We: Such a Beautiful Word
By Valois J. Vera
We have all these clichés–love conquers all, love is a many-splendored thing–but have you ever heard that love is accessible? You know, universally designed or ADA-compliant? In a crip’s perfect world, love would be easy to find, easy to maneuver in and, of course, nondiscriminating.
My search for love, true love, has met with the usual barriers–overcrowded nightclubs, spilled drinks, bruised shins and a chorus of “Excuse me, I didn’t see you down there” apologies. Singles bars are designed for the typical able-bodied male who can drive the female of his choice home or to the nearest motel. My Invacare could barely take me back to my small bedroom at my mom’s house. Even my efforts at the local church only produced hands of prayer to heal me of my “affliction.” Forget the affliction, I thought, pray I find love. Now that would be a miracle.
Would I ever find that special someone? Who, how, where, when? Sure, every guy, let alone a guy with a disability, goes through periods of self-doubt and uncertainty. Yet my period of uncertainty was starting to look like a time capsule of futility: “Here lie the fruitless attempts of Val Vera. Unlucky in love but a great guy.” What a way to go.
I thought my move to San Diego would mark a turning point. In spite of my pathetic experience, I was convinced that love was just a palm tree away. But finding love on the West Coast was just as difficult as ever. California was loaded with the all-too-familiar clubs and bars, plus it had the image factor in spades: hard bodies, fast cars, loose money. It was like watching a never-ending episode of “90210” without the luxury of a remote control.
I didn’t possess the hard body or the fast car, but I had a lot of positive qualities. I just had to find a way to display them. That’s when I discovered a telephone dating service. I thought, what better way to meet someone without the frustrations of dating in a nondisabled world? Surely I would find the love of my life.
Surely I found a lot of things–six months of leaving and retrieving messages, long telephone conversations (resulting in short dates) and meeting “unique” individuals. Names and gory details are withheld to protect the innocent. Me!
After giving up on telephone dating, I received a call. Her voice was angelic. She was giggly, bright and talkative. Apparently I’d left a message in her mailbox at the phone dating service. She actually sounded like a nice, intelligent human being.
We talked for 20 minutes. I called her back that night and we talked until dawn. Our conversation covered every aspect of life imaginable. I was so intrigued by Kristina that the topic of my disability didn’t come up until three hours into the conversation. The fear of telling someone that you can’t walk–especially after three hours of sharing stories, ideas, dreams–was very real. She cried a little. To this day, she hasn’t really said why. I think she felt the pain, my fear of exposing my daily reality to someone I knew would one day be my wife.
We met three days later. On our way to lunch, Kristina pointed out every curbcut as if to say, “Be careful not to roll off the sidewalk.” She was so cute. I don’t remember much from that day. I just recall wanting to spend the rest of my life with her. That was August 10, 1996.
Like other couples, we had picnics, went to movies, stayed up all night watching television. Unlike other couples, we shared the many facets of my disability–from dressing to bathing to, well, other stuff. “I would take a peek out of the corner of my eye just to see how your mom was dressing you,” Kristina admitted. “I knew that someday I would help you with things like that.”
In October of that year we became intimate. In December we shared our first Christmas. In March I asked her to marry me. She said yes. In April we moved in together and in August–one year after we met–we became husband and wife. I even carried her over the threshold.
Since then, Kristina has graduated from college. We both work full-time jobs and live in a downtown loft. We pay bills, we take vacations, we laugh, we cry, we fall asleep in each other’s arms. We: such a beautiful word.
I began with a few clichés about love. But the most important, at least for me, is, “Love is blind.” Love doesn’t see our shortcomings, our challenges, our “afflictions,” our not-so-hard bodies. I’ll add one more: Love is glorious.
Valois Vera is a graduate of Purdue University and an aspiring screenwriter and film producer. He lives in San Diego.
An Intimate Gesture
By Jaq Greenspon
I had volunteered to help a friend out, working the tech side for a play he was in on Monday night. Saturday was the rehearsal. From backstage, I watched her wheel herself across the stage. She was beautiful! I asked my friend about her. He told me her name was Tamara, but since she was in a different scene he didn’t really know her. His one tidbit of information: Every guy there had tried and been shot down. Well, with that bit of news and my rehearsal done, I left, dejected. Sunday night, my friend called to tell me that as soon as I had left, Tamara had asked everyone who was “the guy with the eyes.” Suddenly, I felt better.
Monday at work I was a mess. The entire day was spent in anticipation of doing the show that night and asking her out, and we hadn’t even been introduced. I got to the theater and began setting up. Before I had a chance to go looking for her, she found me. We introduced ourselves and started talking. We laughed and joked with each other like we’d been friends forever. By the time the curtain rose on the first scene, we’d made tentative plans to go to an upcoming concert.
The show went great and after her scene, Tamara asked if I would like to come out with the group for a post-show drink. I agreed and set about cleaning up. When I was done, I found her talking with an audience member. Not wanting to be intrusive, I stood a little bit behind her and waited.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, she backed her wheelchair up until she was sitting next to me. I hadn’t even realized she’d noticed I was there. Then, without looking at me, or even pausing her conversation, she reached out with her left arm and wrapped it around my leg. It was the kind of soft, intimate gesture usually reserved for longtime lovers and yet, here it was. It was almost as if, in that one move, she was inviting me into her life.
We never made it to join the group. Instead, we ended up strolling, hand in hand, over the Venice canals at three in the morning, discussing things neither of us had ever shared with anyone else. We discovered we were joined, deeply, on a metaphysical level. This was the beginning of a very intense relationship with someone who will always be close to me.
Jaq Greenspon is a Los Angeles freelance writer specializing in anything with words.
Learning to Trust
By Jennifer Cabernoch
We met on a telephone dating service that we had both called out of desperation. I had survived more than my share of love and war stories and he was a self-confessed geek looking for love.
Our first connection came when I returned his call and we talked for five hours. We had so much to say. We were both Illinois transplants, corn-fed farm people. That was a strong plus. His family values were similar to mine. He owned a Piper Cherokee and said he would take me flying. I had always been envious of the gently gliding birds in the sky and dared to think I might join them with this man.
He surprised me by suggesting we meet for dinner that night. I wasn’t one for spontaneous acts, having always plotted my dates like a well-drawn business plan. Using a wheelchair required me to orchestrate everything, or so I thought. In a bold move, I agreed to dinner. I already liked him too much.
I arrived at the restaurant just a few minutes before the appointed time. It was cold, wet and windy outside, but I decided to wait near a bench so I could see him approaching. Nearly half an hour passed and I was slowly getting irritated. I couldn’t believe Jim would stand me up after our lengthy, soul-to-soul conversation. I was certain we had connected.
Just as I was about to leave, I heard my name called from behind. There was Jim, even cuter than the photo he’d e-mailed me earlier. He’d been waiting in the restaurant, just a few feet away. I felt like a fool. Of course I should have gone inside and waited, especially when my hands turned numb and my nose began to run. Jim says he fell in love with me right then, looking at me shivering in the cold and rain, waiting for him like a puppy dog. He placed a very sweet, soft kiss on my lips before ushering me inside. I was so taken aback I ran over his toes as I wheeled through the door, but he didn’t seem to mind.
At the table, we gazed at each other like love-struck birds. Jim scooped up my frozen hands and warmed them with his breath. He sat close and put his arm around me to warm me. At least that was his excuse. We kissed again and my heart began to glow.
After dinner, we strolled through the nearby mall. It was late and all the stores were closed, but we found a quiet spot and cuddled together on a bench. Never had I been so swept away by feelings of attraction, admiration and passion. It was easy to see we were deeply attracted to each other, but only time would tell if it would last.
It’s now been two years. I had to learn many things along the way about myself, about relationships and about trust. I had never had any luck at long-term relationships, so I didn’t know what to expect. With time and with trust, Jim taught me to open up and give away my fears. I had always believed my disability would scare most suitors away–if not immediately, then eventually. Not only was Jim not scared away by my disability, he stood by my side through three very difficult hospital stays. When I was in the ICU with tubes sticking out of every orifice, he rubbed my back, combed my hair and sometimes slept overnight in my hospital room. He was my angel.
I’d never had to rely on my dates for personal things like repositioning me in my chair, cutting my food or helping me to the bathroom. I’d avoided it with careful planning. But the more time I spent with Jim, the more I realized I would eventually have to trust him to help me. Then, out of necessity, I had to ask him for personal assistance. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t awkward or embarrassing. From then on, I gradually enlisted Jim’s help, which he gladly and lovingly gave. Now I feel completely comfortable with him.
Just as he’d promised, Jim took me flying and I was finally soaring with the birds. Since then, we have traveled frequently. I always wanted to travel, but knew it would require a lot of work for whoever helped me. Jim does it all so willingly. Now I look forward to every trip Jim flies us on. Time with him is time in heaven. He has even taken me camping, which I’ve never done before. He has introduced me to so many new things, places and people I would have never experienced had I not been trusting enough and had Jim not been the amazing, loving person he is.
On July 11, 1999, Jim and I were in Yosemite National Park. There, at the base of Yosemite Falls, he proposed to me. I’d never imagined such a beautiful, romantic setting or allowed myself to think I’d ever be asked to marry by a man I loved. I never knew there could be someone like Jim who loves all of me so completely and always will. There is no question in my heart that we will have a wonderful life together filled with all the joys known to soul-to-soul lovers.
Jennifer Cabernoch lives in Saugus, Calif., and wrote our October 1999 story “Delivery from Sexual Innocence.”
Getting Along Famously
By Gary Karp
When I picked her up, I asked her if she was nervous. She said, “Yes, a little.” I admitted to the same, and in that moment we established something very important–our willingness to be honest with each other. There were to be no pretensions here.
It had started a few days earlier when she’d called me about my consulting services while I was in the bathtub. Since I couldn’t write, I asked her to fax me her name and number, which she did–along with a little cartoon of me in the bath. When I called back to discuss the work, we fell into laughing banter. I said, “Oh, we’re going to get along famously.” Little did I know.
As I gave my presentation to her staff, she fantasized about me in the bathtub (the kind of retrospective confession one loves to hear). As I worked for the day in her office, there was clearly a connection, some energy in how we looked at each other, how we spoke. But there was also that picture of the little boy on her desk, and the question of her recent separation from her husband. …
I called a mutual acquaintance, who informed me that there was indeed a husband. Despite her apparent hints that I should make another appearance, and despite my definite interest, I wasn’t about to get into a friendship where I might want to go deeper than was possible. So I let it go.
In the meantime, she was lighting candles at night to attract me into her life.
And then I got her note in the mail: “I’d like to see you.” The mutual friend had been in for a visit, my name came up, and the mistake was uncovered. The husband was already out of the picture.
So here we were, going to San Francisco’s finest gourmet vegetarian restaurant.
She was patient with the process of unloading my wheels from the back seat of the Volvo. I didn’t feel the need to explain my disability, sensing that she recognized my expertise.
We sat at what was to become “our table.” Throughout the evening, there was never an awkward silence. As we dove into the discovery process, we moved from family pets to career highlights, from our hairstyles in the ’60s to our concepts of God. We had no restraints, and I found myself sharing deeply personal facts of my life.
I suppose she asked about my injury, but honestly I don’t remember. What I do remember is that I just told her what she wanted to know, with no hesitation or fear that it might upset or repel her. There was a sense of liberation in being able to be so relaxed about my disability. I knew I was being seen clearly for the whole man that I am.
I didn’t kiss her that night. It was three nights later, sipping tea by candlelight in her garden, that we shared that first kiss, she sitting on my lap in the cool night air.
Our relationship was to last for 18 months, but it didn’t fail. Sometimes, no matter how much love is there, how much joy is shared, how deep the bond, lives simply won’t come together for the long haul. But some people never get to love as we did, and all the signs were there on that historic first date.
Gary Karp lives in San Francisco and is the author of Living On Wheels and Choosing a Wheelchair.