Sunday Morning Going Down (part I)


I woke around seven and checked the Doppler.  It had been raining lightly and was going to rain heavily later but I decided it was clear enough to make a run for the garden.  Humming “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses,” I wrapped myself in the Ecuadorian poncho—white, with a black and brown pattern—and set out.

            Outside, I found that it was, well, raining.  Sort of.  Heavily misting, at least.  It is nine blocks from my home to the garden.  At eight blocks I gave up.  Either the rain, wind and cold had increased, or my ability to withstand the rain, wind and cold had decreased.  Either way, it wasn’t nice so I turned downhill and headed toward an eating place for breakfast.

            I stopped at the Sheraton Syracuse University, crossed the lobby and considered Rachel’s Restaurant.  Menus were posted for lunch at 11:00 and dinner at 4:00 but apparently they weren’t doing breakfast so I turned and started to leave.  Then I stopped.  I definitely heard occupied-restaurant sounds behind me, so I went back.

            By now the young male host had returned to post and allowed as how they were serving breakfast.  I proposed that they might post some notice to that effect.  He mumbled and stumbled while I wondered why I needed to be such a snot, then he led me into the dining room.

            Dining rooms are always a risky business when you’re in a wheelchair.  Some staff are inclined to put you “out of the way,” as in “next to the kitchen” or some other undesirable place.  Others will confidently approach a table where there will be a nice amount of room while being totally oblivious that they’re leading you through a quarter-mile of tables with inadequate aisle-space.  Younger staff may simply try to hide their panic when they have no idea what to do and need a little guidance.

            So I am checking out the room, calculating where and how, while the host leads me to a place at a table where my back will be to the aisle.  It seems pretty okay, so I accept the placement, smiling at the little girl and her mother at the next table.  The child—about a year old, sitting in a high chair and sucking on a sippy cup—fixes an intent gaze on me, much like dogs do.

            Dogs connect with my head, face and voice at the same time that they take in the wheels.  The good ones react to my human part and give me a friendly wag.  The bad ones decide that if I have wheels then I am something to be chased.  The young ones whimper in confusion and back off.  You never can tell with dogs, so you’ve got to focus on their handlers and make sure they’re paying attention and have the dog on a short lease, ready to rein it in if necessary.

            The girl-child is flat-out not reacting but, boy, is she watching.  She twists 180 degrees around to watch me with her uncompromising stare.  Am I like Mommy?  Should she return a smile?  I chat her up but she makes no response.  Her new little brain is processing, processing, processing.  She is a child learning.  Everything is new to her, not just me in my wheelchair.

            A waiter tries to hit me with coffee and juice but I block him and request decaffeinated.  Momentarily a waitress arrives with decaf and a menu.  Everything looks good.  I order French toast with a side of bacon, then begin to take in my surroundings.  Mommy and child are pulling up stakes and leaving.  Behind them are two middle-aged men who look like brothers and are speaking French—probably down from Canada.  Way beyond them in another section is an elderly well-to-do couple.  Other than that, we are alone.  Then the younger French Canadian gets up, walks to some place behind me, and returns with eggs and bacon.

            I do a 180-degree turn and discover a buffet.  Nice.  French toast and bacon, ready and waiting, and nobody told me.  I ask the bus boy the cost of the buffet; he says, “Eleven-fifty.”  Ordered from the menu, the French toast and bacon will cost more.  Thanks a bunch, guys.  Why didn’t you tell me?  Did you decide for me that I couldn’t access the buffet?  You’d be really, really surprised at all the things I can do, and here’s what you need to know:  A S K

Always ask.  I am in a wheelchair.  I know it and you know it.  Don’t be afraid to acknowledge it.  Being disabled is not an act of immorality; it is not shameful.  And you won’t hurt my feelings by consciously recognizing that I use a wheelchair.  Trust me, by the time a person is in a power wheelchair in a restaurant, that person has come to terms with her circumstances and no simple waiter has the skills necessary to inflict greater hurt.  You’re safe.  So ask me, okay? 

Give me the same choices you give everyone else.  Let me decide what I can and can’t do.  You have no idea what resources I have available or what skills I’ve learned.  When you don’t offer me the same options you offer everyone else, you’re not protecting me.  You’re denying me freedom.  I will decide what I can and can’t do, not you.  And there I go, getting all snotty inside my head again.  What the heck is the matter with me?  Maybe bracing against the cold wet weather was so stressful that it unbalanced my central nervous system, tipping my brain into irritability.  It happens.

            The waitress brings me two plates, one covered with long, fat strips of bacon and the other with three double-thick slices of French toast.  I ponder this sickening array of food—for it is definitely unhealthy.  Unless you’re going to spend the morning leaning on a jackhammer, herding cattle or unloading cartons from a tractor-trailer, you don’t need this breakfast.  It is also very good.  As I eat, I determine that this is exactly twice as many calories as a healthy breakfast, and decide to take half of it home.

            When the waitress returns with a coffee refill, I ask her why I wasn’t offered the buffet.  She stutters, suggests it was the host’s job to tell me, and over-apologizes.  Then she tells me that my coffee cup is only one-third full because they ran out of decaf.  Cripes, lady!  Make another pot!  It’s eight o’clock in the morning—you’ll sell it!  Then come give me a full refill.  It’s not like I was sitting there begging for more.  What is your problem?  Why are you bringing me the dregs?

            I say none of this to her.  When I am in a snotty mood, I take it out on myself instead of other people.  I ask her for the rest of the breakfast to go.  She brings it back in a box.  No bag.  So I have my right hand on the joy stick, my left hand around the box, and what am I supposed to open doors with?  My teeth?

            The breakfast cost me $15, tip included.  I could have gone to Bruegger’s Bagels but I’m allergic to square eggs.  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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