I saw them as I rolled down the cut curb into the parking lot. The rain had stopped and lots of people were taking the opportunity to get from the mall to their cars in the brief dry spell. They were full of energy, banging into each other with easy, friendly, affection – although they’d never call it that. The oldest might have been 19 and the youngest about 16. The five of them talked and laughed and looked like a great bunch of boys.

Then as I neared the car, I saw them all piling into the car next to us, also in a disabled parking spot. One of them noticed me, said something to the others, which sent them all into a giggling fit. Like they’d been caught by a teacher doing something unspeakable to a frog. My mouth dried up. I was angry. There were, and had been, lots of parking spots that were close, they didn’t need to take up a disabled spot.

I pulled up beside their car, and said nothing.

Because I was afraid to.

I am disabled.

I may have a voice.

I may have something that needs to be said.

But I am also vulnerable.

And, so, silence.

They backed up, still laughing, one of them pointing at me, reduced to gestures because he was laughing so hard. Ha. Ha. Ha. Caught by a cripple in crippled parking. They thought it funny and they knew me to be an impotent force. They knew that their youth, and strength and mobility, which I had not seen as threatening, now was. They knew I would be silent. They knew that I would simply watch them drive away.

Which I did.

My life with a disability is one that I find precious – it’s way better than the death that people claim they’d prefer – and it’s given me the opportunity to learn and grow and confront parts of myself. I life a free life, I’m miles from home. I’m working tomorrow. I have purpose.

But.

There are times when I find myself frustrated, not by my cowardice, but by my need to be so. I find myself holding back when I know my voice is needed. They needed to hear me. They needed to know what it meant to rob people of access and opportunity. The needed to learn from me.

And they didn’t.

There’s a tragedy there.

And a humiliation.

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