So. I mentioned a few posts back that I was headed off to One Small East Coast City to visit family. And visit family I did. A lot of family. Family I had not seen in oh let’s say ten years…Anyway. I spent my last night with a close relative, her husband, and two young kids. Before I tell the story about the very pleasant mobility aid related conversation I had with Husband on the way to One Small City’s airport, let me be blunt: I have never liked Husband. Not when I met him. Not when she married him. And certainly not now. Perhaps it is just me, but I am put off by any guy who keeps his immaculately coifed bride waiting at the back of a stifling, overstuffed church sanctuary, because he is too hungover and disheveled to make it to the altar on time.
Anyway. Since then Husband has worked his way up the ranks of traveling lightbulb salesmen, and now occupies a management position at the lightbulb company. This makes Husband feel important. This taste of success makes Husband feel as though his views on the merits of the perfect body are justified. You see Husband has put a lot of time into crafting what he imagines to be the perfect body from his personal corporeal, genetic lot. Husband runs marathons. Husband watches what he eats. Husband doesn’t smoke or drink. Husband weighs himself regularly, adding an extra mile or two if he is a few grams over his ideal. Husband pokes fun, in public, of those he perceives to be overweight, openly referring to them as the lesser of the species. (No I am not kidding or exaggerating. I wish I were.) Indeed, Husband’s worldview could best be characterized as a vulgar interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Ubermensch, an Ubermensch who has just overdosed on the Protestant Ethic. You see, Husband attributes his success in the lightbulb business to his pristine, god-gifted, meticulously maintained physique. Or to put it another way, success comes to those with perfect bodies. Even the slightest imperfection is an indication of impending DOOM DOOM DOOM.
Now for the really sad part. A few years ago, Husband became, through luck of the genetic lottery, the father of a child with special needs. Being a bit different from the rest, Little One has not walked, talked, or learned her basic self-care skills according to any sort of “normal” schedule. But she has walked, talked, and learned. She’s done just about everything in fact, that she is “supposed” to do and that the Doctors weren’t sure she’d ever be able to do. She just does these things a little differently. Husband has had a lot of trouble with this lot. Husband has had trouble bonding with Little One. Husband has had trouble accepting that Little One is not “normal.” Husband views Little One as a small failure, and every time she fails to perform tasks in a way that is “normal” or in reaching a “normal” milestone Husband views this as a sign of IMPENDING DOOM. A PLAGUE ON HIS HOUSE!!!! So, when I showed up at his house, the night before I left for the airport, with my mobility aid in tow Husband had a bit of a reaction, which he tried his best to suppress, but just. could. not.
I had stashed my aid in the laundry room. Since I didn’t need it around Husband’s house, it seemed appropriate and convenient to park it among the coats and shoes. But then, the next morning as Husband was helping me gather my things for the airport, he stopped me, just as I was grabbing my aid and heading out the door:
Husband: Hey, what is this for?
Me: Oh well, I’ve got a bit of a back problem…
Husband: A BIG one? A NEW one???
Me: Well, it’s not exactly new. I mean I was born with it. But it has gotten worse.
Husband stares blankly and silently follows me+aid to the car, where he tosses my baggage into the trunk. We get in. There is silence, until:
Husband: So this back problem. What do you mean you were born with it?
I proceed to launch into what I hope is a detailed but accessible explanation of spina bifida and tethered cord syndrome, and their relationship to Ehlers-Danlos, with a few details about the effects of nerve damage and its irreversibility. Husband glances at me with a cold stare. Then he glances at the road. Then back at me. Then back at the road. The tension inside his tiny traveling car mounts. And then:
Husband: Are you SURE you need that THING? Because it’s really big. I mean, that is a really BIG cane. Do you really NEED that?
And with that, he deposited me at the airport. As we approached the curb I was feeling fairly ashamed of my “imperfect” aided body and more than a little uncomfortable in Husband’s presence. And I said, “Uh. Well. You can just leave me here, outside, you don’t really have to come in.” (This wasn’t the best idea, because I had one more small bag than I usually travel with, and it was all a bit too much to handle.) But Husband said nothing, got out of the car, unloaded my bags on the curb, said “Goodbye,” and drove off.
To be fair: Maybe Husband was just feeling uncomfortable and awkward about my newly altered physical condition, and didn’t really know how best to approach it. A lot of people don’t. But a lot of also people manage, when they do inquire about your physical condition or mobility aid, to be polite, considerate, and respectful. My personal theory, based on Husband’s history and his attitude toward Little One, is that the very sight of my mobility aid was enough to make Husband anxious. Its presence in his house served as a reminder that there was already a plague on his house. And by using my aid, I had succumbed to my own personal version of that same plague. And if I succumbed, well then Little One might too, especially if she saw me with The Evil Aid. Indeed, by bringing Evil Aid into his house I was, in effect, spreading the plague.
Perhaps I am being too harsh on Husband. But folks, I am really not down with the broader societal attitude that a differently abled body is somehow an inadequate body. I am not down with the attitude that the “normal” or “typical” way of moving through the world or accomplishing tasks is the best way. I am not down with blank stares, nosy questions, skepticism about the “need” to employ an aid, or hasty curbside departures because a situation makes you uncomfortable. I am afraid, dear reader, that Husband is simply a schmuck.