The piece I am going to read comes from
chapter three of My Body Politic. It is the summer of 1975, about four years
after my accident. The chapter
is titled “Coming Out in the West” and describes how, in that summer,
I became increasingly intrigued by and attracted to other disabled people.
Although I was by then an experienced wheelchair user, I was still reluctant
to claim the title “disabled woman.” Though I was living on my
own, my mother was looming much too large in my life. In her worry that I would
get hurt again, she saw danger in everything I wanted to do, from learning
to drive a car to going back to college. I overheard her say to a friend “We
have to give Simi the feeling that she is independent.”
to move from New York City to Berkeley, California to test out the waters there. “There
will still be hippies there,” I thought “and I will be at home
among them, recapturing the 60's.” I don’t think I said out
loud that I hoped they would recognize me as one of them, not just see some
woman in a wheelchair.
story comes from my first day in Berkeley, on an excursion to the grocery store.
I had gone
about ten blocks, zigging and zagging, when I found a store. It occupied the
ground floor of a small apartment building. The front windows were filled with
displays of paper towels and pyramids of canned fruit, a round tin Coca Cola
sign hung over the entrance, and little bells jingled against the glass when
I opened the front door. As I pushed my cart down the aisle in front
of me, picking out the ingredients for this new life, I realized that no one
stared at me. Even the grocer ignored me. As the people had on the street.
Might I be inconspicuous here? Could I escape people fussing and fretting over
packed my bag, and, when I asked, reached over the counter and placed it on
the back of my chair. I put my sunglasses on, and donned the leather gloves
I’d need for the push back home with the groceries adding extra weight
to my chair. I swung the door open and went outside. But I stopped short. There
on the corner, facing me, was a man sitting tall in a sporty black wheelchair.
Wavy blonde hair fell down his bare back. He wore only tattered jeans and leather
sandals. He was not alone. Three women swirled around him, dancing and skipping.
Each woman held a container of yogurt, and each, with gusto, was throwing handfuls
of the stuff at him. He answered them. He scooped up the cream from his naked
chest and off his sun burnished shoulders, and lobbed it back. There was yogurt
in their hair, running down each and every chest, dribbling down one woman's
thigh, another's forearm. It lingered in bellybuttons, between toes, and in
the spokes of his wheels. White, wet yogurt pooled on his lap.
frolicked and romped on their long, nude legs. They leapt about on their bare
feet. He swiveled his chair back and forth, doing a kind of wheelchair twist.
He snaked in and around them, and they jumped to get out of his way. The California
sun was streaming down on them and they were laughing to beat the band.
was routine California street corner fare. I seemed to be the only one to take
notice. The grocer had stayed inside and whoever else was out and about just
walked by, as though nothing marvelous was happening. I stayed till the last
minute, drinking it all in, and watched the merry band go off down the street,
turn, and proceed up a rickety ramp onto the front porch of a brown house with
missing shutters and twirling lawn ornaments.
Yes, I thought,
if that's disability, I can do that. He made it look fun and sexy. Not woeful