Last night, I was in a Fringe play, and my character was a disabled woman who has figured out how to monetize pity and guilt by going on a motivational speaking tour circuit. (It’s fun! You should see it if you’re in town.)
This morning, I was at a coffee shop with a very young and charming gentleman who was chatting with the woman in lineahead of us.
The lady assumed that I was Connor’s mom, and he straightened her out on that with enormous detail. We chatted a bit. Little boys excited about scones are delightful. She is from Galway; I have been there. We all like scones and hash browns. Tea is good.
Because I knew that I would be carrying things in both hands, I hadn’t brought my crutches. Because I was standing in line, I didn’t move as we spoke.
She left with her stuff and Connor and I got ours and I lurched with him out of the coffee shop.
He asked me to move my wheelchair from one side of the seat to the other so he wouldn’t have to get in on the busy side of the street, because he is smart AF.
I proceeded to do this.
That’s when I saw the lady who likes scones and hash browns, sitting at an outside table, staring at me with that Very Special Expression.
“You’re amazing!” she said. “Good on you!”
I took a deep, cleansing breath. “Thank you,” I said.
“No, I really mean it— you’re astounding!” she said.
I took another deep breath. “Thank. You,” I said through clenched teeth.
So she started talking to Connor. “Isn’t she wonderful? So full of life and love and verve!”
Connor looked at her blankly, and then looked at me like: “What is this weird lady going on and on about?”
I smiled widely.
“Have a good day!” I said to the woman, staggering to my door and trying to get in without leaping over it and punching her.
“I really mean it!” she said. “You are AMAZING! Good on you! Good on you!”
I could not bring myself to thank her again.
“That lady talked funny,” said Connor as I pulled out into traffic, and I don’t think he was talking about her accent.
These sorts of scenes set me off for hours afterward, and I NEVER know how to respond. When you’re disabled, the micro or macro-aggressions are often SO well-meant. Responding to them with anything but brusqueness comes across as assholedry of the highest order. She’s probably sipping her tea, imagining she made the day of some poor crippled lady by complimenting her.
But I am shaking and furious and right now feel just as helpless as she clearly thinks I am.
I prefer the assholes who demand with hostility: “What makes YOU deserve that handicapped placard?” Or who try to Jesus at me. Those ones are so much easier to deal with.