The days in the desert Southwest can get long. The heat of the summer sun is absorbed into every block that forms fencing here. The asphalt behaves like a sponge and spends the night hours releasing heat into the atmosphere. Everyone needs to get out and walk. Everyone in this house certainly does. We don’t tend to be creatures of habit and the need to change things up is strong around here. Thinking about getting enough walking steps in to feed husband’s pedometer is a challenge. Walking a mall seems like a good idea. The environment is controlled, relatively safe, free of obstacles and there’s a food court to end it all. We each have our own needs and challenges going to the mall. I’ll speak for my own, thanks.
I hate heights. I also hate the consumerism that drips off the walls in a mall. I have a serious aversion to the constant eye contact by strangers as they walk past me. Here we are, this motley crew……one of us is in a wheelchair, wretching and drooling and enjoying the heck out of every bumpy tile and the elevator rides. One other of us is clearly a cancer patient, hairless, thin, a little wonky in his brand new Chuck Taylors. One of us wears a hijab. And me, I am doing my best to cling to the inner wall and avoid the view of the edge of the walking space that plummets to the ground 15 feet below. There are a lot of perfectly normal people walking the mall. Not shopping, like really walking. Talking with their walking buddy and annoyed that I am walking against their path and hogging up the space against the display windows. We passed some of them more than once. I got more annoying to them each time. My pace wasn’t satisfying anyone in my group. I wasn’t keeping up and my only distraction was the size 0 couture in the windows. “Dang, those shoes are high. Holy crap, where’s that model’s pubic bone? No one wants to see butt cheeks! Why is that blouse $95.00?? Is that a Belgian Waffle stand?? Why do I keep seeing people falling over the edge of that glass wall in my little theater mind?” Can you see how hard mall walking is for me? I abandoned them in front of the Hollister store and made a beeline back to the food court. It gave me a chance to sit and watch, which is different from walking and watching. There’s nothing mindless about public spaces to me So many faces to greet, configurations of families, languages, smells, behaviors. I write book after book in my mind. Make lists of what I see happening. As my mind settles, I remember that shopping malls are a mecca for special needs groups…whether the social/agency built kind or the family style kind. My guess is that most wouldn’t think WE are a family…there isn’t a whole lot visually to make us look alike. Our interaction might, but one would have to pay close attention. The wheelchair gathers a lot of attention and curiously, it garners interaction from others with crutches and walkers the most. Finishing our Greek salad and fries, the young lady (and I assume, her caregiver) stopped to ask, “How old are you?” She got a gaping stare in return. “She’s almost 15. This is Addie”, we answer on her behalf. “Can she walk?” “Nooooooo.” Her caregiver motioned for her to keep moving. That felt like a very incomplete interaction. We all recited “bye!” as she walked away.
Disabled young folk have the privilege of asking those kinds of questions and are entitled to respect when it comes to an answer. I welcome conversation. A question about Addie’s disability is far more socially normal than staring and telling children not to glare. Children naturally would like to know what’s going on. Why doesn’t she walk? They often want to know if it’s because she doesn’t want to. Was there an accident, they demand details. I usually start with her name. She has a name. I give them the short answer….No, she doesn’t walk with her legs, but her wheelchair helps her so she can go places. Yes, she goes to school, like you. (Antecdotal evidence to me that the typical kids are NOT interacting with special needs kids in the average school….otherwise, they would have some social ground rules down pat…..”Hi, I’m Bobby. I go to ______school. I have friends there in wheelchairs, too. Do you like Sponge Bob? I’m getting ice cream. Bye.”)
Today we are walking at Good Will. It should be better for me, anyway.