I have a confession to make, or perhaps it is more of a dirty little secret. Those of you who have been reading this blog for any length of time (or know me in person) probably have me pegged as a person who is independent; the kind of person who takes the bull by the horns, fearlessly states her opinion and is confident. But really, I should be booked for a Starburst commercial because I am, in fact, a rolling contradiction.
For all my talk about being as independent as possible (something that is different for everyone) and confident about whom you are; I am terrified to travel alone.
I believe that there are many reasons for this phenomenon. The first being that I have never really been alone, even prior to my birth I was kicking it with my wombmate (pun totally intended). Having a twin makes a person fiercely interdependent; where one falters the other succeeds. She was by my side for most of my childhood, and when she wasn't I was with friends. After high school, there was college; and with it came a shiny, new set of roommates. After college my best friend moved in with me and by the time he left for Denver, I had moved in with Tom. Tom recently went on a 10 trip to go hunting and I literally did not know what do do with myself. That ten days, is the longest that I have lived alone in my entire life.
The second reason that I hate going anywhere alone is because I am a bit of a control freak, which, I assure you, is not a very convenient or desirable character trait to have when you have a disability. I hate when I am not in control of things. When I go out on my own, I most often give control to the Paratrasit System where I live. The rules are that a scheduled ride may arrive up to twenty minutes after it is schedule to arrive before it is even considered late. If it is later than that, well, there isn’t much you can do about that either. Monday night, I had an event to attend at a local coffee shop after work. Usually, I plan to bring a co-worker with me to such functions, but none were available. I was on my own. It started at 7:30 but I wanted to get there a 7:00 to settle in. (Go to the bathroom, grab some coffee and find an accessible seat.) I scheduled my ride at 6:00 which gave me a full hour to complete what is about a 4 mile journey. Plenty of time right? Wrong. My transportation arrived an hour late. I thought that would be the end of it, but I was wrong again. When I went outside to meet the driver, he had two passengers to unload and wasn’t even sure if I was on his schedule.So he unloaded them, went inside to go to the bathroom, then came out, closed up all the doors to the van and then checked to see if he had me scheduled (he did). So, it was another 20 minutes before I was in the van and on my way.
He finally gets me there and insists on pushing me inside, even though I tell him I have it. The event is a poetry reading and the door opens up at the side of the small reading space. The driver makes no effort to be quiet as he pushes me through the door only people in wheelchairs have to use and tells me: “Here you are! Have fun!” in a loud voice. Everyone is staring and the person who was reading has stopped mid-sentence. I apologize, and got to get a coffee.
The third reason that I hate going anywhere alone is that I become hyper aware of the fact that I am different then everyone. Let's be honest, people stare at me all the time, and not just because I am the hottest thing they've ever seen. When I am with someone else, however, I honestly don't notice it. I am too focused on talking to the person I am with to pay attention to the gawkers. With no one there for me to focus on it becomes nearly impossible to ignore the stares. I go to the counter to order a drink. The surface of said counter is about level with my forehead. I crane my next looking for staff, but see no one. So I wait, as I do I can feel the eyes of the people at the tables wonder towards me. I begin to feel hot. I want to shout out to get the staff’s attention, but I don’t want any more attention from the people staring. I can almost hear their thoughts. How come no one is helping her? One thinks. I don’t think they can see her. Another observes. Is she okay?Ponders a third person; staring at me over the lip of the white ceramic mug. Of course she is okay, thinks the only rational person in the room, she’s just waiting for coffee. I decide an “Excuse me,” is an order, but it is to no avail. I am about to abandon the coffee altogether, when a women on her way to the bathroom gets the attention of a staff member, who takes my order and then at my request, secures the lid for me. People are still staring.
I take my coffee and roll back to the poetry reading. The girl I interrupted is finished reading. Someone new is up. I park my chair on the peripheral of the space, not wanting to interrupt, be in the way, or be stared at as I take my coat off; which, because I’m going for silence takes several minutes. I curse my coat for it's freakishly loud zipper and all the Velcro (So much Velcro!). Finally, I liberate myself, but I'm so hot that the coffee doesn't really appeal to me anymore. I try to sit back and enjoy the poetry. I try to feel like I am part of the writing community, but people keep glancing at me out of the corner of their eyes and there is nothing to do but look right back. I feel left out, I feel excluded, I feel hostile, but most of all, in these places filled with people, I feel alone.
When my friend, who is neither a coffee or poetry lover, finally arrives to pick me up, I am relieved. We wait for the person reading to finish and quietly leave. It might just be my imagination, but I can almost hear the entire room sigh in relief as the door closes behind us.