Breath & Shadow
Spring 2021 - Vol. 18, Issue 2
"Sometime Between Breakfast and Lunch"
My friends were irritated before we even entered Red Emma’s. They were shocked that the only viable entrance for us was through the side door (which was lined with bars). They continued to discuss this when we were seated. They were shocked about accessibility or lack thereof in their beloved city, as if it was outside the realm of possibility for disabled people to face segregation in 2019.
Thinking of what I would eventually have to order, I was tempted to order a drink, but there were only IPAs and wine on the menu. Rodlyn unsurprisingly ordered an IPA. From time to time, I would hope she noticed my anxiety. I read and reread—practically memorized the menu last night, but I still had no clue of what I should eat. But today, she was too busy talking about Copenhagen to notice the flush in my cheeks. Her eyes lit up when she talked about curating a Gender and Sexuality studies program at the American university over there.
Amanda would be working for AmeriCorps here in Baltimore, which would make her a professional social justice warrior, my ultimate dream.
In between the small big-world talk, our food and drinks arrived, my vegan breakfast burrito capturing everyone’s attention for a few seconds. Rodlyn had ordered a burrito bowl and a lemon-blueberry pancake. However, the waitress only placed the lone pancake in front of her. When we inquired about the whereabouts of the burrito bowl (and each of us did at least once), the waitress growled, “You said you wanted a single pancake,” and with that, she sauntered to the next table. We all laughed it off. It wasn’t worth the headache.
“I was thinking about picking some of those donuts up on the way out,” Rodlyn assured us. I couldn’t imagine doing such a thing, let alone talking about it, but that was Rodlyn for you.
Ellie would be going to grad school in New England, continuing her study of speech pathology and possibly rooting for the Red Sox.
Hannah would be moving to Colorado, having some job related to environmentalism.
Angela would have been a journalist surely.
Sometimes I wished senior year, or as I liked to call it, senior year part one was all just some bad dream that could be attributed to eating too much ice cream before bed. Angela would still have rosy cheeks like she did last year, and maybe her hair would even be growing back. But then again, I probably wouldn’t be sitting at that table with those people I suddenly called my friends.
Amanda interrupted my thoughts. “You know,” she lifted an eyebrow, “Natalie told me Erica’s interning at CCSJ next year.” At once, all the sipping and chewing stopped.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Rodlyn asked.
I shrugged, “Everyone interns there at some point.”
“No, Erica, that’s really cool.”
“You guys are all moving on.”
As I shoveled a bite of burrito into my mouth, I thought for a brief moment, if at eighteen I had just chugged beers and dropped a couple hundred bucks on a fake ID like most freshmen instead of meticulously lining my protein bars in neat rows of three, their labels all facing the same way, I could be going somewhere too. Instead of hoarding take-away containers full of vomit in my dorm room, instead of dodging my mother’s intrusive, yet well-meaning concerns, I too could be traversing the Earth in pursuit of knowledge or working as a lackey at some corporation that spans the globe, chipping away every inch of nature in its path. Maybe I’d be going to grad school to finally pursue my passion, screenwriting, or maybe I’d be working with AmeriCorps, living in an apartment somewhere in Baltimore like grown humans do.
After cleaning my plate (I even ate the leafy green garnish that complemented the burrito like a cherry atop a forbidden fudge sundae), I felt uncomfortably full. I wasn’t used to eating that much, or digesting it for that matter.
Rodlyn and Amanda wanted to scope out the bookstore downstairs. They said it was a social justice bookstore that even had an extensive poetry section. We searched for an elevator or ramp. What we found was some sort of hybrid between an elevator and a lift with glass walls that was reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My stomach lurched as it dawned on me that this New World-esque contraption would be carrying Hannah and me down a floor. The other girls got there before we did and they watched as we descended from above—floating in the liminal space between the ground level and the basement.
Once we had made it, I was enamored by the array of social justice issues. I found a modest shelf dedicated to disability justice after Rodlyn pointed it out to me. I was amazed to see two dozen or so books written by people like me, for people like me, about people like me. The language made me feel as if I was returning home from a foreign country as I read the words “ableism,” “infantilization,” “paternalism,” “inclusion,” and “accessibility”. Those were words I seldom encountered outside of the modest blog I’d kept for the past three years. Amid the many books that focused on topics like the passage of the ADA, the disability rights movement, the movement against euthanasia, and biographies of prominent disabled figures throughout history, I stumbled upon a book called Loneliness and its Opposite about disability and access to sexuality in the Netherlands and how attitudes towards sex and disability are often indicative towards how a society treats its disabled members in a broader sense.
After purchasing the book, Rodlyn and I boarded the elevator-lift, me holding my new book to my chest, Rodlyn holding her box of donuts. She held down the button which was supposed to make the lift go up, and it did for about two feet before stalling. Despite Rodlyn’s best efforts, it wouldn’t budge. Luckily, the other girls were still on the lower level and they enlisted the help of the managers. After twenty or so minutes, dozens of phone calls to the keeper of the elevator key, Snapchats and Instagram stories that read “SOS: we’re stuck in an elevator” or something of that sort, Rodlyn’s jokes about us being saved from starvation because of her donut purchase, and overall twenty-something-year-old foolishness, we reached land again. Of course, one of the managers scolded us before we left, saying that we should’ve made sure the lift was all the way on the ground before we tried to get on it, as if we’d know anything about this foreign contraption.
The bookstore manager was nicer, apologizing profusely and inviting us to upcoming book signings and poetry slams. We promised we’d be back before the semester ended, but we didn’t know if we could fulfill that promise.
Hannah drove us back to campus, blasting her Post Malone playlist and complaining about the roads littered with potholes. Nothing really changed that day. I didn’t have a near-death experience or figure out my life’s purpose. But then again I don’t think extraordinary circumstances could’ve brought me back into myself. I was still the crippled soon-to-be-fifth year senior with a messed-up relationship with food. Rodlyn was still moving across the world for thirteen months. Her friends still didn’t feel like my friends, but I still wanted them to be. We still had to take finals before they could graduate and before I could go back home for the summer. I don’t intend to incite pity or seem bitter about living in a world that is largely still inaccessible to me. This is the only reality I know—a mundane, familiar reality to me that is weirdly foreign to most people I know. But somehow during that brief span of time—sometime between breakfast and lunch, I felt at peace with the awkward phase that was the middle. Once we were back on campus, we all went our separate ways to our apartments with the promise to do this again someday.