There is no sphere of human
endeavor in which we fare more unpredictably. While most of us will agree that a disability doesn't really help, our
individual success doesn't
seem to depend on how disabled we are. What does it depend on?
Here are some clues:
A Blind Date That Worked
It had been a year since my last relationship had ended. She was the ender and I was the endee, left with that lookñyou know the lookñthe "your girlfriend just dumped you and you will never get a date again" look.
During this dry spell, I would call a woman friend
to discuss our love lives or lack thereof (networking is everything). During one
call, she mentioned that a friend named Joanna, a nurse who worked at Shriners Children's
Hospital, had heard of my hang-gliding exploits, and had asked if I would be interested
in sharing my adventures with some of the kids at the hospital.
I'm not stupid, and I asked the right questions: What does she look like? Is she
single? I got the right answers: tall, blonde, beautiful and, yes, single.
Tough times call for brash action, so I called Joanna and invited her on a blind
date. I figured it would be a disaster, just like the other blind dates I had been
on, but hey, they do make the good stories. Joanna's plan, I learned later, was to
go out with me just once to get me to talk to the kids at Shriners.
But there is such a thing as luck in love. The date was magnificent and by its end,
we were head over heels. We went out again and it got even better.
Ten months later, riding my hand-crank bike, I led Joanna to one of my favorite spots
overlooking Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay. I got down on one knee (those Jay Protectors
come in handy), held out a ring and proposed.
We were married a year later, October 4, 1997, on a granite outcropping next to a
waterfall above Emerald Bay. As friends carried me down the steep granite slope to
the site, my brother and best man noted the 400-foot cliff behind us. "No wonder
Joanna was so quick to approve this site," they said. "You sure can't sneak
away." I wouldn't have dreamt of it.
It still feels strange to refer to Joanna as "my wife"; feels good, but
strange. It also feels strange to be married; good, but strange. I always figured
getting married meant you were a grown-up. At age 37, is it time? Nah.
Wanted: Wedding Photographer
A friend once told me I should marry a photographer, since I liked having my picture
taken so much. I remember laughing, thinking that photographers were artsy types
who weren't too bright. Then I met Tim.
Tim was tall, fair-haired and utterly gorgeous.
Smart, too. I got over my prejudices against photographers quickly.
But I didn't think I had a chance with him. After all, I was geeky, had bad hair,
and I had a disability. On my best days, I felt frumpy. But one night, we were thrown
together by our school newspaper editor. It was a simple news storyñthe Centre for
Disabled Students had outgrown its four walls and was looking for new space. Tim's
task was to illustrate the problem, and he needed my help to do it. He placed lights
around me, then pulled out his camera.
With each click, I could feel my heart pounding. Nothing mattered anymore; not my
bad haircut, not my tattered sweatpants, not even my wheelchair. I felt beautiful.
I looked up from my pose. Tim was smiling, breathing hard and his face was gleaming
with perspiration. The studio felt so ... warm.
After that night, nothing was quite the same. We became a couple shortly before graduation.
I decided photographers weren't so bad, and I began to think my personality was more
important than my disability. Later this year, we're making it official. But somebody
else will have to take the wedding photos.
What's Too Disabled?
The last few months of my 9-year relationship with my lover hadn't been going well.
We had stopped sleeping together and our communication was poor.
I have spinal muscular atrophy, and my disability had progressed to the point that
I was using my BiPap to breathe more and more. I had no independent movement except
in my right thumb. I felt that the way I was handling my physical changes was causing
the difficulties with my lover.
Margo had been my personal assistant for two years and was fast becoming a close
friend. One day, she was driving me in my van. "I'm so scared," I said,
mostly to myself. "Maybe I'm too disabled to be a lover. So if I'm too disabled,
then I should end the relationship. But what's too disabled?" I stared off into
the Boston traffic.
"I think it's dead," Margo said.
I looked around for a dead squirrel or cat in the road.
"I think too disabled is when you're dead," Margo repeated. My heart grew
warm and large and my eyes filled with tears as her words embraced me.
Since it was not safe for me to be alone on the BiPap all night, Margo slept with
me the nights she was on. We began holding hands at night. It was beautifully intense
for us to hold hands all night and not move.
Months after my breakup with my lover, Margo stopped being my personal assistant.
We have become much more intimate kindred spirits. When I needed a tracheostomy,
she helped support me in my decision.
"Margo, what if I come out of this unable to talk?"
"So what? You'd still be you. I would love you if you were in a coma."
Well, I'm not in a coma. I'm still talking, and Margo and I are singing together
at my 50th birthday party next week.
A Passing Grade
I used to be quite the manly manñrafting, kayaking, marathoning, biking and skiing
my life away. When I felt like chasing women, I did so on the river, on the road
or on the trail.
While I never won a medal, I was fairly comfortable
with this method. It at least allowed me to audition while doing something I was
comfortable with. The only other ways I knew of meeting women involved alcohol, which
usually resulted in making a (bigger) fool of myself.
After my injury, I attended graduate school in shrinkology and was able to freely
meet people again. But with only a couple of exceptions, these women quickly focused
on being my friend or pal. While I never saw them as sympathy dates, I did get the
impression that they were more curious about my life with paralysis than about my
charming personality. Then I finished school, and my contact with people decreased
Six or seven years post-injury and very close to age 50, I realized two new things:
I still preferred women to men, and I still refused to accept how uncomfortable I
felt about being a crip. I remained unsure of myself, angry with the world and afraid
of the futureñhardly the road to sexual magnetism.
I also recalled some of what I'd learned in schoolñthat people often remain stuck
until it's too painful not to change. What pap, I thought. I found full-time work
instead. When I met others who had struggled with romance on wheels, they validated
much of my experience. I began to forgive myself for having a broken neck and built
some faith in the future. Trite as it sounds, I began to resolve my own issues.
I placed an ad in a personals column, telling myself I could write an article on
the futility of dating women after they discovered I used a chair. Instead, I got
lots of responses. Now, 11 months later, I feel I may have won the lottery. Jeannie
seems more comfortable with many of my hassles than I.
It's been three years since a friend asked me how my life was. I responded then with
a "B." I said that for it to be an A, I needed part-time work and steady
sex. It was a month later that I began working the 9-to-5 and felt my grades fluctuating
Things stabilized once Jeannie came into my life. I got laid off a few months ago,
so now I collect SSDI, smile a lot, and watch as my GPA goes up.
Third Person Love Affair
The only thing wrong with Rena was that she was seeing a close friend of mine. The
only thing wrong with my close friend, Mark, was that he stole Rena away from me.
We were at a Halloween party when Rena came in dressed as a vampiress. I was drawn
to her immediately. But as I introduced myself, Mark quickly jumped in with a cup
of the generously spiked punch and stole her off to a secluded corner. I sat there
During the following months, I learned that Rena was the kindest, most attractive
person I knew. Even though I dated others, she set a standard no one could come close
to matching. I forgave Mark when I realized how much he cared for her. She was happy
and that was good enough for me.
"I'm going to ask Rena to marry me tonight at dinner," Mark said.
They had known each other for less than six months, for crying out loud. He was crazy.
And I hated myself for being jealous. He asked for advice on making the event memorable,
and I gave it to him. I didn't stay around for dinner.
A few weeks passed before I heard from either of them. I was preparing to finish
my undergrad at a university in Ohio, and was packing when Rena stopped by. She put
my spare wheelchair in the van for me, and told me how she wished I wasn't leaving.
It's not so far away, I said, just a hop, skip and a jump.
We went into the house and cracked two beers. As she sat on the couch and sipped,
I had to tell her how beautiful she was and how jealous I was of Mark. Tears began
to swell up in her eyes.
"I wish you had said something sooner."
"Mark asked me to marry him and I said yes."
Silence enveloped the room as we sat there staring at each other. Then she walked
over to me. She bent down, put her arms around me, and kissed me passionately. She
stood again and left. Only silence remained with me.
They married while I was away at school. Today, they are living in Boca Raton, Fla.,
happily married with three kids.
David J. Lieto
West Long Branch, New Jersey
She Was Framed
It's funny how we often forget the 6 million romantic things our significant others
do. Instead, we tell stories of their romantic shortcomings. If I were a better person,
I'd try to stop the madness. I'm not.
Since I was 5, I'd dreamed of a marriage proposal
from Prince Charming. How he would carry me away on a horse to his castle and we
would live happily ever after. Who knew my prince's form of transportation would
turn out to be an old hatchback? How could he have envisioned that his princess would
turn out to be a stubborn crip with an attitude?
The weekend before Bob asked me to marry him, we were in formal attire at the symphony.
The weekend after, we had a midnight picnic in the park. So the boy can be romantic.
The weekend of the actual event, he had everything planned. He had the ring ordered.
A few weeks earlier, he had even borrowed back the first rose he had ever given me.
I thought that was a little strange, and as the days passed, I thought for sure he
had lost it or sat on it or something.
In the midst of all the mystery, my sweetie got sick. For three days he lay on my
couch, moaning and hogging the remote. On the fourth day, when I came home from work,
he figured out what was ailing him. Fortified with NyQuil, he asked me to marry him.
Then he fell asleep for 14 hours. I told you he can be romantic.
How could I say no? I knew I had made the right decision last February, when he delivered
roses and a piece of cheesecake to my office for Valentine's Day. I knew it when
he kidnapped me from work on our anniversary and took me to a bed and breakfast for
the weekend. And I know it every night when I fall asleep in his arms.
Oh, what about the pre-owned rose he stole? The day after we got engaged, it was
re-delivered. In a frame.
Claire Theriot Mestepey
The Garden of Eden
It is January, mid-summer in South America, and Mark and I are on our honeymoon deep
in the Patagonian wilderness. We're traveling near the Chile-Argentina border in
a rented Chevy Luv pickup, on a brand-new highway built by Chilean dictator Gen.
It's a gravel track, rutted and narrow, that draws both monied speculators and ragged
peasants seeking the riches of the primeval temperate rainforest. In these fog-shrouded
fjordlands, we catch glimpses of craggy mountains with blue-white collars of glacial
ice. Surrounded by giant trees, we see delicate wildflowers sheltered behind cascading
waterfalls. Each day we add new species to our rapidly growing bird list, and go
for hours without seeing another human being. Each day we share a joyous recognition:
This is paradise.
Termas el Amarillo is in a narrow valley on a road
that is slightly better than the General's, and is the site of one of the region's
many hot springs. It is raining when we arrive, a light but persistent veil of mist
typical of most days here. The only other visitors are the Argentine couple we picked
up hitchhiking that morning.
The resort is little more than a crude encampment, a collection of simple wooden
structures perched on a mountainside. The hot water, originating high above, has
been captured in two placesña stone-lined pond about 3 feet deep and 40 feet long,
and an enclosed wooden bathhouse overlooking a river. We find the owner and pay to
use the facilities.
Mark pushes my wheelchair up the muddy path to the bathhouse. Giggling with delight,
we lock ourselves in and quickly undress, then plunge naked into the circular cement
tub. Part of the pool extends beyond the hut; we dive under the wall and come up
outside. We peer over the edge of the pool to the cold river below, then turn our
heads skyward for a drink of rainwater.
Steamy and lobster-red, we emerge from the hut and slide through the mud to the larger,
cooler pool. We sit silently in the tepid water as fine curtains of rain gently drizzle
around us. Masses of pink flowers attract iridescent hummingbirds. Woodpeckers swoop
through the mist, their calls weaving among the harmonies of the falling water. Mark
and I are like tiny figures in a 19th-century painting of a sublime, wilderness landscape.
We are Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.