Kim and I give every potential overnight trip careful consideration. If it appeals to us, then we have to plan like crazy to avoid as many pitfalls as we reasonably can. I have checklists.
But our Cleveland vacation went off with very few problems. The hotel was about as good as it gets in terms of accessibility. Our new wheelchair van was awesome. We were able to work around most obstacles. For example, I never once had an urgent need to sit on the toilet at Jeanette and Steve’s house, where I had no access to a bathroom.
I’d like to stay on that subject for a moment, if you will indulge me. I’ve accomplished many things in my life. I was the seventh and eighth grade chess champion – as a seventh grader! I was valedictorian of my high school class in rural Maine. At graduation I was also given special commendations for having a full set of teeth and for being able to skin a deer in less than 10 minutes. I was president of my fraternity at the University of Maine because I was pretty much the only guy who wasn’t a complete drunk, a total stoner, or a hardened criminal. I was only varying degrees of each. But the accomplishment I am most proud of today is my exceptional bowel control. Don’t laugh! I am the master of that domain. In fact, I’ve left instructions that my gravestone will read “Here Lies Mitchell Sturgeon, He Was a Regular Guy” (if italics are allowed on gravestones).
If not for this skill, I would be at great risk whenever I leave my house, because bathroom accessibility is so hit and miss.
“Come on Mitch, get serious for a moment,” you, the reader, might be saying. “Tell us how you really felt showing up in Cleveland, being so significantly disabled. Share your pain and anguish with us. Tell us how your friends felt. Share their pain and anguish with us. Get to the really important stuff- the gut wrenching, the tears.”
Okay. Brace yourself. You asked for it.
Sorry, it just didn’t happen. I was not apprehensive about having my friends see me this way. The anticipation of spending time with them was so much more important. I rarely worry about what people think of my appearance, other than the size of my gut and whether my hair is combed. I don’t look at myself any differently than I ever have. I don’t feel conspicuous in my wheelchair. Perhaps I learned that from my mother. I live my life from the inside looking out.
I can’t be certain how my friends felt when they saw me. It never came up in conversation. I didn’t purposely avoid the subject. I was busy living in the moment, which is where I try to spend most of my time. I never gave it much thought until I sat down to write this blog post. You might consider that to be slightly selfish of me, and you might be right.
Everyone knew that I would arrive in a wheelchair, but I suppose seeing it with their own eyes for the first time might have been difficult. But I’d like to think that my friends in Cleveland were put at ease as soon as I began interacting with them in the same way that I always have. Each person processes these types of issues in their own way. I’m sure that some people spent time considering the worst-case scenarios. But I bet most of them were happy to see me happy, and didn’t go to any dark places. If they did, they hid it well.
I hope that for some periods of time during the week the fact that I am in such physical decline was overlooked and temporarily forgotten, and in the end I was regarded as just the same old, regular (no italics) Mitch – a true friend, an occasionally outspoken prick, but on balance a decent guy.
In closing (insert sarcastic applause here as for a speech that has lasted way too long), I’d like to thank everyone who went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable during the entire vacation. People were constantly asking me if I needed anything, and I often took them up on the offer. But most of all I must thank Kim. Almost all of our travel burdens fell directly on her. She not only met these challenges with incredible energy, but also with grace and a positive attitude. Thank you.
Oh, one more thing (insert eye roll here). If you haven’t noticed, I’m a realist. Therefore I must admit that there is a chance that this was my last trip to Cleveland. I didn’t raise the issue during my visit because I didn’t want to be melodramatic. But if that turns out to be the case, and I hope it doesn’t, then it will only be the end of my relationship with a place, not with the people in it. The coast of Maine is a wonderful location to visit in the summer if you live in Cleveland!
Postscript: (insert “you’ve got to be effing kidding me” here) Of course my high school classmates and college fraternity brothers know that my characterizations here were tongue-in-cheek. Although we studied in the woods of Maine, some of my old pals are now judges, doctors, lawyers, executives, fathers, mothers, and all around happy and successful people. Finally, I’ll address what I know is the burning question in everyone’s mind. Yes, I did successfully defend my title as chess champion in eighth grade. Afterward, I immediately retired from competitive chess. I went out on top.
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