Jealousy and I made friends when I was about 19 years old. In NYC where everyone is famous and creating history nonstop, I decided that instead of being jealous of the elders in the tribe, I’d just be INSPIRED.
I hate competition. It’s one reason I hate grades. I got straight As and others felt bad. I hate sports for that reason too. Feminism at an early age taught me about how society sets women up to compete for male attention, so I avoided that. I didn’t want THAT kind of male attention anyway, the superficial kind. I grew up with the notion that if it is not win-win, if there are losers, it will never work.
On the 20th anniversary of my grandfather’s death from brain cancer, I lay in my room at George Washington University Teaching Hospital, waiting for the results of the MRI that would tell me whether my fall two days before had been caused by the same disease. And as I stared at the ceiling, one refrain repeated itself beneath the numbing fantanyl static.
The adage goes, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” But there was a sly fox in this hole and he’s an atheist. I felt fear for my life and knew that only the miracles of modern science could save me.
The final word from the oncologist was that chondrosarcoma, a ligament cancer, had swollen my ankle with a malignant tumor. It was probably the site of origin and was untreatable except by amputation. The surgeons at Stanford would operate to save my life with decent odds for success. I’d have to live without a leg and be prepared for the outside chance that cancer or the operation could kill me before I ever awoke or left the hospital. This form of cancer is completely unresponsive to chemo or radiation treatments and they can only watch it run its course if it metastasizes. They would pump me up with anti-cancer drugs before they cut in order to minimize the radical cell flow through my blood stream during their invasion of the tumor area.
People with disabilities have probably always, to the extent that they were able, attempted to share their stories. Since I have read Beauty Is A Verb: the New Poetry of Disability, I’ve started to think that there is a cave painting in Lascaux of some caveman fighting it out with a saber-toothed tiger, then hobbling away. Maybe I’ve started to hope that there is.
Before I read this book, I had the general misconception that disability history was just a long series of progressively darker ages, followed by a sudden explosion in the late sixties that finished with the IDEA and the other reforms of the early seventies, followed by the Reagan social service cutbacks which left the disability movement in an uneasy coma lasting until the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. In 2012, the Push Girls might have shown we’ve entered into a new golden age: Or could it be just the calm before the budget cuts?
You see that fellow over there? That man enjoying a plate of ribs? He's a blind man. You see that he's wearing dark glasses and has one of those skinny white canes, those walking sticks that blind people use.
You don't have to call him visually impaired. He'll tell you not to. Why? Because he's blind, he'll say, as if you're an idiot for asking, though he isn't a rude man, just a man tired of having to explain. If his vision were impaired, he'll tell you, he might be able to see something; maybe there'd even be a chance that he could get his vision repaired from being impaired. But he can't see a thing, not a flat field of white or an endless night of impenetrable black. Nothing.
I can get hard again. You don’t know all the joy that brings me after so long. Night after night now, I have lain in bed and played away. Why does a man climb a mountain? Because he can.
Understand my former inability before you judge me for partaking in America’s greatest private past time. If you’ve had any period of not being able to be able, then you understand. If you’ve been one who has never had a prolonged lapse, you won’t understand. If you have had a prolonged lapse and have been too macho to admit it, then you’re one of the ones judging me to overcompensate for your own inadequacies.