When I was growing up, I lived in a small town in the Rockies. The house next door was rented for awhile by a couple, one of whom had a disability. She was able to walk but when she did she had a very exaggerated gait. I remember her mostly because her personality was vibrant and her engagement with me was warm. I liked her.
I remember her husband as kind of a thin, bland, man. I have virtually no memories of him at all. I do remember that the two of them had applied to adopt a child but that the adoption was denied because the adoption workers didn’t like how she walked. They were convinced that she would drop a baby if she were to have one in her arms. She would not have.
They were the focus of much talk. Well, mostly he was. It was all about what a wonderful man he was for marrying her. Disabled, unable to bear children, she was not considered a catch. There was little talk about how a bland man who left no impression was lucky to find a woman who’s light at least gave him a shadow.
Then they moved away. I knew my parents were still in contact with them but I no longer saw her. I missed her.
My parents who would have normally kept this stuff away from us, were so shocked because she had left her husband and ‘shacked up’ with another fellow. Wagging tongues brought on a tsunami of condemnation. How could she have done that? How could she have left a man who gave up everything for her? (What he gave up was never specified but I assume it was a non-disabled, fertile, bride.)
I never saw her again, but I heard her. I came home from school and when I came in the kitchen door, I heard her speaking to my mother in the front room. I heard my mother asking her why she would leave such a good husband, why she would throw it all away.
Her voice grew strong, “Because one day I realized that I don’t have to expect less, I don’t have to be satisfied with getting less, I don’t have to be less just because I am a disabled woman. I don’t want a man who loves me and pities me at the same time. I want more. I’m taking more.”
I admit to being a bit shocked. I had never heard a woman speak like this before. I had never been challenged about what it was to be a woman, to be a disabled woman, and to simply want more than what was on offer. I’ve thought about her and her words often over the years. As I grew into a gay man, I realized what it was to be offered less, as I lived with a man who was so much more handsome and fit than I, I knew what it was to have others wonder why he would choose me, as I grew into a disabled fat gay man, I know what it means to simply ‘taking more.’
And on International Women’s Day, I thank her for the words she said to a young boy, with a glass of milk in his hands, standing in the kitchen, listening. I thank her for the seeds of rebellion that she planted in my heart. I owe her.