Views of ourselves
by Mary Frances Platt
Read Mary Frances Platt's companion story, "No Big Brother Here," at the Freedom Clearinghouse website.
Mary Frances Platt died on Sept. 15, 2004. Read more about MaryFrances. For this article, she described herself as "a drooling, plugged-in, wheeling radical with a master's degree, the coolest assistance dog on the planet and a penchant for freedom fighting, crip style."
These days I sleep when my body loses signals of pain and discomfort. It is 4 p.m. and I am just waking up when the phone, insistent in its urgency, draws me from that delicious haze between dreamtime and realtime.
I manage a garbled "hello" and hear the voice of my Pennsylvanian friend.
"Are you in Belchertown?" I excitedly inquire?
"Yes I am!"
"Hot shit!" I shout through the phone. "You did it!! Welcome, neighbor!"
My 23-year-old buddy has made a difficult decision. She has left her home state and crip cohorts and moved to a state that would provide her with the amount of personal assistance she needs to live an independent life. Belchertown, my town, an untapped mecca of subsidized accessible housing, has, in only a few months' time, provided her with publicly funded, privately owned, very cool housing: two bedrooms to allow privacy for an overnight assistant, a crip-equipped bathroom, and best of all, a patio and trees!
We are about a mile apart, an easy trip on the well-run local paratransit.
I am lost in thought at the prospect of another activist in town when breathless sobs replace her happy chirping.
First apartment, no furniture, few friends, much fear . . . it's all coming back to me now. My wheelie friend begins to sing her homesick song. Her loss is deep, her grief inconsolable. So I listen, and try to soothe, try to reassure her that she will learn how to shop for herself, that she can make new friends, that her independent life is beginning, and that in the long run, she has indeed made the right choice. I remind her that she can always move back to her parents' if she needs to; that nothing is carved in granite, 'cept the old man of the mountains himself.
"But it's so unfair!" she repeats, over and over again.
I know, I know. What can this seasoned crip say to a young one just starting out, knowing that her life will be a series of "it's so unfair's" -- and that somehow, to survive, she must find her way amidst the oppression?
I have no doubt that she will do that. Over and over again I have watched this young woman fly by the seat of her pants. She may not know how to shop or use a microwave, but she knows how to sit in the rain and protest the Peter Singers of the world, knows how to write a grant to get money to talk to other crips about sexuality and queerness and disability, knows how to organize and collect smiles that were originally intended as stares.
She has accomplished much so far. She has moved out of her parents' home, made phone calls to hook up health care and social security and cable for the new apartment.
And now she sits, alone and scared, with barely enough furniture to fill a closet and sorrow enough to fill a state. I wish so much now to be able to don my supercrip cape, to have enough energy, ability, and stamina to make the one-mile trip to her home, to bring her a plant, a loaf of bread and a pair of loving arms.
Instead I listen and coo and assure, set up a time for her to come to my home, invite her into the life I have created amidst chaos and crip hating. Tonight, this phone connection will have to be enough. Given enough tomorrows, we will ensure that future young ones do not become refugees out of need for attendant services.
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