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photo: of fireworks

Read The Belchertown Crip Railroad




Today I am free. Free to live as I wish, to come and go as I please.

Independence Day

By Cindy A Progrin

Independence Day. Those two words conjure up all kinds of images for most of us. Flags furling, red, white and blue, hot summer days, parades, cookouts. The one day a year we Americans take to celebrate our country's triumph over oppression, control, the horrible circumstance we may have found ourselves in and dependence on others.

This year I find myself not only celebrating the nation's Independence Day but my own personal Independence Day -- actually, many personal independence days.

Today I am free. Free to live as I wish, to come and go as I please. I do not depend on anyone else. I am head of my own household. I pay my own rent and bills. I have my own health insurance. I do my own shopping. I am independent.

"Big deal!" you may be saying. Well, in fact it is a big deal. I am 35 years old, disabled, recently divorced and living on my own for the first time in my life.

When my husband and I first separated over two years ago, I was devastated. I had no idea how I would survive on my own. I had become almost totally dependent him. He did all the errands, all the shopping. He took me wherever I needed to go.

I was convinced I would have to live with family to survive. I didn't think I could make it on my own, especially since I didn't drive.

It took a suicide attempt and a very persuasive crip activist to convince me otherwise.

A friend put me in contact with someone she thought could help.

Maryfrances Platt, through gentle persuasion, helped convince me I could make a go of it on my own. She invited me, a virtual stranger, to her own home, showing me that, yes, a disabled person could live independently -- and do it quite nicely. I'm sure the emotional pain I was in, compounded by the fact I was bi-polar, made dealing with me exceptionally difficult. Yet she arranged tours of nearby housing complexes available to low-income, disabled individuals. She gave me phone numbers, addresses and would mention them often in our conversations, knowing that for me, just making a phone call was an extremely difficult thing.

This stranger quickly became a great friend. With her support and friendship, eventually I made the calls. Applications and paperwork started pouring in.

I applied for housing in several local communities. Most had waiting lists one to three years long! But in Belchertown, I applied in the middle of May and I signed the lease to my new one-bedroom apartment less than three months later!.

I love my new home. The complex is quiet, the grounds are well kept, my apartment is good-sized and accessible.

I use Belchertown's paratransit to go everywhere now. I do my own grocery shopping, I go to the mall, out to eat, and visit friends.

So this year as the flags fly, the hamburgers sizzle and the fireworks explode in honor of our country's freedom, I'll be celebrating my own personal freedom -- July 4th and every day thereafter.

Cindy A. Progin lives independently in Belchertown, MA with her friends of the feline persuasion.

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