Accessible Excerpts: Personal Space

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

This excerpt comes immediately after Masks from last week. Madam Francine has just threatened to kick Merry out of school and now Merry is on her way to the museum.

 

My wheels sank into the thick grass as I pushed myself toward the street, and I struggled to keep my drawing supplies balanced on my lap. It felt like I was wading through the underbrush of a jungle, but I pressed on like a fearless explorer. I liked the image of being a fearless explorer, even if my jungle was just a manicured lawn.

Heels clicked on the cobblestones, and I looked up to see Cecily, one of my classmates, coming back up the street.

“Oh, Merry,” she said. “Here, let me help you.” Her voice was too soft, too sweet, like an overripe apple. Without waiting for a reply, she grabbed the back of my chair and started pushing me down the long cobblestoned street. I bit my tongue before I could snap at her. I wanted to tell her I could push my chair by myself, that’s why it had wheels after all, but I didn’t want to give Madam Francine any more reasons to get rid of me. I needed that recommendation. So I ground my teeth and accepted the humiliation.

 

It’s amazing how people can be so desperate to seem helpful that they ignore things like common courtesy. This scene actually came from personal experience. I use my wheelchair at the airport, and the flight crews are usually really helpful and accommodating, giving me as much time as I need and being patient with all the weird quirks that come with using both crutches and a wheelchair. But they always offer to push me to the plane. I understand why they do, jetways can be really steep, but I’m a healthy 27 year old in a sleek manual chair, and I travel with my own 6’6” mobility assistant. I’m good, thanks.

One trip, one of the flight crew approached as we were getting ready to board. They were running late and he was obviously in a hurry to get me on the plane and settled, but he decided the best way to do this would be to grab the back of my chair – without asking, without even saying “hey, we need to get you on the plane” – and start pushing me.

This is a huge violation of personal space and just plain courtesy. When I’m using the chair, if you touch it, it’s like you’re touching me. That man figuratively put his hands all over me without asking and then took away my freedom of movement. It’s making me clench my teeth just thinking about it. Don’t do this. Ever. All right, if the person is careening down a hill into a pit of lava and stopping to ask for permission is going to result in their fiery death, then yeah sure, grab them. But a delayed flight does not equal fiery lava death. If they look like they could use some help up a hill or through a door, go ahead and offer it. They could have been waiting for a big brawny guy to come along and do just that. But don’t be insulted if they refuse. Being able to do something for oneself is really important, no matter how hard it is. If they’re the ones that ask you for help, even better. They’re in a much better place than I am.

As for the flight crew guy, both Josh and I tried to get him to take his hands off me, at first politely, and then not so politely. He insisted that it was company policy to push wheelchairs down the jetway. BS. I’ve flown a lot, on a lot of different airways, and I’ve never heard that before. But in this case, all I could do was grit my teeth and bear it.

Argh. Ok, I’m putting the soap box away now.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: Masks                                                                                        AE: Common Experiences

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