Taking the Bus in LA

I dream about driving a Mercedes G-Wagon down Sunset Boulevard on a sunny day. I’m wearing oversized black sunglasses and my hands are perched on the steering wheel. I’m at a streetlight and I offer a smile to someone walking down the street next to me because I’m genuinely happy. It’s not a Porsche sports car or a BMW sedan. It’s the G-Wagon, the SUV. It’s black. I like it because it’s boxy. Because it’s not a conventional small sports car. It’s big and it’s a Mercedes.

I see several when I’m on the sidewalk, actually. I live in Los Angeles. There are many nice cars here. I don’t drive a Mercedes G-Wagon. In fact, I don’t drive at all. I have a driver’s license, though. I’m working toward getting a car, after which I’ll have to modify to install hand controls and a ramp for my scooter. It’s not going to be a G-Wagon. The modifications themselves are expensive. I’m saving money. I don’t know how long it’ll take.

In the meantime, I take the bus. Taking the bus isn’t frowned upon in other cities like London or Seoul, but it is here in Los Angeles. There’s a stigma that only poor people take it. That’s why when I’m waiting for the bus I often stare at my phone even if I’m not browsing anything in particular. I’m embarrassed to take it, to see drivers in their Mercedes, BMWs, Porches see me on the sidewalk at a bus stop.

It’s slow and there are many stops. It takes forever to go somewhere – around an hour from the Westside to Downtown if there’s no traffic. But it gets me to my destination, and I’m thankful for it. As a person with a physical disability, I am immensely grateful for independence. If I want to go out, I’ll go. It’s as easy as that. It is a privilege not to be bound, to move freely at your own will.

My favorite bus is the 720 Metro. It goes down Wilshire Boulevard, all the way from Santa Monica to Downtown LA. I can go to either of them or any part of town that’s on the way: Beverly Hills, Miracle Mile, K-Town. The bus driver knows what to do: he sees me on the sidewalk, tells the people sitting in the front seat to move so that he can fold it and make room for me, activates the ramp (which also activates the blaring, annoying beeps), and lets me board. The bus has enough room for me to do a small u-turn as I position myself before the driver asks me if I want to be secured. And then we’re on our way. I prefer taking it to ordering an Uber because I worry whether or not the Uber driver is going to be able to safely disassemble my scooter. Even if they’re able to (and I check first by calling them after I order an Uber Assist), I feel terrible to have to ask them. My scooter comes apart: the seat and battery are detachable and the driving rod folds down, but the heaviest piece is still 40-50 lbs. When I take the bus, I don’t have to worry. Sure, maybe I’m inconveniencing people sitting in the front who have to give up their seats to make room for me and the driver who needs to secure me, but I’m just like any other able-bodied passenger needing to travel from point A to point B.

I’ll pop my ear buds in and listen to music or a podcast. I’ll read sometimes, which makes the time go faster. I’m never late, whereas my friends sometimes fumble with finding parking and reviewing the dizzying list of LA parking rules on signs. I’ve gone clubbing by taking the bus. I’ve come home after grocery shopping in K-Town by taking the bus, the other passengers having no idea that inside my tote bag sat kimchi, brisket, dried persimmon, microwaveable rice, and frozen dumplings. I’ve grown familiar with taking it that I’ve dozed off during the ride, the bustles and bumps cradling me as I nodded somewhere in between full sleep and complete consciousness.

I’ve met a psychic on the bus. Veterans spewing fiery debates on whether Trump or Clinton would win. Elderly women clutching their handbag. The occasional jogger in his workout gear, unsure when his stop’s approaching. A mom holding one of her toddler’s hands as her other child dashes to the back of the bus. Exhausted employees after their 9-5 shift commuting their way home. Sometimes I get sick of it, when an angry person incessantly talks to herself, curses, and hollers; when a throng of passengers bumps next to me because there just isn’t enough room; and when someone, after boarding, digs in his pocket for coins for too long that the green light turns yellow.

But in the bus I am surrounded by life, by real people – people I wouldn’t necessarily run into if I were driving on my own. There are many differences between us and we don’t know when each of us is going to get off, but the bus brought us together for our ride, and I think that’s representative of life. You never know whom you’ll meet. I’ve always said to myself that I want to meet all kinds of people – and they’re there, on the bus.

Writing for the Sake of Writing

After I graduated from college, I plummeted into depression because I couldn’t get a job. So many people struggle to find one, but I assumed it was because of my disability. In retrospect, there were other reasons, a major one being that I lacked experience. In college, I mainly focused on getting high grades. I thought I’d get a PhD in English. I dabbled in other things like copyediting, tutoring, and creative writing, but nothing really stuck with me. I loved creative writing the most. I should’ve taken a class earlier, but again, I was always too focused on completing my major. Not one of my professors in college encouraged me to get a PhD. I would have if someone did. It’s not that they doubted my skills (although I’m not boasting that I was the smartest student either). Rather, they gave me a reality check that the PhD route can lead to unemployment in the end with only so many tenure spots that exist. Over time, I operated on fear. To me, it wasn’t this could happen. I saw it as this will happen. I’d be in debt. I’d be unemployed. I’d have a PhD, but I would be in debt. Because I let that fear rule me, I didn’t even give myself the chance to really see if I loved thinking and writing critically about English literature. I didn’t have enough time anyway – right around the corner was my graduation.

It’s really painful when you work hard towards something and you give it up in the end. And yet, me not having pursued the PhD route turned out to be a blessing. Yes, I struggled for nine months after graduating to secure a solid job, but at age 25 now I see that I was following a system of “what you should do.” What do you do with an English degree? You teach, most people say. That’s what I thought of doing. As embarrassing as it is, I followed my mom’s advice. It’s not that I can’t think for myself; rather, at times when I am lost, when so many thoughts are muddled in my mind, like many people who turn to their parents, I ask my mom for her input because I trust her. Because she knows me. Because she’s smart.

But I think me having majored in English in the first place shows what an atypical route I took. I left high school early, went to community college, and transferred to a four-year university fast. I picked English as my major instead of practical majors like science or engineering because I wanted to immerse myself in the study of the human experience. I suppose I was thinking too dreamily, too illogically, because ultimately, one does need to get a job to survive in this world. I didn’t think enough about that. I always just focused on getting good grades.

Grad school still feels like a secure plan B for me. I still see it that way because I, like many people, dislike my job. I’m incredibly thankful for it because it allows me to eat, but it does not fuel a passion in me. It’s a job – a duty I have to constantly perform. So many of my friends are going to law school or have graduated from law school. I know that I’d be good at it, but I’m afraid of accruing debt, of realizing once again that I don’t actually like it after pursing the end goal all this time. That’s why I was told to do informational interviews, to get another job that would allow me to see what working in law would really be like. There are so many jobs one can get in the world of law. But I quickly became discouraged when the lawyers I did ask weren’t encouraging. In retrospect, I asked the wrong question: should I go to law school? I should have asked what do you do in a typical day? What do you like/dislike the most about your job? What is the most insightful lesson you’ve realized during your career as a lawyer? I didn’t ask any of these questions because I was looking for permission instead. Yes, go to law school! Yes, you’ll do great! Yes, you’ll be rich and happy and your job will be purposeful and people will love you! Yes, go!

I needed that green light because I let fear get to me. Fear prevents me from getting up in the first place. It stops everything and doesn’t let in life. I know you have to do things despite being fearful and that you don’t have to be completely ready, that you can take small steps. But fear has amplified my view of all things that can go wrong; it won’t let me focus just on the very first step.

It’s funny because my fear always has been that I won’t be able to take care of myself, that I’ll be at a dead-end job, and that I’ll be unhappy. My current circumstances aren’t exactly this right now, but I am unfulfilled. I practice gratitude, and that’s the only thing that gives me a little bit of light in my life at the moment. Basically, I am already close to living my worst nightmare, so that should free me to make risks. What is there to lose when you’ve already met your fear?

I’m writing this because I just wanted to get something on the page. I’m writing this for the sake of writing, to just write. Writing has been my haven every time I’ve been lost and depressed in my life. I’m tired of pursuing things that don’t make me happy. My current job temporarily did. I don’t want to pursue another job that I’ll ultimately feel unfulfilled with, too. I know that I am writing this with immense privilege because many people don’t even have the time to pause for a second. They’re too busy taking care of someone else or putting food on the table or worrying about something else. To be able to take a moment and think about yourself and yourself only is a privilege.

To me, writing is my journey, not my destination. It is the constant that exists in my life, the vehicle I drive. I feel like I am driving aimlessly, with no destination in mind. I want to have goals. I don’t want to live a hedonistic life. I am thankful for so many pleasures: the sunrise, the soft breeze, the occasional brunch, a smile from a stranger. I just don’t want to pursue anymore. I don’t want to be disillusioned anymore. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to try or learn or grow. I want to do all three, but in a way that feels authentic to me.

I Was Stopped at the Airport Because of My Disability

I was stopped at Gimpo Airport because of my disability.

The sliding doors opened to chaos. Throngs of frazzled flyers brushed against me from each side. Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving, was in four days, and the undergoing construction only intensified the frenzy. Once my parents and I got through the check-in line, the airline agent accepted our luggage, but then she declared that I would not be allowed to take my mobility scooter on the flight.

This must obviously be a misunderstanding, I thought.

The airline personnel took us off to the side, away from the counter.

“What kind of batteries are these?” An airline employee referred to the one that I used along with the spare that I brought in case of emergency. I answered that they were dry-cell batteries and was confused, for before my trip, I had already shared details about my scooter over the phone with this airline that confirmed with me it indeed can – and will – accommodate my scooter.

“Can you open them?” she asked.

Batteries for my scooter are in a big, about 30-pound heavy battery box that’s screwed shut. The spare one is smaller, but still weighing about 20 pounds. I realized then that these agents probably have never seen a scooter like mine.

“No, they’re sealed,” I explained. “Only a technician can open them. Also, you’d need proper tools.”

Soon afterwards, an airline agent brought a manual wheelchair and asked me to transfer into it. Another employee then pushed my scooter into an eerily grey security room, allowing only one of my parents to accompany me. Security personnel instructed my dad to disassemble my scooter and place the parts onto a track that led items into a tunnel. I immediately realized that I was not part of the usual inspection process. This was different.

Before departure at Los Angeles International Airport, my purse, placed in a grey container, got scanned while a TSA agent patted me down then moved on to check my scooter. She swabbed the parts with something made of a small, rectangular white material before placing it into a machine for inspection.

LAX – cleared.
Gimpo Airport – denied.

My fury from being denied access due to my disability raged within me even more when I thought about how it had been 17 years since my parents and I returned to South Korea. We had never visited after we immigrated to the States when I was six. Although I was raised in California and I became a naturalized U.S. citizen, my identity is just as Korean as it is American. That’s why the rejection stung more. I felt like my own people labeled me as an outsider.

The airline employee took us out of the security room. “Our scan shows that your batteries are made of gel. Air Busan does not allow wet-cell batteries to be boarded on our flights,” she said.

“My batteries are sealed and non-spillable,” I exclaimed. I was now furious. “I just landed in Incheon Airport earlier today after a 13-hour flight from LA. I had no issues at all getting through.”

My parents were livid, too. Raised voices and frowns prompted stares from the crowd. Noticing this, the general manager of Asiana Airlines – the company we booked our tickets from – said we could have a further discussion up in the lounge. We were already missing our flight, but I refused to be silenced.

“There is no Asiana Airlines flight that goes to Busan from here,” he said. “Asiana Airlines owns Busan Air. Do you have any documents for your scooter?”

I submitted pages from my scooter’s manual, which were ultimately in vain, for Asiana stated that they failed to prove that my batteries met safety policies. I could not get a hold of Asiana Airlines at LAX with it being after hours. I debated on calling the American embassy in Seoul. My mom frantically tried to change our tickets to a different airline that stated it could board my scooter on its plane, although the Asiana manager affirmed that rules regarding batteries applied to every airline at the airport.

I still don’t know whom to believe. Clearly, language was not the barrier that created this misunderstanding. Although I speak Korean fluently and tried my best to explain, my efforts weren’t enough. Airport personnel could see that my scooter was a mobility device, but they couldn’t realize what that actually means. My scooter enables me to get around, just like able-bodied people use their legs to walk. This means that my scooter enables me to retain my dignity and live my own life. When Asiana refused to accept my scooter, they rejected an integral part of me – a part I cannot control, a part I was given upon my birth. Instead of trying to learn about the difference between a gel and a wet-cell battery, explaining to me exactly why the supposed policy prohibits certain batteries, or assisting me to explore alternative travel options, Asiana failed to take any action. They merely repeated that the only way I would board an Air Busan flight was without my scooter, something that I could not be without. The airline operated under ignorance, which breeds prejudice that manifests into discrimination. Ableism leads “normal” people to expect people with disabilities to resign to a world designed for an able-bodied population. Preventing me to board with my scooter was denying me of my humanity.

I understand that the reality of today’s world demands thorough security checks, especially at airports, and I am a passenger who is willing to follow travel regulations. But security did not even run a body-check on me when I ultimately had no choice but to leave my scooter at the airport to catch the next flight, now being late evening. Asiana did not offer to lend me a manual wheelchair, either, leaving me with completely nothing. Asiana reminded me of every corrosive thought I had to learn to push away as I adapted to my progressive disability – that people with disabilities are a burden and that they are an inconvenience.
It is imperative to treat people with disabilities differently than those who are able-bodied; people with disabilities deserve assistance according to the limitations they have. In South Korea, airport personnel did not see this truth. It leads me to wonder: should I have crawled? Would that have made them truly understand?

Alone

The blue sky was majestic, with sunrays shooting in different directions. Clouds noticeably glided across the sky. We weren’t in Spain, but someone was playing a Spanish style song on his guitar. The music flowed from the courtyard, where in the middle stood the grand archaic chapel. It was my first time in Bath, England – my first time abroad. I was overwhelmed with so much happiness from being surrounded by exquisite architecture. It wasn’t raining either, making this moment seem even more precious and rare.

I remember being in that courtyard, looking up at the apex of the chapel, and feeling a pang, a tug deep within me. I was euphoric, but something was missing. It was a weird cluster of emotions that swelled inside of me. Most of them were positive – I felt electrified, grateful, and in wonder and awe. And yet this pang coexisted with all of this happiness. I felt like something major was missing – my loved ones – and believed that had my parents and brother stood there with me, the experience would have been better than me looking at everything alone. Not that having loved ones with me makes the chapel actually appear more beautiful, or the clouds fluffier, or the sun rays brighter. That moment, I guess, made me realize that I want to share delightful experiences with my loved ones. It’s a quite simple desire yet sometimes it can become a complicated thing to actually execute. I want to show my parents and my brother gorgeous sights and gasp and point and marvel with them. I also understand though that the things you find euphoric may not be the same for your loved ones. So I wouldn’t want to force my loved ones to experience something that only I find wonderful. And yet, there’s a kind of happiness that that other person might feel. For example, maybe my brother wouldn’t have found all the sights in that Bath courtyard as beautiful as I did, but perhaps he still would’ve been happy to see me joyous, to simply be there to experience my happiness.

I’m not saying that I want to drag my loved ones to see things that I find beautiful in the hopes that they also find them beautiful. And it’s not about doing things with a loved one just so that I don’t have to be alone. There is a silent power and a joy that’s ignited when you go out and acquire what you want. The power speaks to the independence. The joy is about self-fulfillment, that you can provide for yourself what you want. For me, this joy goes hand in hand with independence – that I can go do something that I want to do alone and that I am able to do so without having to depend on someone for company and consider whether they want to also do it and whether they’ll enjoy it or dislike it. It’s not about escaping from considerateness or about selfishness, the focus on my gratification from experiencing whatever I find inspiring, joyous, or exciting.

I admit that sometimes I worry about superficial things, like whether others will perceive me as a loner if I am wandering through a museum alone or attending a concert by myself. I am not too familiar with the practice of focusing on my own personal experience – to paying attention to my relationship to whatever I’m doing by myself and importantly, saying that that’s enough. I want to practice doing more of this because there isn’t much focus on seeking adventures alone, and it may be as simple as going to go to the movies without company. There’s a glorification of doing everything with someone else, especially with a significant other, and yes, doing that is delightful, but so is doing things alone.

What Does Disability Look Like?

Question: What does “disability” look like?

Another question: What does “normal” look like?

***

I use a mobility scooter to get around, and when I travel by plane I’m the first passenger to board and the last one to leave. Before everyone starts boarding, the airline staff asks me to come up to the boarding entrance. That’s where I leave my scooter and transfer onto an aisle chair – a small and narrow wheelchair that an employee pushes me in so that I can get to my seat in the airplane. Regular wheelchairs and scooters can’t fit in the narrow aisles in airplanes. The aisle is so narrow that even I always forget how the aisle chair miraculously glides through it. I cinch and raise my shoulders, thinking that I’m going to hit a seat as I pass by, but the airline staff always pushes me with ease. The process is smooth, and it’s definitely easier to complete when there aren’t fellow passengers.

The last time the plane landed at my destination, I waited for the airline staff to obtain the aisle chair and my scooter as usual. I stayed in my seat and noticed that a young mother in her late twenties or early thirties with her three children also remained in their seats. One infant was straddled onto the mother’s chest while two toddlers swung their legs, restless and ready to leave. I first noticed them all when the plane took off, and I commended this mother for traveling alone with three children. She gently bounced her infant and my worries of enduring a baby’s screeching cries dissipated when the infant immediately fell asleep – and remained asleep – for the entire plane ride. Now though, all of them were antsy.

The mother noticed me as if she discovered an oasis. Her face glowed as she called her son and reassured him that me – “the nice pretty lady over there” – was going to come over and help him put on his shoe.

I looked around for any stewardesses. They were passing through the aisle in the back checking to see if any luggage remained. No one was nearby. I wondered how to tell her I couldn’t without sounding cold-hearted. It wasn’t about not wanting to help –I just couldn’t. I attempted to smile and nod while hoping a stewardess would appear, but no one came. Finally, I just told the poor mother.

“I’m so sorry, but I can’t. I have a disability,” I said.

The mother exclaimed. “Oh my gosh. I didn’t know! You look completely normal.”

I didn’t know whether to be offended or to thank her. I just remained still with a faint smile. Just then, two stewardesses appeared and rescued the shoeless son.

The mother received her stroller before the aisle chair came for me, so she and her children departed first. But I passed by them later as I came out of the bathroom stall in the airport. She now saw me on my scooter. I imagined the puzzle pieces all finally coming together in the mother’s mind as I left. But then I ran into her and her children again.

We were at an elevator. As we got on, she apologized again.

“Yeah I’m so sorry I didn’t know! Do you mind if I ask you what you have?”

I don’t have the privilege to hide my disability. It’s not that my disability is a terrible thing I feel impelled to conceal – it is a part of my identity, but like any facet of an individual’s identity, it’s a personal one. Sometimes I don’t wish to talk about it, and I believe I should retain the right to not talk about it. I realized that on this rare instance though, I actually had the chance to hide this part of myself as I sat on the airplane seat without my scooter. At least until this mother called me for help.

Because I sensed that she meant well, because I detected no malicious intent from her, I did not share these thoughts with her. Instead, I supplied her with a succinct answer, telling her my diagnosis.

“Oh, but you’re so pretty,” she replied.

I was confused again. Should I have thanked her? Should I have asked her what she meant by that? I knew it was a compliment, but it didn’t entirely feel like one. To her, my appearance challenged the way she thinks how a person with a disability looks like. I baffled her because I didn’t fit in with the way a person with a disability looks like or with what a normal person looks like.

But what does a person with a disability look like? What does a normal person look like? Who is pretty? Who is not? The mother’s response – as innocent and well-meaning as it was – is upsetting because she seems to equate beauty with someone who doesn’t have a disability.

Science says symmetry is considered beautiful. Romantics argued that softness, roundness, smallness is beautiful. There are certain ways to apply makeup to attain a popular beloved look – big eyes, high cheekbones, big lips. There are many proposed definitions for beauty. But you can’t be both, is the thought that resided in the mother’s belief system. Both beautiful and have a disability.

I want to ask her what a person with a disability is supposed to look like.

My Disability As Seen On Tinder

I’ll call him Max.

“Would you judge me if I had no tattoos?” he asked. I instantly smiled at his first message. He read what I wrote on my profile: “I’m totally going to judge you if you have a live, laugh, love tattoo.” It also meant he read what I wrote two spaces underneath it: “And hey, disability is beautiful.”

I hover around that statement from time to time, not fully standing by it. There are days when I’m convinced that it’s not true at all. Being on Tinder isn’t the best way to check its validity, I know, but I was determined to find a guy who saw me as both intellectually and physically attractive through the most unconventional way for someone with a disability. I use a scooter and I have anorexic-looking arms. In a domain in which men judge you so much on looks, I wanted to prove to others and admittedly to myself that I have dating potential.

I know I do. And yet I possess that basic human desire for amorous affection and attention. I don’t know how men think of me when I’m out and about in the city. I think some may be confused or surprised to see me at a club or even at such a mundane place like a café. People with disabilities do exist in all sorts of areas within society, but oftentimes we’re seen as detached, not fully incorporated into able-bodied people’s lives. I wanted to dismantle this stigma.

I’m quite transparent about my disability on Tinder. I’m aware that among other reasons, I have to be for my safety. There are too many stories of a man turning violent when he alleges that the woman doesn’t reflect her online profile picture in real life. I only have two photos of myself on my scooter. While it’s true that I transfer onto a different seat wherever I am (restaurant, movie theater, etc.), it’s still a bit hard for me to see myself on a scooter I didn’t use for most of my life. I suppose I hesitate because it’s a physical representation and reminder of my deteriorating muscles. There’s this one photo that I recently found that I prefer over the one where it’s clearly evident that I use a scooter. I mainly cringe at the latter because I feel like I look fat in it. I uploaded the photo I preferred along with my selfies before Max and I started talking. He and I gushed about Steinbeck and where we’re from. Soon after he mentioned that we should go to my favorite restaurants. This is exactly what I wanted – a guy to find me, the whole me with my disability, beautiful, as my friends, family, and I already did. I looked at my profile along with the photo of me on my scooter as if I needed to confirm that Max was really talking to me. Then I questioned myself – did it look clear that I have a disability in that photo? From the angle in which my friend took the picture, my legs and my scooter don’t show so someone could say that I look “normal.” I decided to quickly replace the photo with the one where it’s clear that I use a scooter. Immediately afterward, Max stopped replying.

I fully acknowledge that Tinder is mostly used for hookups, which I wasn’t planning on doing. Still, it would be a lie if I said that I didn’t care at all if no guys swiped right on me. Tinder is an addicting game that’s tied to your ego: as soon as that “It’s a Match!” page lit up, so did my ego. I realized though that guys who solely liked me based on my looks despite me using a scooter didn’t make me feel good either. In fact, it made me feel gross. There I was, designing a thoughtful profile of myself and carefully divulging my disability when some guys didn’t even see it at all. On Tinder, my disability is either completely invisible or something that’s too apparent. I don’t know which is worse.

Change

In college it was people asking me: what’s your name, your major, and what year are you in?

Now in post-grad life it’s: what do you do? Oh and what’s your name again?

I’m totally not being bitter at all. Not one bit. I mean, I told my dad that I feel like a prostitute to the capitalistic society ­– a WHORE, mind you – but no, I don’t resent myself!

Ok, so aside from my sarcasm, I have to seriously admit that I am very grateful to have a job. After I graduated from college, I did some internships here and there, but time began to dissolve. I was convinced that I was never going to be employed and days would keep melting onto the next forever and ever.

There’s this song by The Smiths called “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” I am a lot happier than how I felt back when I was searching for a job – nine months in total, which is like being pregnant ­– but I am not satisfied. I have an office job, and the people whom I work with are pretty kind. The job pays the bills, but I am not rolling around in a Beemer, sipping $15 mimosas before heading back to my own sparkling penthouse in Beverly Hills. (Actually, I hope no one is because that’d be drinking and driving!)

I think the dissatisfaction that I’ve been feeling is from the boredom, restlessness, and anxiety I feel every day. What’s next? What do I do now? How do I begin? All of these questions are too heavy for me to bear. But perhaps one gets dissatisfied and unhappy precisely because they need change in their lives again.

I hate change, though. I feed off of routines and I like to know what’s coming next; I despise surprises. It’s funny because you’d think I’d want change since I’m not particularly liking where I’m at in my life right now. And yet the unknown is such a frightening territory for me that I’d rather dwell here in the land of predictability and be safe no matter how boring it is.

I am jealous of my friends who are in grad school. I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do because although I’ve been out of college now for almost two and a half years, I still don’t know what I’d want to study in the graduate level.

I’m writing this to hopefully ignite the will and bravery in myself to elicit change. I don’t think there’s this 100% capacity of both will and guts you have to fill before taking action. A lot of the times it’s just really trying your best with the hope that you’ll somehow be okay. I want to be more than okay, though – I want to be what Ina Garten squeals at her glorious food: fabulous. And I realize there’s a lot of work to get to that point, and that it’s not about the destination anyway, it’s about the journey, and be happy don’t worry, live, laugh, love (oh god), but I haven’t even started my “journey,” I don’t think – and I don’t even know where I’m going. I just know that I need to get going.

Dating Me

I held my pillow tighter as I bit my lower lip. What is he doing right now? I wondered. Was he thinking about me, too or was I just being a fool? When I was in the car earlier that day, Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One” came on and I had a hunch – he probably likes another girl; I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. And yet I wasn’t jealous when I entertained this thought that seemed like it could be so real. He’s great, I kept repeating to myself. Damn. Was I falling for him? He was the first guy I showed my braces to. We were sitting next to a large window in a coffee shop. I arrived before him and the view drew me in, making me gaze at happy couples strolling by outside, looking like they had not a care in the world. I wanted that. I sat there nervous, extremely nervous to tell him. This was only our second meeting. But after he greeted and hugged me, I told him right away. “There’s something you should know about me by the way,” I began. Oh god, did I already ruin it? Did it sound too dramatic? “You know I use this scooter, but I wear leg braces too,” I blurted out. His face remained unchanged, serious as it always was. “I mean, I’m always pretty much wearing long pants and shoes that cover them and you would’ve found out eventually but I just wanted to tell you,” I said. Then in the middle of the coffee shop with numerous strangers around us, I hiked up the pant of my left leg. “You can’t see now, but they go up to my knees.” There, that was it. Done. All I knew was that I had laid out this secret of mine and now I was just waiting for his response. He took a hold of his ceramic coffee mug and drew in a small sip. “People look like they’re in a rush today, huh?” he said. He didn’t direct that question to me. It actually wasn’t a question, but more like empty words that spilled from his mouth to somehow distract both of us from the awkward tension that filled the air. I felt like a little life in me died. So he doesn’t like me, then. The scooter was enough. The braces were now the breaking point. We didn’t talk much, a sign that meant he was trying to stall time to seem nice instead of leaving me right then and there. I was preparing myself for the blow until he said something that shocked me. “Do you mind if we go to your place? All these crowds and people today are just too much for me,” he said. My palms instantly grew sweaty. I couldn’t even say anything; I merely nodded. He looked back down at his steaming coffee. We sat on my bed from the lack of a couch in my studio. I stretched out my legs and rested them on my scooter as we talked about how work was going for the both of us. Led Zeppelin was playing on Pandora in the background. It was both our favorite. “I know that you primarily use your scooter to get around, so how do those braces help you?” he asked. I was a bit taken back by how direct he approached me but I wasn’t shy to reply. “Well, they’re more to help position my feet and protect them from sprains,” I said. “They used to help me walk but you know, my muscles have grown weaker so they can’t really do much anymore. I actually have a walker that I use to stand up and exercise, though.” “I don’t see it,” he said, looking around the room. “It’s in the closet. I don’t really like to use it all too much. I’m lazy, I suppose.” I laughed. I looked at his eyes, expecting them to be concentrated on something else, but I was surprised to see that they were looking straight at mine. I wanted to look away, for I was turning red, but it was as if I couldn’t – they had a grip on me. We just stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity but was probably just a minute. Afterwards, he broke the silence. “You know, you’re really pretty,” he said. I stammered. “I-I don’t know what to say.” “Well, don’t disagree with me. Just accept it or say thank you.” “Thanks,” I said. “You really think so?” “You ask the stupidest questions sometimes,” he replied. We sat on my bed with a mountain of pillows between us the whole time he stayed. No kissing. No hugging. No touching at all. He talked about sports; I listened. Swimming, tennis, football. Who were the best players. What were the best tactics. I grew bored immediately, but he chattered for an hour while I just politely nodded when he occasionally paused. When he eventually got up and left, I returned to my bed and lay down. I stared at the ceiling and changed the Pandora station. That Sam Smith song played again. I imagined this guy I liked laughing and kissing someone else. My obstinate doubts fueled my fear. Surely there are prettier girls than me, smarter than me – all able-bodied. Why would he be with me? These thoughts made perfect sense. They were facts in my mind. Everything and anything bad that happened in my life were my disease’s fault. It was as if my disease had tainted me with its ugliness, revolting and repulsing people no matter what I did. I could wear the cutest clothes, perfect my makeup, and spend more than an hour on my hair. Yet none of it would matter because I would still be sitting on my scooter with my braces strapped onto my legs.

  1. It is statistically proven that people with disabilities have less sex than able-bodied people.
  2. The ways in which architecture is built and is continuously built in some areas perpetuate a belief that disabled people are not and should not be welcomed in the community.
  3. The authors we read argue that the hardest thing about living with a disability is actually not the physical pain, but rather is how society demeans and mistreats them, forever preventing them from realizing their full potential.

I lay in my bed, awake for the rest of the day, not wanting to move or do anything. I had no appetite and although I knew that I had to shower, I remained still, just staring at the ceiling. I always wanted a boyfriend. I was convinced that a guy would fill up this empty void within me and I would be fully happy again. And I could prove to everyone – even my family and friends who already loved me ­– that I can be loved in this way too. He was perfect, really: smart, tall, with pristine hair and a killer style. They were enough for me to overlook his anger issues when he hurled the flashlight behind us when he couldn’t find his phone in his car and when he slammed the table hard enough to rattle my teaspoon off the saucer when his favorite basketball team lost. I didn’t say anything back to him when I told him that I never once regretted having majored in English while he just laughed and laughed. My phone beeped and a text from him popped up across the screen. “I just wanted to say good night,” it read. I wanted to call him and hear his voice. Tell me, why do you really like me? I wanted to ask. It was as if I wasn’t enough and would never be enough. I wouldn’t compare to other girls. He could easily leave and forget me if he wanted to. I didn’t like how I was starting to feel. Two weeks after our first meeting were blissful, unreal. But everything was deteriorated now, it seemed. And yet I wanted to stay. A part of me said no, though. Leave, it called out. Leave, it first said when I saw him punch the wall. Leave, it demanded when I couldn’t precisely answer whether I truly liked him as a person. That’s what I needed to address – did the guy matter? My void was so desolate and strong that really, any guy could assume the boyfriend role in my life. Right? Did I honestly like this guy? God, what did he see in me, anyway? I kept wondering. Was this a game for him? A power game, a manipulative game to control me? Something to boost his ego? Because he knew that I’d disregard his flaws, stay, never leave, and always remind him that he’s great. My fingers were ready on my phone to delete him, never reply to him again and to never see him again. It would be the best for me, a necessary decision that I would need to make, I knew. I knew all of this, what was the right thing to do, and yet despite it all I typed “I miss you” and sent it to him.

Omg I’ve Become a Twitter-er

I wanted to let you all know that I got a Twitter! Follow me @mselliejee for daily random thoughts and tweet me; I’d love to hear from you. & Let me know yours so I can follow you, too!

Since I don’t want this post to be all about self-promotion (there should be no shame in that, though) I’ll leave you with something small that I wrote, which may sound like common sense, but hopefully serves as a good reminder:

Be honest with how you represent yourself. Don’t be embarrassed of saying the truth as long as you know that what you say isn’t offensive to the other person. Even if someone disagrees with you or doesn’t like the same thing, don’t feel bad about yourself. Don’t ever change what you like to suit what someone expects from you.

Applying for a Job with a Disability, as Told by Me

Friends whom I haven’t talked to in a while – those who know I’ve graduated from college – are excited to hear how I’m doing. “How’s the real life?” they exclaim. I say I’m doing ok, nothing too surprising or thrilling. I describe it simply, plainly. But reality is so far from that.

Real life is me, staring at my laptop, deciding between revealing or not revealing. Do I say that I use a scooter in my cover letters? How much of that matters? I’ve received advice from both sides, to hold off saying it until I get an interview or no – say it right from the get go – there’s nothing to be ashamed about, and a prospective company should know. Since graduation, I’ve been doing the latter because I guess it would be weird if I didn’t mention my disability since it’s something that I cannot hide. Say I get called in for an interview. They’d immediately see me in my scooter. They could feel offended for me not having told them beforehand. But then the other side of me asks, why does knowing truly matter? My disability doesn’t affect how I work. In college, I never needed extra time to take an exam or a different desk to attend class. I’m not saying this to brag; in fact, I acknowledge that in a way, although I have a disability, I am privileged, for mine is not debilitating to the point in which I cannot take care of myself. So, with this logic I think, how much of it matters? When I am writing my cover letters, I do sometimes feel stuck when I reach the sentence where I say that I have a disability. I feel as if I’m going off tangent. It’s like, “oh by the way I use a scooter, but don’t worry – I am fully capable of doing the job, obviously. Please don’t worry. Anyway…” (I say this in a more refined manner, of course.)

I’ve never had this dilemma before because when I wrote my personal statement for college applications, I chose to talk about my disability and that decision didn’t hurt me. It was the first time in my life when I wrote about it and I underestimated the task; it was harder than I thought it would be. My disability doesn’t encompass me entirely, but it is definitely an important component of who I am. It was easy though, to slip into the cliché of using disability to send an inspirational message, like “look at me, despite using a scooter I got a really high GPA and I worked so hard.” The truth is, I did study hard. I busted my ass, but so did a lot of other people – people who don’t have disabilities and are able-bodied. It is extremely difficult to acknowledge to others that I have worked hard despite having a disability while not letting that become the so-called “free-ticket” into attaining success. The realistic side of me reminds me by saying life should not automatically reward you for enduring through your struggles. But the idealistic side of me aches for that and wishes for it to be true.

Applying to universities and the work force is radically different, though. Colleges, at least the ones that I applied to, are open-minded and welcoming of diversity. They like individualistic stories, ones that stand out, of people you don’t usually hear about on a daily basis. Companies, however, have a different agenda. The workforce is all about efficiency, speed, and accuracy – there is hardly any room for error and being able to excel in a given task is more important than one’s personality. Upon realizing this I am lost. I know that there are so many other graduates struggling to find a job like me but I can’t help thinking, “at least you’re able-bodied” when I think about the many ways that can define privilege. Privilege means it’s easier to blend in with the rest of the crowd, although society tells us to stand out, to be unique.

My friend decided to graduate early from college and recently I met up with her for lunch. We shared the same worries of getting a job and earning money. I joked to her, “I have more faith in you than I have faith in myself” and laughed. But when I’m writing this, when my dad told me to consider getting an accounting certificate “because truth is, your English major isn’t lucrative” although I don’t regret having majored in it, when I hear about a friend getting a new job, when I’m thinking about what the hell am I doing and what will my 20s look like, I’m not laughing.