First Dates: True Love Has to Start Somewhere, Doesn't It?
We: Such a Beautiful Word
By Valois J. Vera
Cover model Eric Stampfli on love: "You know
you're on the right track when your first date lasts three days."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.