The Finest Day (Part II)

The executive director of the bus company had a huge office with a desk that was about a quarter acre of polished wood. No way was I going to let him sit behind that desk and make us—“us” being me, the paratransit manager, and the director of Operations—come to him and be humbled. I murmured something about my wheelchair, the need to work on a tabletop, the inability to get close to his desk . . . and in moments we moved to a small round table in the corner of the room, all of us pulled under with our knees nearly touching, and looking at each other face-to-face. Let the games begin!

I had long been complaining that the manager was giving all my rides to their best driver so that I would get terrific service and have nothing to complain about, meanwhile my fellow travelers were getting crap service behind my back, not to mention that detailing a bus to drive empty across the city for my sole convenience was totally screwing up the efficiency of the rest of the system.

And the executive director had long been denying that I was getting specially served. So there we all were sitting knee-to-knee and I asked the paratransit manager who—not if—had given the order to special me. She choked and said, “I did.” The executive director didn’t know what was going on in his own house, the manager needed to be brought under control, and she confessed in front of the Operations director who was her immediate supervisor. That was a fine moment.

There are many such fine moments, memories of meetings in boardrooms, of connections with men fine and strong. Unfortunately those men were in the capitals of the state and national governments, not the local government. There were men who understood what was going on, who understood that it was wrong, and who were incensed by various things that were being done to me.

In the matter of Medicaid transportation, I went one-on-one in a fair hearing against the chief welfare attorney of Onondaga County. Later, I got a phone call from the lead investigator at the NYS Office of the Medicaid Inspector General. He was chuckling and telling me that he couldn’t tell me anything but that in a few days I would be receiving . . . What he was saying was that the Inspector General had received prior notice that I had won the hearing, which was pretty sweet since I did the hearing without an attorney. That was a fine moment.

There have been many such fine moments in my life during the eight years between when I stopped taking medications and when my glucose level got out of control. Several times I stood before the Onondaga County Legislature and spoke daringly to the point about corruption in the Dept. of Social Services and Medicaid. I had the regard of the legislators—well, the Democratic ones, anyway. One of them used to give me a big hello when he was marching in a parade and I was sitting by the side of the route. It embarrassed me because I never could remember who he was.

I did a bunch of radio and television interviews. I never kept track of them because why should I? Publicity for me did not matter; getting the truth out there did. My mom, over the phone, would shake her head and ask with bemusement “How do you do it? Where do you get the ideas for these things?” Most often from the prayer time when I was listening. I was doing God’s work and he was providing constant direction. It’s really pretty simple: get on God’s program, get direction, work hard, reap the results. When God smiles at you and you see the air filled with sparkling glitter, well, those are fine moments.

I would put on my black suit and gold earrings, venture out into the community and take meetings, go to boardrooms, do interviews, and then I would come home, sometimes wheeling in the sunshine. You like to go for a ride in the sunshine? I’ll go you one better: travel in a wheelchair—you can work on your tan while you go to the grocery store. A friend attached a basket to the back of my chair and during good weather I would go to the grocery store by myself. I’d wheel through the neighborhood to avoid the main streets and because the neighbors were nice.

Women out in their yards gardening would stand up to chat with me. Children and dogs liked me. I would go to the store after supper in the soft evening, wheeling easily, and then come home to my lover. Only a couple people knew about us; neither of us was much inclined to be public about our lives. He would come down the hallway to me, arm reaching out to pull me to his side. Such hard muscles; such soft caresses. Bodies gleaming with sweat, he would laugh in the darkness. They, too, were fine moments.

Autumn was the best time—cool nights for sleeping, hot days for everything else. Two afternoons a week I would wheel to the mall for exercise class. We were all over fifty-five, mostly women, led by a wise woman who earned a doctorate and designed a class to meet the needs of older people. This was not a class of sissy people who “exercised” by sitting in chairs and waving their arms over their heads. We worked hard, and we laughed, and we sweated, and we were major supporters of one another. By the end of my second year in class, I could walk a mile. It was the finest time.

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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