May I ask how the wheelchair happened?
Getting this question from strangers still throws me off my game. I wish it didn’t. I wish I could respond with some wild fictional story like I worked in a zoo and a gorilla threw me against a wall, and then watch their curious eyes go wide. When they inevitably say Wow, really? I would smile and just say No, not really, and go on my way. But that is not how I function. I’m the kind of person who thinks of great comebacks in the shower, days after they are relevant. I’m the kind of person who feels like I would offend these curious strangers by not offering a truthful answer when, in reality, they have just invaded a random person’s privacy by asking said person to share the most complicated and traumatic event of their life. I’m the kind of person who recently reacted like this.
I just finished lunch with my children. I handed my credit card over to our server and as she passed me the terminal she posed the question: May I ask how the wheelchair happened? I was caught off guard. I’m a woman who shares every piece of this journey online, but in that moment you would think I didn’t know my own story. I tripped over my words and momentarily forgot how to use a debit machine. I stole a quick glance at my kids who looked at me expectantly—they knew the story. But I was mad at this woman. Less for asking the question and more for asking it in front of my children. How did she know that this isn’t a deeply traumatic story for them—for any of us, really? She wasn’t thinking of what we may have gone through or the memories she may evoke when all we wanted was a fun afternoon together. She only wanted to pacify her own curiosity.
I managed to say something about a fall and a spinal cord injury before collecting my thoughts. I smiled at my kids and said We do pretty well though, right? And they all nodded and smiled. I managed to get my PIN correct and we all went on our way—the curious stranger with her answer, and us really no worse off for having given it to her. But I was still annoyed. Annoyed that she asked in front of my children and annoyed that the question itself still throws me off.
It isn’t that curiosity bothers me. I too am a very curious person—always wondering what everyone’s story is and how or why they are who they are. But doing so in my own head, without dredging up their past. As humans, it is in our DNA to notice differences in our surroundings and it’s only natural to want to understand them. The reason I share so much on here is to help people understand—but here, it’s on my terms. Also, asking someone what happened to them in a 60-second conversation isn’t really trying to understand them. It’s mostly just being nosey.
I think the question throws me off because I’m no longer aware 100% of the time that I’m different. In the beginning, I thought about it constantly—I expected stares and questions. But now, I’m just me. So when my wheelchair and my injury are the furthest things from my mind, a question like that brings back that awareness. It reminds me that people still notice—still see the wheelchair before they see me. Seemingly no matter how much confidence I try to have.
I know I don’t have a responsibility to give these questions answers. I also know that these strangers don’t have the right to ask about this very personal aspect of my life. But I’m not someone who is going to become irate at a curious passerby for asking a question. I think I should make up business cards with my blog on it and—next time—I will lead with the gorilla story before handing them a card. Win-win!