THE LAST WORD

Davis, Cheryl A.

THE LAST WORD Cheryl A. Davis A Day on Wheels Man, if I was you, I'd shoot myself," said the man on the subway platform. No one else was standing near him. I realized he was talking to...

...I said, 'You're much too pretty to be in a wheelchair.'" In my fury, I lost control...
...I drive a van equipped with a wheelchair-lift to the train station...
...You're much too pretty to be in a wheelchair," she said...
...Nick is a therapist, a Ph.D...
...Since we are thought of as poor invalids in need of chatting up, people are not apt to think too hard about what they are saying to us...
...I offered him a conciliatory remark, and he quieted down...
...I tried that, but it didn't work...
...indeed, it was a typical episode in my continuing true-life sitcom, "Day on Wheels...
...Yes, butó" "But what...
...They'll just tell themselves I'm maladjusted...
...I pretend to ignore them, the eyes that scrutinize me and then quickly glance away...
...Unfortunately, I rarely get to meditate...
...Well, look," he said, "if those words don't do it, find something else...
...Next time" arrived last week...
...I didn't ask you...
...It takes time to learn how to protect yourself...
...She turned away and, a moment later, was chatting with an old woman beside her as if nothing had been said at all...
...That is not an appropriate question to ask a stranger," I said quietly...
...The train came and we got on together...
...How do you take a bath...
...We forgive them their trespasses and answer their questions patiently and try to straighten them out...
...How do you deal with the other bozos on the bus...
...They may be loosely wrapped, but they're a persistent lot...
...another woman asked me, apropos of nothing...
...Nick, If I'm too rude, they won't learn a thing...
...It seems odd, since they also worry about the "right" way to talk to disabled people...
...I was active in the disability-rights movement...
...When I got home, I telephoned one of my more socially adroit disabled friends for advice...
...There was one woman on the train who tipped the scales for me...
...To learn how to do it gracefully can take a lifetime...
...I use a wheelchair...
...I decided to try it next time...
...Usually, I fail...
...I just say, 'Grow up,' " Nick answered...
...from Stanford, and paraplegic...
...A manual chair, light enough to carry, enables me to visit the "walkies" who live upstairs and to ride in their Volkswagens...
...I realized he was talking to me...
...I didn't see the man coming...
...a woman on the train asked me recently...
...For me, this was not an unusual encounter...
...Between my brain and my mouth, the mediating force of acquired tact had vanished...
...Others prefer to ignore the rude remarks and questions altogether...
...What do you think...
...It's nice that you have something to keep you busy, isn't it...
...For many years, I was in what some of us call "the phyz-diz-biz"ódeveloping housing and educational programs for disabled people...
...I stared straight ahead, utterly frozen in unanticipated rage...
...Would you like to read the sports section...
...I said I did...
...I attract attention...
...Many of us take the position that the people who bother us are to be pitied for their ignorance...
...We take it upon ourselves to "educate" them...
...Do you work...
...For that one lapse, I flagellated myself all afternoon...
...For those whose disablement is still recent, the gratuitous remarks and unsolicited contributions can be exceptionally hurtful...
...I asked him...
...As a result, I have known several thousand disabled people, at one time or another, across the United States...
...Mommy, that lady has funny teeth," I Cheryl A. Davis is a free-lance writer and an intern at the Center for Investigative Reporting...
...Actually, I get around well...
...How many miles can that thing go before you need new batteries...
...Well, / have schizophrenia," he said proudly...
...That was a bit haughtier than I could pull off, I told him...
...I am not "confined" to one...
...I asked him...
...I Was on the train platform, and he approached me from behind and tapped me on the shoulder...
...I turned and looked at him...
...he responded...
...My life has been rich and varied, but my fellow passengers assume that, as a disabled person, I must be horribly deprived and so lonely that I will appreciate any unsolicited overture...
...he asked, discarding civilities...
...One day, an elderly man was staring at me as I read the newspaper...
...I use a powered wheelchair with high-amperage batteries to get to work...
...I went to "special" schools offering the dubious blessing of a segregated education...
...That's marvelous...
...The main thing is to get them to stop bothering you, right...
...Undaunted, she grabbed my left arm below the elbow to get my attention...
...That God holds a beauty contest and if you come in first, you don't have to be in one...
...But I was mortified, and I moved to the other end of the train car...
...My mother explained that it was not comme il faut to offer up personal observations about other people's appearances...
...Well, then don't say things like that to people you don't know...
...Luckily, you're not," I said, gliding gracefully away...
...When I was a little girl, I once saw a woman whose teeth looked strange...
...A train ride can be an occasion for silent meditation in the midst of mechanical commotion...
...I thought everyone's mommy taught that, but I was wrong...
...I feel rejected," he said...
...Clearly he was not the best person for my new approach, but I think I'm headed in the right direction...
...I snapped...
...I try to avoid the gratuitous chats with loosely wrapped passengers...
...Then tell them their behavior is inappropriate...
...Inappropriate...
...What's your disability...

Vol. 51 • November 1987 • No. 11


 
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