Hello again! A few months back, I wrote a post for Laura about my experience wearing AFOs. Today, I would like to share some insight on a very different (but in my opinion much more interesting!) topic—what it is to have a relationship with CP.
Now, if you had asked me about this a year or even six months ago, I would have refused to comment. This was not because I thought a relationship was wrong or impossible for me. Let’s just say I thought it was highly unlikely. I had serious doubts about whether I was capable of or wanted intimacy, and given my wheelchair and limited dexterity I did not really consider myself an attractive option, despite many of my close friends saying otherwise. This was a fact I had more or less accepted, and it did not upset me much—well, maybe at certain times of the month or when I had a few too many drinks. But most of the time, I was very happy in my “single” life and did not really want to make the effort to have a romantic relationship. I felt that I had worked so hard to accept myself for what I was and did not need the “stress” of a relationship.
But six months ago, I got to know a smart, funny, compassionate and ravishingly handsome man. I was immediately drawn to his beautiful eyes and sharp wit. As we were both working towards being conference interpreters, I also deeply admired his professional skill. I had actually met him a few months earlier at conference we were both interpreting at. At that time, I had found him quite intriguing but was quite sure he thought nothing of me (though he did seem extraordinarily curious about how I’d learned to speak Spanish so well since I’d never lived outside of Canada). We talked about this and other things for an hour that seemed like ten minutes. I enjoyed his company and thought to myself that perhaps not all guys were assholes. But after that, I did not see him or even think about him much until September. I felt sure that such a nice-looking, normal able-bodied man could not really be interested in me. Besides that, he was 6’5” and I was 5”0’, and I had promised myself I would NEVER be with a tall guy. Weird, but it was just a thng I had.
The first day of our working experience together, I found myself feeling oddly nervous when I saw him coming up to me. I wondered what he could possibly want, or if he remembered we had met before. He said, “Kate, your last name sounds German. How do I say it?” I breathed a sigh of relief and told him. Then I said, “And you’re Polish? How do you say your last name?” I felt like an idiot and was sure he’d never speak to me again, but that night we talked for half an hour as I waited for my ride home. Over the next months, this became a tradition. He could always make me laugh after a rough day, and always said things the way I wanted to say them.
For the first little while, our conversations centred mostly on our professional life—what we were doing to become better interpreters, how we felt after certain speeches, the fact that at that time our workplace did not have an accessible interpreting booth although it had been under construction for months. I felt that this was making my skill level fall behind where it should be and I was not getting good feedback. After one discussion about this, he asked me about my CP. Had I had it my whole life? I obviously could not walk, but why was I not able to write by hand? And how about the weird way I sat sometimes? Why was I always so nervous, and why did I jump at loud noises? I answered all these questions easily, all the while afraid that one of my answers would be a deal breaker. But all he said was, “OK. We’ve got to do something about the nervousness, though. Why be nervous? You’re doing fine.”
Over the next while, we grew even closer and started to spend some time together beyond waiting for rides. We helped a Chinese colleague learn English together and enjoyed trying to explain to her the way words were used (what can I say? Interpreters are nerds). Around this time, the accessible booth became ready, which created its own set of challenges. Mainly, my disability ceased to be the elephant in the relationship and we had to deal with it more directly. I found that although I was fine to maneuver myself once inside, getting in the door and over the lip of the booth was quite challenging. Furthermore, I would bang into the desk, which would often cause the headphones we use in the interpreting booth to fall out of my reach. To top it all off, I was having trouble plugging the headphones in. Seeing this one day, P came into my work space and said, “You can always ask for help.”
“It’s OK,” I said. “I can do it myself.”
“Really?” he said with a smile. “How? If I push you in for example, the worst thing that will happen is, people might think you’re a lazy bum.” I knew he was joking as I am always among the most on top of it of all my colleagues with research, terminology and organization and always volunteer to do the jobs no one wants.
So he did push me in, and said, “I think you can master the headphones though.” It took a few tries, but from that day on I have been able to plug my headphones in easily, although they do fall sometimes— such is life, and someone is always there to pick them up! I have also since found a way to get in the booth independently but slowly, thanks mainly to lots of coaching and rearranging of the space by P and another of our friends. He describes it as “a team effort.”
Shortly after that, we started thinking about spending more time together out in the community. I was reluctant about this at first and felt sure that once we went on a date that would be it. What would happen when he saw for example that I sometimes do not eat neatly, or cannot cut my own food? The first time we were out together was at an Indian restaurant which I thought would be safe enough because other friends were going. When we were talking the night before, I said, “Would you mind pushing me when we walk to the restaurant?” (We were meeting at a friend’s place beforehand). He said, “Why do you ask? Of course.” It was a wonderful night, and we were so caught up in it that I forgot about my worries. Since then, we have gone on many other short outings together. He has encouraged me to feel OK doing things I had never done before—asking for help, going out for a drink and going outside with friends. These sound like fairly basic things, but they were things I was uncomfortable with before. I did not want to be vulnerable and dependent on my friends, and least of all him. However, when I allowed myself to forget about this and be helped as needed, I had the best times of my life.
As our relationship developed and we began spending more time together, I became conscious that I was becoming his “princess”, was needy of his help physically and did nothing for him. I wanted to part ways at this point, thinking it was not good for me. He had started doing things for me that I was capable of doing myself, and what was worse—I enjoyed it most of the time. When we discussed this, he said it was totally ridiculous and untrue, that the only things he did for me were things that a) I actually could not do or b) took me five times as long if he didn’t do them, and besides I did do things for him.. Who was it who had helped him prepare for the conference just the week before? Who was it who always told him he was great, who always laughed at his jokes? Who made him laugh, who always listened to what he had to say with open ears? None of these questions needed an answer, All he said was, “Think about that, Kate, and let me know if you change your mind.” I told him coolly that “that ship has sailed,” and he said. “Ha. Let me know if it comes back.”
As the weeks went by, we still saw each other and I tried to put my feelings for him to rest. I wondered if I liked him for the right reasons. I wondered if he liked me or liked helping me. I wondered all kinds of things, but one thing was certain—life without him was not making me happy. For his own part, P was throwing himself into work except for the odd time he’d come by and ask how I was. If he did not come, I would come see him, so clearly we still wanted to see each other. I was thinking about him constantly and though I avoided talking to him as profoundly as before, I still offered him professional advice, was dying to know his opinion, and wanted to see if he’d notice it when I did a really good job or wore something nice. I worried that he would not sleep properly, become too stressed, and work too hard and was annoying the people around me with these worries and my weird emotions about the whole thing. After a few weeks, my dad tactfully suggested that we offer P a ride to the conference we were both working at the next day. “Maybe then you two can talk,” he said, not quite as tactfully.
He accepted, and we did not talk much as my dad was in the car. However, at the conference and after it we had a great time! We ate lunch together, he chatted up some of the people he had interpreted for (which you are not really supposed to do) and went around te building, exploring, laughing and talking like old times. After the conference, we the interpreters were invited to the after party by the conference presenters. I was not going to go as one of the elevators in the building was broken. P said, “There’s two elevators. You’re going. I’m going with you.” My dad was going to pick me up in a while, I said.
“Call and say it’ll be a while longer. I want to talk to you,” he said.
After a bit of small talk, he asked why such an issue with the disability. I was a good person with a good sense of humour who was much kinder than he was, and THAT was why he liked me. No other reason. He wanted to go out, he wanted me to be comfortable, he did not want me to be ashamed of who I was. Now, would I please allow him to put up my coat on? It was cold outside, he said but sunny and he wanted to go out on the sun roof and have a drink. We held hands as he did, and it was the best time I’d ever had. We spoke about how the day had gone, and our plans for the future. I realized then that I did have a disability, but we were just like any other young couple.
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