I used to joke with Nick that he knew every person in Columbus who used a wheelchair. When we first became friends years ago, I would ride shotgun in his Geo Prizm (RIP) and he would identify people whizzing down the sidewalk full-tilt in their chairs, "There's Susan", "Hey look, it's Barry", etc. There's an easy explanation: he was usually driving me to and from my apartment, which was pretty near to the creative independent living residence where he used to work. He knew every one who lived at the residence, and many of them spent their days touring the neighborhood in their chairs. It was really about as uncanny as running into your neighbors at the grocery store.
The residents of this apartment building became Nick's friends. Disabled people are, of course, as self-aware or opinionated or off-color or tender as anyone. I have plenty of things to talk about with Nick's friends with spinal cord injuries, as I was reminded today at the residence's Memorial Day BBQ: underappreciated sophomoric comedies, annoying urban development trends, my hyper husband, pale ales. As I rode my bike home from the cookout, I thought about what a life we can have with our minds and hearts, but what a delicious gift to ride a bike, to run so slowly that I swear a mallard outpaced me yesterday on the bike path, to have sex! Man, those things are great. The greatest.
I lost some weight over the last year, enough for people to notice. People's compliments are flattering or kind of unsettling or whatever but have reminded me that bodies are praised for being a certain way or ignored for being a different way or worse, shamed with feigned "concern". A few weeks ago before my spinning class as the other women adjusted their bikes, one bemoaned the slow but dogged approach of bikini season. She clutched her abdomen like Julius Caesar did his fatal wound, with betrayal. Et tu. Maybe the anguish in the dialogue of these two objectively slender, fit women was real, maybe it was a bit performed. (No one is supposed to go around saying "I feel great about putting on a swimsuit very soon!" That's about as relatable as announcing your relationship is basically perfect and your children are geniuses.) They went on and on and on. I piped up with some sanctimony, something I am not in the habit of (too diplomatic for my own good in mixed company!). Later we mounted bicycles that don't move forward and sort of humped around on them for an hour to Pet Shop Boys. Naturally.
So here is my PSA: Everyone stop it. Your body is a marvel, a machine. And its job is never finished, and it's not a project or an adversary. And I hate that that cannot be known that until one realizes it for oneself. That an inspiring Pinterest pin or retweeted feminist response piece can't a buy-in make, so mired in crap and groomed from birth are we. But I can imagine that it sucks to realize only in hindsight.