My friend Penny recently asked me if I still wrote this blog. She called from Kansas City one evening after dinnertime, chortling that she had just remembered the time difference and thought I might still be awake. The sound of her voice warmed my heart. I sat listening to her with my eyes closed and an enormous smile on my face.
I told her that I do still write this blog but not as often. She did not ask me why, but some truths long to be spoken.
I stopped my long-time blog, “Saturday Musings”, when I ran out of pleasant memories to share. Stories of life among tender humans comprised most of the entries, peppered with sorrowful stories about people whom I tried to help. I could not continue to talk about my life without dredging dark waters, so I stopped. Ostensibly, my hiatus allows time to edit those essays into a book. I have not made much progress.
This blog poses a similar challenge. I intended to use My Year Without Complaining as a journal to a joyful life in which I never complain. I have sincerely tried. Along the way, I have acquired some faithful followers; a myriad of stalwart cheerleaders; and a couple of vocal and venomous detractors. I still intend to strive to live without complaining, but the stories of everything that happened to make me prone to crabbiness have begun to ooze from my pores and congeal on my scorched skin. They clamor for attention.
Like this one:
When I moved to Little Rock in 1987, I took my Missouri doctor’s certification of my disability to the local DMV. My niece Sarah accompanied me. She had come down to spend a summer with me and my new husband, her father’s brother. She wanted to go everywhere with me and I enjoyed her company as I learned about our new city.
In those days, the DMV had not yet been arranged to put barriers between the employees and the public. Clerks sat behind old metal desks with word processors and stacks of paperwork in file stands. The receptionist gestured to an unoccupied desk and bade us to wait for the clerk who processed applications for handicapped plates.
Sarah and I sat chatting about dance lessons and day trips planned for when my stepdaughter Tshandra arrived. The cousins had not seen much of each other and Sarah could barely contain her excitement. After a few minutes, a heavyset greying woman plopped down in the desk chair and asked what she could do for us. I showed my paperwork. She studied it for a few minutes and then said, “You’re not in a wheelchair.” I explained that I did not, in fact, use a wheelchair but that I met the criteria for the plates and had all the necessary forms, properly completed. She shoved the stack across the cluttered surface of her desk and said, “I don’t approve handicapped plates for people that aren’t really handicapped.”
My stomach churned, and truth be told, my nausea found a perfect reflection in the look on Sarah’s face. I argued with the woman for about fifteen minutes and finally Sarah said, “Corinne, let’s just go.” I acquiesced to quell her discomfort with a trusted adult’s increasing shrillness. I left my name and number and asked that a supervisor call me. Sarah and I walked out of the office with all eyes turned in our direction.
By the time we got home, the woman had already left a message on our machine, asking me to call. When I did, she spoke in quiet tones. “Ma’am, I didn’t see you come in, but I saw you leave. If you come back, I’ll give you the plates.”
She did not apologize, not then, and not when I returned, alone, to finish the process and get my vehicle plates. The same group of state employees stared at me throughout the entire exchange.
A few weeks ago, I finally got my California car tags. I had all the paperwork: A form from my doctor; the smog test certificate; my sales receipt and title from Missouri; and, just in case, my birth certificate. When I walked into the office, a sign directed me to a window for “disabled customers”. At the counter, I had a choice to stand or sit. My form got quickly created and I received a number for the next step. I went through the VIN inspection routine, signed everything, and paid my fees. Within twenty minutes, I had my plates and stood outside, by my car. I studied my new plates, the bold indicia of my complete transformation into a Californian. I thought about all the people who have told me over the years that I’m not crippled enough for special treatment, and all the other people who had made it abundantly clear that I’m too crippled for their affection.
I know scores of persons with disabilities who wear their burdens with far greater grace than I do. Still, I strive to keep the pain and feelings of impotence from poisoning my everyday demeanor. Sometimes, though, I cannot help myself. In those moments, I snap; and then I cry inside when I see the look of shock with which my lament is inevitably met and which even the most hasty and sincere apology cannot erase. Sadly, the victims of my crashes never get to see the 364 other days of the year when I walk with angels, serene and silent. Ain’t that a crying shame?
It’s the twenty-second day of the seventy-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.