To celebrate my forty-fifth birthday I took some time off to spend with Dan at his place. Over a stretch of five days, we went to a local arts festival, saw a play, read to each other, cooked together and made love every night. On the evening before my birthday, Dan surprised me with a lovely dinner at one of his favorite Philadelphia restaurants followed by a carriage ride through Old City.
When it was time to leave, I barely made my train despite the fact that Dan lives only two houses down from the station. He’d left his guide dog sleeping upstairs and after we rushed out the door, he realized he’d forgotten his cane. I rushed ahead, hoping he’d arrive in time to say goodbye before the train pulled in. He didn’t make it. I settled in my seat and searched the window. There he was on the platform. He had no way of knowing where I was on the train, so he waved to every car as we pulled out, his hand cupped stiffly in his best imitation of this odd means we sighted people have of saying hello and goodbye to each other. I turned on my cell phone. Within minutes it rang. “Yes,” I told Dan. “I saw.”
After we hung up, I phoned Ethan’s friend’s house where he was staying until Richard got home from work. Sam’s mom told me there was an altercation between the boys, something about a cell phone getting broken. I didn’t know the details but I worried that it might have been a relapse of Ethan’s old impulsiveness. I sighed, wondering aloud if he’d acted out in response to my being away.
Often, this is what my commutes are like — sudden lurches from one part of my life to the other. Sometimes I’m shifting from romantic bliss to the realities of single parenthood; other times it’s from the stress of building a relationship with a man who’s been single for nearly twenty years to the relative simplicity of domestic life with my child. Either way, the transition always feels hard.
I fretted some more about Ethan’s behavior and almost missed my stop. Hurriedly, I threw my backpack over one shoulder and pulled my rolling suitcase behind me. Maybe I overreached as I stepped across the gap between the train and the platform. Maybe I tripped on my own bag. Whatever the cause, I fell.
“I’m alright,” I insisted, from down on the floor as people gasped and gathered around me. Two men lifted me to my feet and someone informed me I’d lost a shoe.
“I see it,” a woman said, peering down at the track. A moment later, the doors of the train closed and it pulled out of the station. I imagined my sandal getting crushed beneath its multi-ton weight.
“There’s a Payless upstairs,” a woman in a business suit offered. It’s true. This station is actually in a mall. I wondered if they had a No Shoes/No Service policy.
“Just go upstairs to Customer Service,” a transit worker told me. “They’ll send someone down to get your shoe.”
Feeling humiliated, I hobbled barefoot up the stairs. At the service desk, I told a man whose nametag read Jim my situation.
Jim shook his head. “It happens,” he said, smirking.
“Rick,” he called. He walked over to a man with dreadlocks and spoke quietly. Rick glanced at me and also shook his head, but promised to retrieve my sandal.
I leaned against the desk and willed myself to somehow look less barefoot “I guess you’ve got a story to tell at dinner,” I quipped to Jim to cover my embarrassment. Trying to seem nonchalant, I put on my one sandal and rested my bare foot on top of the other.
After a very long ten minutes Rick came upstairs waving my sandal. “Hope it fits,” he called out.
I responded with the obligatory Cinderella joke. Fortunately, the sandal was no worse after its adventure. I slipped it on, thanked them and went across the street to the Greyhound station.
The bus to New York was waiting in the lot. I took a seat in a back corner where I could let myself stop pretending to
Hope, my one good friend who also has cerebral palsy, used to fall fairly frequently before she started using a cane. We’d be crossing Columbus Avenue engrossed in conversation and suddenly she’d be on the ground. She’d walk herself up on her hands as if moving from plank position to tree pose in a yoga class, then return to where we were in our discussion.
I stumble and trip but rarely fall. When I do, I feel as though I’m wearing a sandwich board with the words Crippled Girl plastered on it.
I dug my cell phone out of my pack and called Dan.
“Disability sucks,” I told him.
“It can…” he said tentatively.
I described my fall and he surprised me by chuckling.
“Woops-a-daisy,” he sang out playfully.
I laughed a little too but I could feel that my tears weren’t far behind. “Can you tell me an embarrassing blind moment?” I asked him.
Dan described falling flat on the floor as he entered a train with a brand new guide dog. “I’d just assured a woman that I didn’t need any help,” he told me.
I started to cry quietly, grateful for the coming twilight that cast me in shadow.
“Good,” Dan whispered. “Let it out.”
I remembered walking home from school when I was in fourth grade. A much larger girl pushed me down, then stepped on my back as she went on her way. It made me feel that, because of the way I walked, I was somehow less than human.
“You’re in love with a klutz,” I wept to Dan.
“I am in love with you,” he agreed, “but you’re not a klutz. You’re a woman with a disability who’s actually quite graceful.”
I’d been told that before. The awkwardness and grace of a baby deer, a college boyfriend had said.
“Flawed can be good, right?” I asked Dan.
“If it wasn’t, none of us would be good,” he assured me.
I thought about that as I rode home in the dark. I thought about a blind man offering his childlike wave to a passing train, and a boy who reverted to old misbehavior because he missed his mom. My heart went out to both of them.
Finally, I thought about a woman rushing from the ups and downs of one kind of love-relationship to the ups and downs of another. I thought about her losing her balance, then about all that she’s balancing. My heart went out to me.