My Rightful Place
I had driven to the post office to mail a submission for potential publication. Law school turned out to be a bust, at least temporarily, until the Office for Civil Rights decided whether or not it would open an investigation to determine if the Americans with Disabilities Act had in fact been violated by the University of Georgia School of Law and the university at large.
For the first time in my life, I had actually failed in school. The law school had let the clock run out in deciding whether or not to provide me the disability-related accommodations to which it had originally agreed, and in order to avoid the Fs from my midterms on my official transcripts, I was forced out of the program. I didn’t think it was possible, but in attempting to achieve, I had broken my own heart.
I was in limbo waiting for the decision, waiting for the private attorneys to make their minds up about representing me. I was 29 years old and still waiting for my future. The waiting caused everything to stop: the phone calls, the emails, the advocating. I finally had time to write.
I opened my car door to make my way to the back where my wheelchair lift was attached. It was a newfangled lift, having only been on the market for three years. The lift was on a three-wheeled trailer and was attached to my PT Cruiser by a hitch. This way, I could drive a car instead of being relegated to a wheelchair lift van. This way, I had a choice.
But the lift had its drawbacks, one of which was that it had trouble fitting into a parking spot. As I came to discover, even a handicapped parking spot designated as “Van Accessible” had trouble accommodating my car with the lift on the back. The lift stuck out beyond the lines intended for that spot. Both it and I were directly in the way of oncoming traffic.
“Is there anything I can do for you, ma’am?” A voice called from above me as I crouched down to insert the key into the lift to lower it to the ground.
I straightened and turned around. A bald African American gentleman was smiling at me. “Sorry, thank you,” I said in that order. It was a reflex. It was my number one rule of being disabled. Apologize first and thank second in the event I wasn’t welcome. Because more often than not, I wasn’t.
“You have no need to apologize, young lady.” His smile remained. This time, I was welcome.
“I need to lower the lift to get my chair, but cars are coming,” I said, looking both ways as I talked.
“I understand. I want you to be safe. One moment,” he replied. He took two steps in front of me and stayed there, his hands out to the left and right of him, stopping traffic. “You can get in your chair now, ma’am. I’ll make sure no one comes.”
I lowered the lift to the ground, unhooked its straps from my wheelchair and sat back in my seat. Driving the wheelchair off the lift, I said, “Thank you, sir. You’re very kind.” It wasn’t every day that I had my own crossing guard.
“Well, you’re a very nice young lady,” he retorted. “I’ll get the door for you.” He smiled again. I smiled back. Both were genuine.
I spun around in my power chair in order to open the door to the back seat of my car. I grabbed the faux snakeskin day bag, which held my submission, shut the car door and locked it.
“Would you like to go ahead of me in line, sir?” I asked, passing him as he opened the post office door for me. “I don’t want to further delay you.” Even though he had already told me I didn’t need to be sorry, I was.
“No, certainly not, young lady. You deserve to take your rightful place in line just like the rest of us.”
I stared at him, stunned as the impact of his words washed over me. My rightful place, I thought, a place which only I could possess, a place to which only I was entitled, a place that was mine to assume simply because I existed.
I realized that this kind gentleman into whose face I was staring unflinchingly was right. Like the rest of the people waiting in line, I had a place with them because of my presence. Disability and all, I, too, was like the rest of them: human.
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