe rushed up to me, having watched all this, which took only seconds to happen. I told him my foot was screaming with pain. The friction between my sock and the ramp must have been hot because steam was rising like from a bonfire from my foot. My sock had been worn through and my toes were peeking out trying to figure out what just happened.

Once back in the van and transferred into my manual chair, which I use for riding in, Joe took a good look and I manage to loose a sock but sustain no injury to my foot. Just then the family arrived back at the van and it filled with stories of the day. I listened, glad to hear the chatter and the laughter and the excitement of discussing what comes next.

Me, I was just pleased to be reminded that in an emergency, even with panic, I still can rely on my wits and my body to help me through. My feet may not walk much, but I can put the brakes on when necessary.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Cancellation

Photo Description: A flock of birds forming a heart springing from a woman's hands.
Sometimes my rides to work are very, very, very early. When a morning person uses the word early, they mean it. When I'm picked up somewhere after 5:30 I know that I'll be sharing part of my ride with a wonderful woman, a delight to chat with, who goes to the gym on a near daily basis. She uses a scooter and talks very frankly about her experiences as a woman with a disability, as a scooter user and as someone with a serious and complicated and life threatening illness. She has fought hard to have the life she has, she has lived longer than anyone ever said she would and she bridles as the idea that it's 'inspirational' to want to live and to want to live well.

I like her.

This morning when I was on my way to work, early, I asked the driver if we were going to pick her up next. He told me that she was indeed on the route and would be picked up next. I leaned back in my chair and enjoyed the ride. I had a story all lined up to tell her, and a question I wanted to ask her. I like the moments shared with others who have a disability and who consider, like I do, that the disability community is a rich resource and who are proud to be part of it.

About ten minutes before the turnoff from the freeway towards her place the driver announced, "I'll be taking you straight to work. The next pick up has been cancelled." I thanked him for letting me know but ...

... my heart dropped out of my chest.

Was she OK?

She's never cancelled before. I didn't want immediately to go to 'health' as a reason because I hate when people do that to me. But then, I don't have the same kind of medical issues, she shared with me quite openly about her battles for good health and against disease. I wondered if she was battling now.

I didn't know what to do.

We have never shared phone numbers.

We have only ever shared rides.

It's none of my business. Except for the fact that 'Mankind is my business," to paraphrase Dickens. I care about her. I wanted her to know what she would never know, that I was on the bus. That I was thinking about her. That I thought she was a wonderful woman. That I enjoyed every minute of our rides together. That I wanted more rides with her. That I want her to win and win and win her battles for health like she's won and won and won.

I wanted her to know that she enters a space and brings warmth and light and welcome.

I wanted her to know that on a dark morning ride, someone was praying for her.


And hoping she didn't mind.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Kiss

Photo Description: Two men kissing in a photo booth in the 1950's.
I remember, many years ago, sitting in a bar with a group of people I knew from work. The mood was tense. Our beer sat on the table slowly going stale. None of us were in the mood for drinking. We were here because none of us wanted to be alone. We all worked for the same human service agency, we all had a passion and life vision to work with people with intellectual disabilities, but we were all, at that moment, reconsidering who we were, where we were and what our future might hold. Two of our number had been fired that morning. Called in, accused, fired. The union didn't care. In negotiations the year before it had bargained away the demand that would have made sexual orientation a prohibited grounds for dismissal. We were, utterly alone. All of us terrified that we might be next.

They were dark times.

It might be difficult to imagine this now. For those who didn't live through it, it may sound almost unreal. For those who didn't live through it, it may be difficult to imagine what it was like to speak without pronouns, to have to lie to live, to have the magical ability to be amongst your co-workers while being completely apart from them. To listen to their truths and respond with lies or silence.

They were dark times.

Last week I ran into a woman with an intellectual disability that I hadn't seen for a long time. Since the dark years, in fact. She still lived with the agency I worked for back then. An agency  that would now never think of firing or, better, not hiring, someone who was LGB. (I've left the T off because I'm not so sure that Transgender Rights have kept pace. There is so much yet to be done. Still so much darkness.) I approached her to say, "Hello." It took her only a second to recognize me. I'm fatter, balder and in a wheelchair so I was surprised she recognized me at all."

"DAvid," she said. She had always put such emphasis on the first portion of my name. We talked a bit and she caught me up with her life. She introduced me to her support worker, a nice looking young man of about 20. He was very good as support, he stood aside while we talked and only entered in when she asked for his help in remembering something. He was a 'support' worker. Then I asked what they were doing there. As I came by it seemed like they were waiting.

Her support worker spoke up, "It's my fault, I forgot my keys at home and I'm waiting for them to be delivered to me." Just as he finished speaking another young man, of about the same age, showed up. He shyly passed the keys to the support worker, leaned over, gave him a quick, affectionate peck on the lips, and waved goodbye as he left. I said to the blushing support worker, "husband or boyfriend." He laughed and said, "Fiance."

The woman I knew said, "I can't wait for the wedding, I'm giving one of the toasts!" She and I talked for a moment more. I wished her well. I said goodbye to the support worker and congratulated him and wished him well on his wedding.

It was simply nice.

I happened near noon.

On a Saturday.

In the open.

In the light.

I left thinking about the two women who had been fired. The one's that were the cause of us gathering in the bar. The one's who had been invited but did not come that evening. The one's who had had their careers cut short, their lives battered by the trauma of being targets of hatred and bigotry. I never heard from them again. Don't know where they are.

But I hope, where ever they are, they are in the light.

Being kissed.