Tuesday, August 10, 2010

For Paul Longmore, in memoriam: Part 14 of "Miracle Boy”

This next, short passage is dedicated to my good friend and guru Prof. Paul Longmore, who I've just learned died yesterday. Suddenly, unexpectedly. He'd become a sort of celebrity in the disability-rights movement, but he was nothing if not unfailingly friendly and personable and supportive and warm, too. I had read of him before I'd met him. That was 20 years ago or more. He was a historian and polio survivor who educated me and hundreds of others about disability history--the role of people with disabilities in history, perhaps I should say. He imparted a sense of shared culture and pride, and a sort of vision for the future. He was also a pal, a wit, a provocateur. He coached me through my first op-ed submissions and media appearances. And so much more.

Forgive me if I'm rambling. I'm still in shock.

For more about Paul, see the links at



I'm sure that if not for Paul I would have never been able to face let alone articulate the complex issues that characterized my life. Here, then, is a new installment of what Paul has wrought...

I'm always required to articulate my wishes and needs, can't just act on them. I'm forced to plan ahead. And I internalize this self-discipline. Impulsiveness is drained out of me! Without realizing, I come to depend on precedent—whatever worked before should work again—because I can't trust in winging it.

Later in the school year, one of my extra special friends invites me to her apartment to play. A smart, petite girl with long, thick black hair, Joanie lives only a few blocks away. Her mom comes to escort us. Which means she's going to push my wheelchair on the sidewalk—but first, down the school steps. Joanie's mom doesn't look physically strong, yet I bravely give her instructions. I can feel her hands shake as she clutches the handlebars of my wheelchair. One step at a time. We get almost all the way down without incident ... until she slips. I fly out of her hands and bound down the hard marble stairway—k'bump-k'bump!—to hit the bottom. I'm facedown, my chin on the lowest step, my wheelchair on top of me.

Mr. Martinez, the school's muscular and jovial maintenance man, is there, leaning over me, trying to pull me up. It's hard to talk with my chin pressed against the bottom step, but I know words are my strongest asset and best defense. Mom has drilled that into me over the years. I manage to say, "Open the seat belt first."

The only Walden staffer not called by his first name, oddly enough, Mr. Martinez bends down to make sure he understands. I can smell his sweet cologne, and I'm grateful. It's important he understand me. If he pulls the wheelchair up without unbuckling me first, I'll twist an ankle. He reaches under me to unfasten the belt. Released from the chair, I slide into a slightly more comfortable position on the floor. He is then able to lift me bodily—like a groom carrying his bride over the threshold—without twisting my ankle, and carry me up the steps to a sofa in the school office. Someone else brings my chair. The school nurse looks me over, calls Mom. Joanie and her mom stay near. I'm in no pain, but the wait for Mom seems very long.

Finally she's there. The play date is canceled. No other harm done. You become used to wheelchair accidents.

The next time Joanie and I get together it's at my apartment.

[For that naughty story, tune in again in a few days...]

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