I think a lot of my friends don’t get why I am sometimes so ANGRY, and why I can’t always give well-meaning people the benefit of their well-meaningness.
So I’ll share my trip to the grocery store yesterday with you all, which is a common occurrence (especially in wealthy areas, and this was a Whole Foods in Minnetonka, near I work– not my local Cub in the Hood. Don’t blame the victim, man. I needed some decent gluten-free bread.)
Yesterday, I was having a good day, legwise. I almost didn’t even bring my crutches into the grocery store. I used only one, since my mobility is so variable and might give out halfway, and strode along rather quickly as I was on my lunch hour.
As I came through the doors, an employee saw me and said: “Hey, kiddo!”
I was somewhat surprised as I am a middle-aged solidly sturdy and not-remotely-willowly-girl-like woman with salt-and-pepper hair, but she was older than me and perhaps just jocular. I pushed out of my mind any notion that she was infantalizing me due to my crutch. Don’t be paranoid, I said to myself.
My trip through the grocery store was what it nearly always is: everywhere I go, people back away from me smiling condescendingly, pityingly, or nervously and give me TONS of space to do my thang.
They also apologize. If I am just STANDING next to someone looking at the collard greens while she looks at the kale, she says: “Oh, sorry!” and moves away.
I am sure each and every person was very pleased with how they’d treated the handicapped girl at the store. They always look out for those less fortunate.
This happened, in a very quick visit to the store, at LEAST ten times. Near the gluten-free crackers. Near the yogurt. Near the frozen vegetables. At the lunch buffet line.
I found myself smiling very hard and taking deep, cleansing breaths. When a man asked me if he could help me find something I nearly snapped at him until I realized I was looking lost, and so I let him help me find the hummus. (That dude was only doing his job and wasn’t being disablist in the least, btw.)
I bought my stuff; I walked briskly and without any difficulty through the doors and out to my car. I had one crutch supporting my left arm and I carried a very small paper sack in my right hand. I was moving fluidly and easily toward my car.
Ms. ‘Kiddo’ was on her way in.
“You need any help?” she asked the clearly not-struggling woman.
AGAIN I thought: “This is Whole Foods, where customers are so bent under the weight of their own wealth that they often cannot manage their own bags. She is just doing her job,” so I mustered all the strength and good will I had left and I smiled a nice, warm smile and said: “I’m good! Thanks, though!”
I put extra effort into sounding genuine.
She put her hands up as if I had just shouted HOW DARE YOU MADAM and says: “I was just asking! You’re doing GREAT. But I just thought I’d ask.”
She used her Very Special Voice. That voice that makes me and every other disabled person for miles around want to stab people in their vocal cords.
You guys, I was doing great! She was super impressed by how I managed to walk with seemingly very little impairment if any toward my car while carrying four pounds of groceries.
I WAS DOING GREAT.
I stopped. I took a deep breath. She whisked by me, radiating smug confidence that she just brightened someone’s day a little by complimenting their walking and carrying abilities and I stopped.
Did I have time to educate her?
Did I care about educating her?
How late would this make me for work?
I sighed and I got in the car. I drove back to work. No one at work held open the door for me, but if they had, how do you think I might have reacted?