It used to be a game to us. We’d laugh, make light. It was so predictable.
“How far into the conversation did you get before he/she asked?” I’d inquire of my husband.
Except I already know, the moment the question escapes my lips, that the answer is, “not very far.” Because it’s only far too common. My husband meets someone for the first time—a new co-worker, customer, acquaintance and in some form or fashion if the subject comes up that he is married and his wife has a spinal cord injury and is a wheelchair user—for most people it’s their first point of curiosity.
“We met after her accident,” he always answers.
Now, if you can’t read between the lines, let me re-state the inquiry in the way it is truly meant. “So…did you meet her before or after she became defective?”
Of course, to the inquirer, the answer doesn’t truly matter. It’s a moot point. Either way as far as they are concerned, he is an altruistic being to the hilt. I mean, if he met me before my accident he’d be set atop a pedestal as the virtuous and devoted husband who stayed by my side, and if it was after, he’s reached full-on sainthood because he actually…dare I say… “chose those damaged goods on purpose?!?!” (yes, both a question and exclamation mark are called for here)
It’s a typical question, he hears it all the time. I even get it on occasion. Always in a hushed tone, “Did you meet him before or after your accident?”
I get it. Sort of. As humans, we have this catlike curiosity to qualify all of our experiences. Good. Bad. Right. Wrong. Nice guy. Bad guy. But in this case what most are trying to qualify is if my husband is a divine being or if he’s actually crossed over the line into true sainthood. Because typically when he says he met me after my accident, he’s congratulated by a pat on the back or a shake of the hand. “Good for you,” the inquirer will say.
Good for him, what? Why should he be revered for being human? Only to many people, he’s not just human. He’s super human for rescuing the poor disabled girl. But he doesn’t see it that way and neither do I. It was your typical man attracted to woman, woman in turn, attracted to man. (Insert stars, hearts, fireworks—your choice) He saw a woman he liked, asked her out, married her. Even though I know the question isn’t asked out of purposeful disrespect, it’s an insult to our relationship and the accompanying accolades projected on my husband are hollow. Just as the ones I receive when I go to the grocery store and am tagged as “an inspiration,” by the woman behind me in the produce department watching me clutch a bag of spinach off the refrigerated shelf.
So you see, at this point, I had become numb to the conversation. That was until the day I wasn’t. It was three weeks ago when we were spending time together with a couple with whom we had recently become acquainted, and have enough in common with to make for a pleasant evening. We had gotten together to work on a project and then go to dinner after. It should have been a fun evening by all accounts. But when the husband of the couple started talking about how his admiration for my husband “hit a whole new level” when he learned he was married to a woman who was “in a wheelchair.” I can’t remember all the superlatives he used, but my husband was beginning to sound like a regular knight in shining armor. And then after he had gone on ad nauseam, he proceeded to add, “yeah, you could have just walked away from that!”
A shudder went through my body as I realized that THAT, was, in fact, me. Yes, this gentleman, suffering from foot-in-mouth disease, was actually telling my husband that at any time he could have walked away from—oh, let’s make this more fun, you pick—a) that high-maintenance crippled woman, b) those damaged goods, c) the undesirable woman who very few men would find attractive or datable, d) all of the above.
And the worst thing of all, was that he just kept talking about it…and how wonderful my husband is…and thought nothing of the fact that while he was praising hubs right in front of me, he was talking me deeper and deeper into the ground.
As we had an evening of activity planned with these two, my husband and I both kept our mouths shut and communicated via ESP. We were shocked, but it didn’t seem like it was the time or place to say something. But it was. And now, it’s gone. It was an educational moment all the way around.
So, if you ever run into a happy couple, maybe one with a disability involved, please ignore any urge you have to decide what’s right or wrong, angelic or not about the partnership. Simply, enjoy the fact that you have met two people who have found their perfect match, despite any imperfections you might perceive on the outside. Since, at the end of the day, it is only your perception. And the happy couple? They’ll probably be much happier without your commentary on their relationship. Because honestly, I’m not laughing anymore.