Picture it. Me, a seventeen-year-old recent high school graduate, ready to leave behind everything familiar, and looking forward to my future with equal parts excitement and terror. But that wasn’t going to happen for a few months yet.
It was early on a summer morning, and my parents had held a garage sale the weekend before. A few months earlier, my dad had gotten news that he was going to be transferred for his job, so we were about to move from a huge house in Houston to a small apartment in New York City. The purpose of the garage sale was to purge a bunch of stuff that would not be going with us.
One of the things that had been sold was a sofa, and the woman who bought it said that she would be back at the beginning of the week with some moving men to pick it up. On that summer morning the phone rang, and my mother told the woman that this was a fine day to pick up the sofa. “One thing though”, my mom said to the woman on the phone, “I have some errands to run at the time you are going to be here. My daughter will be here to let you in. She has cerebral palsy and walks with canes, so it might take her a few minutes to get to the door, but she will get there and can do anything that you need.” A few minutes later, after briefing me about the situation, mom was out the door.
When the doorbell rang a few hours later, I had no clue that I was about to experience something that I would remember for the rest of my life.
True to mom’s word, it took me a few minutes to get to the door. Longer than it would have taken someone who didn’t happen to have a disability. But “taking me longer” was the way I had always gotten things done. When I opened said door, a very well-dressed woman stood before me. On either side of her were two men who could have easily been stand-ins for the Incredible Hulk.
The conversation follows:
Me: Hi, it is nice to meet you. My name is Lorraine. The living room is this way.
Woman: HI! WE. ARE HERE. TO PICK UP. THE SOOOO-FA!
Me: Yeah. Mom told me you would be coming. It’s in the living room.
They follow me. Then one of the moving men speaks up.
Moving guy: That sofa is pretty big and I am not sure it will fit out the front door, so we will probably have to take it out the garage.
Me: Okay, that’s fine. (and I turn to leave the room so I can hit the button that actually opens the garage door.)
Woman: (turning me back around so I am right in front of her.) THE SOOOO-FA IS TOO BIG. TO TAKE OUT. THE FRONT DOOOOOR. WE. NEED TO. TAKE IT. OUT THE. GARAGE….
Now let’s step back and get a little context here. I have had my cerebral palsy since birth. My family didn’t treat me any differently because of it and the neighbors and friends that I grew up with were used to my physical circumstances as well. I knew there were some people in society who were uncomfortable around people with disabilities, but at that point in my life I had not encountered many of them. I was also aware that the woman was only dealing with her discomfort; she did not have the intention of ruining my day. Lashing out at her wasn’t going to help any of us learn anything. All of these thoughts were swirling in my head as I was figuring out how to respond appropriately. But it turns out I didn’t have to. Someone else did it for me.
Moving guy: Ma’am, I think the problem is only in her legs.
Brilliant. Just brilliant! I could not have said it better myself.
I would only edit it slightly. Because I don’t see my disability as a “problem,” I choose to change that word to “issue.”
As I have moved on in my life there have been countless times I wish I could have folded up that moving guy and put him in my back pocket. His sentiment applies to so many situations.
To the radiology technician who was trying to figure out a reason for my symptoms and asked me if I “was actually capable of having sex.” Really? Lots of people with disabilities are in romantic relationships. The issue is only in my legs.
To the medical staff who talk to my caregivers in order to get information instead of addressing me directly. I know all the answers. The issue is only in my legs.
To the waiter who looks at whoever I am with and asks what I want to eat and offers us a children’s menu. I am an adult and I am pretty hungry. The issue is only in my legs.
To the doctor who asked me if I knew the last name of a counselor I had just told him I had been working with for years. There is nothing wrong with my memory. The issue is only in my legs.
As time goes on I am getting more assertive and I am getting better at addressing those things as they happen. And then there are other days when I draw strength from the moving guy, and I smile. If society can realize the same thing that he did, the world, in my opinion, would be a much happier place.
It’s true that I am not always at my best, but there is no doubt about it.
The issue is only in my legs.