Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Real Disability World

Starbucks. Me drinking bad coffee and reading my email. A bright and beautiful teen picks up her coffee. School ended early today; she's with her friends, enjoying the freedom. She fumbles her purse, the change, and the drink. 10c falls on the floor at my feet. I turn to see what the noise is. And just catch her... "Please, keep it. I don't need it." I look at her. She has her whole future in front of her; she thinks she's doing me a favour. I realize how I must seem. There's absolutely nothing to say. Where would I even start? I leave the money on the floor, pack up my computer, and leave.

I'm so disgusted with that scene that I am on time for the bus. I board. There's a dreadful smell of urine and unwashed bodies on the bus. I look around. It could be coming from at least three of people already present; the driver belts me in; I close my eyes. At the next stop, a young woman carrying a bag with the logo of a nursing/caring/attendant organization boards. She catches a whiff of the unmistakeable. She glares at me; I look down. "It's not me," I want to say, but I don't. I don't know her; there's absolutely no reason to speak up and discomfort someone else. I catch her several times on the ride; she's staring at me with an open look of disgust -- glad she's not my caregiver; feel sorry for anyone she cares for if they are in any way less than perfect; feel glad that it's not me.

I arrive home. There's an unmistakeable smell about me. At first, I'm like it's the guys on the bus, but then I realize that it's kind of been following me all day. It smells very much like piss. I put my nose to my cushion. Cat piss. CAT PISS.

Joke's on me, folks -- I wasn't the smell on the bus, but I might very well have been the source of some smell during the day. I've taken to feeling weird about protesting these kinds of things. My first response is to protest on the grounds that I, I, am different. I am not one of them, the smelly, the poor, the unwashed, the homeless. And, well, mostly I am not. But then I feel bad about protesting bad behaviour simply because I am not a member of the projected class; I feel bad protesting about the fact that, say, my computer, iphone, clothing, haircut, etc. should all scream that I don't actually *need* the 10c. I've come to see this as protest on the wrong grounds. I should protest on the grounds that doing someone a favour and dropping 10c at their feet are not the same thing, however bright and beautiful you are. I should protest on the grounds that if you are offended by the smell of homeless people, you should work towards justice and equity. You should work to see that all people have access to clean running water and a safe place to shower, eat, sleep, etc. I should protest, in other words, not my differentiation from a class of people but the intent and assumptions behind the behaviour. I've learned not to distinguish myself in situations like these; now, I need to learn to stand my principled ground.

Hmm. Now, how did that happen? Older cats with leaky bladder issues? Cats with attitude?

Post concludes with a picture of my cat staring imperiously from her throne, my chair.


  1. What's funny is that I totally "get" this post. I have been there, where I feel the need to protest that I'm not the one in need because I'm in a wheelchair. I always feel this way if I go visit anyone in the hospital. It's like if someone sees a person in a wheelchair at the hospital they automatically assume you are the patient. When my husband broke his wrist and we went to the ER I had to practically fight the nurse that it wasn't me that needed help... I CAME this way... he didn't. :) It's just a natural part of being disabled, I fear. The assumption of others that we are always the needy ones. And protestation just makes me feel dirty...

  2. Ooh, kitty, don't sit in WCD's chair anymore. I've had pets become incontinent with age. Unless you can completely wash the cushion, you may have to replace it. Goodness, what a day! I also don't like the assumption that the big odor was from you. I've also had this happen with perfume, people thinking it's me, though I never wear it and don't like it.

    The teen, wow, she clearly doesn't get it and even if you explained, I don't know...

  3. I happened across your blog from visiting Widening the I blog for the first time. I love the clarity and forcefulness of your writing voice! I've subscribed to your blog and look forward to reading lots more from you.

    And, as a cat person myself, I love this photo of your cat!

    All the best,
    Eva :-)

    Eva Yaa Asantewaa
    InfiniteBody blog
    Body and Soul podcast

  4. Hi Eva... I've been wanting to get in touch with you -- I read infinite body -- do drop me an email if you'd like to chat further. Your contact goes to a client page.