By Dave Hingsburger
Hello?” His voice is full of sleep as he answers the telephone. I can hear Beth, his wife, getting out of bed in the background. Farther in the distance a small child can be heard. We agree, fairly quickly, that it’s about a cup of coffee too early to chat. We’ll talk in an hour or so.
While I wait, I think back to when I first met Dan Wilkins at a TASH conference in New Orleans. He’d rolled by our book table, noticed a masturbation training tape, and hit his brakes. I remember the first words out of his mouth: “Well, this looks handy!” And we all laughed.
Later I followed him back to his booth and there were what seemed like a thousand T-shirts with cool messages and graphics piled everywhere. Busy working there were Beth and Patt, his mom. Both rolled their eyes when he claimed he’d been out networking while they’d been sweatworking. The love, the camaraderie, the teasing that went on around that table drew people there like bees to honey.
An hour later we’re on the phone again. A child’s voice is in the background, and occasionally Beth makes quips while Dan and I are talking. The clatter of a normal life is something Dan once thought he had lost.
“Before my accident,” he says, “I was the societal norm. I had no friends with disabilities and had one of those fate-worse-than-death attitudes towards the very idea of disability. Even so, from day one of waking up with a disability I was laughing. I can’t say there weren’t times I was worried. I remember wondering if I’d ever love or be loved again. I never thought I’d live in my own home, have my own business. …” There is a long pause and then, with the softest voice possible, he adds, “Never thought I’d have such a beautiful little boy.”
Dan’s life changed–although the way he tells it, his life began anew–on a crisp October night. He worked nights and instead of going to bed afterward he decided to do some carpentry for a friend. Then he went to a football game and later to a bar to shoot some pool with friends. Exhausted, he fell asleep behind the wheel of his Ca