There’s a refrain that I keep hearing;
“Oh, that’s really good of them”
That’s referring to my partner, or sometimes to my friends. And it’s for spending time with me.
Not just talking about the times that they’ve taken me to hospital, or the times that they’ve made me food or reassembled me or looked after me whilst I was morphined unto oblivion for my own good, but talking about spending time with me at all. Going to the pub with me, or the cinema, or having tea at each other’s houses.
It’s almost as if some people don’t know how to parse the interaction between an obvious cripple and a non-disabled person, or a less-obvious cripple, other than assuming that the one who isn’t held together with elastic bands is a carer of some kind. Whether paid or unpaid, people assume that the primary feeling or responsibility that someone is going to have towards a disabled person is caring.
Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t care about my friends, or that they don’t care about me. We do, indeed, all care about each other. But it’s not “caring” in the “has a carer” sense. My best friend doesn’t wash my hair like some kind of Florence Nightingale figure, endlessly lavishing care onto a castrated lump that’s only capable of responding with gratitude. He washes my hair because we’re friends, and friends help each other out. And then I go through to the workroom and critique his latest projects, because that’s a way that I can help him. And then he tells me the potted history of the fly button, or something like that. Then I build a push-mould to make historically accurate fly-buttons for his trousers. We help each other out, and it just happens that, much like he needs a sculptor to make protos for him to electrotype, I need someone to wash my hair and cut my toenails.
I feel like I should write this as a quick list.
Things that being friends with a disabled person will get you;
– Cheap seats at the opera
– A new appreciation for hot water bottles
Things that being friends with a disabled person won’t get you;
– Good karma
– Inspiration to live your own life to the full
– Brownie points
– A fucking medal
The thing is, the people who say “OIh, you must be a really good friend!” to my friends, just for being with me – I can only assume that they don’t have any disabled friends. Or that they can’t imagine being friends with a disabled person. Or that they don’t think that disabled people could be an equal partner in any kind of relationship. Or that they think that disabled people can’t have the kind of qualities that could make someone want to be their friend. I’m pretty sure that my best friend sees my disability as being a bit like my being extremely tall, or my having a pet greyhound; It’s not why he’s my friend, but he’s not my friend despite it either. It’s just one of many slightly unusual and sometimes slightly inconvenient facts about me that subtly colour our interactions – Not the quality of them, just the practicalities of them.
This all gets worse when it’s addressed to my partner. We’ve been together since I was about nineteen, and in that time I’ve gone from incredibly fit and outdoorsy to basically housebound. So people say that it really shows his character, for staying with me (Subtext; “When he’s a good looking bloke with a steady job and a nice house, who could just as easily be with someone non-crippled”).
The thing is, this does worry me. I *know* that it’d be easier for him, on a purely practical level, to be with someone who isn’t crippled. To come home from work and not have to cook for both of us, and look after the dog, and massage the cramp out of my ruined hips and shoulders. It’d be “fairer” on him, as an NHS nurse once helpfully reminded me “If I could be a proper partner and go out with him to the pictures or something, since it wasn’t fair on him being stuck in the house all the time”. It’d be easier for him to relate to other people our age, when their partners were talking about jobs and children and marriage and holidays, to not be worrying about inpatient care and making the house wheelchair accessible and trying to arrange respite for us both.
But then I talk to him, and I realise that to him it’s just normal. He’s not interested in a hypothetical perfectly-fit-partner. He’d no more avoid being with my for my disability than he’d avoid someone else for being obsessed wtih model trains or for having three cats – It’s just part of the deal of being with me.
Anyway, more philosophical in the morning. Right now I’m tired and high.