I’ve recently been afflicted with a curious case of muscle spasticity. I have known for years that something has been ‘off’ with my body but in recent months my muscles have decided to dance and jump and tighten and loosen all on their own without letting my brain in on the routine. My disobeying muscles have forced me to use a cane on the bad days and now I cannot help but fixate on how strangers treat me when I’m sporting it. Somedays I feel fine. I wake up and stretch and say to myself “self, you should sign up for a marathon!” And then there are days when I can hardly get off the couch and I find myself watching a whole season of Game of Thrones without pressing pause. So my doctor came up with this crazy idea that maybe I should use a cane so maybe I can have more marathon days and less couch potato days. I dismissed the idea but my boyfriend thought “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a really easy way for you to feel better? Oh wait, there is – a cane!” So I caved. I admit that I worried about people staring at me if I left the house with the cane, but I have quickly realized that is not something I should worry about because I am being consciously avoided instead. As soon as a strangers’ eyes meet the cane, down those eyes go to the ground. And I know what they are thinking. They are thinking “I hope she doesn’t think I am staring at her – must avoid normal eye contact – I wonder what is wrong with her?” The reason I know what they are thinking is because I often thought the same thing when I saw a young person with a cane or in a wheelchair. It was never a pitying glance or a pitying worry, merely a passing moment of curiosity. So I hold no offense to those passersby who look at me quizzically for a second too long and then thwart those glances to the shiny tiled floor – my goodness the floor has never looked so appealing before! Those are not the people I worry about when I leave the house with my cane. It’s the strangers who take it on themselves to make my life a little easier. It is in those awkward encounters that I might visualize myself comically beating someone over the head with my cane. This is a story about those people.
So it’s a couch potato day, which means I wake up but my muscles don’t. My weekly television obsession is Battlestar Galactica so normally I would press play on season 2 and pass the time nervously watching cylons destroy the characters I love. But today I cannot do that because I am out of province on business and it’s time to return home. So I uncomfortably twist my body out of bed, grab the cane and go about my business to get ready for my flight home. Before leaving my hotel I do what I do every morning, stare at the mirror image of myself with the cane and contemplate whether I want to be the girl with the cane today. I suffer from a very debilitating condition – vanity – and some mornings vanity gets the best of me and I leave the cane right there on the wall next to that mirror. Yesterday the cane stayed home because my muscles were dancing a rather slow tango and it just didn’t really go with the colour of my dress. Today they are dancing a jig that overpowers my intense vanity so I hobble out the door with cane in hand and head off to the airport.
I arrive at the airport and hobble down the corridor with my overstuffed luggage towing behind me. Down the sea of eyes go, down down down to those cracks in the tile, to the dried up gum cemented to the floor. I ignore this synchronized movement and keep on hobbling to the baggage drop. There is a long line before me as there often is at such a peak time in the morning for global commuters. I release my reigns on the suitcase and lean on my cane. I zip open my rain coat and root around my pocket to find my cell phone so I can text Boyfriend for a few moments to pass the time. Before I can get my fingers into the pocket a Guest Service Agent has descended upon me like I’m a newborn Golden Retriever with a big red bow.
“Good morning, ma’am!” she enthusiastically greets me at a rather uncomfortably loud volume.
“Umm…good morning,” I respond, wondering why she has singled me out in the long line. I am wearing black and grey, I have my headphones in, I do not stand out, I do not scream “approach me, I am an approachable human being!” I wonder where the niceties are coming from – which is a strange wonder for someone who specializes in guest service management – yet there it is.
“I can take you right to the front of the line, ma’am!” she beams, extending an arm towards my luggage.
That’s when I remember the cane. The metal stick in my hand is why she is talking to me. I look at the other black rain coat clad passengers around me, expecting a disgruntled sigh or an eye roll. Those who haven’t already darted their eyes to the floor are looking at me like “yes, you go to the front of the line, we can wait.”
Frankly, that pisses me off.
I have had these chats before with Boyfriend. Boyfriend always tells me that humans are just trying to be nice, and I should appreciate the nice. “It’s nice to be treated nice!” he says. “Enjoy nice things!” he says. By all means he is right. He is almost always right, especially about these situations, because well, being nice comes rather easy for him while, I admit, it is more of a struggle for me. Boyfriend creates in me an inner conflict – I know I should see the good in people the way he does – but most days I’m too lazy to rationalize. Today I try to think like Boyfriend does, I try to appreciate the helpfulness of people who are annoyingly helpful.
“Enjoy nice things,” I try to tell myself. “She’s just trying to be nice. They are all just trying to be nice.”
But that mantra does not work. The inner conflict is snuffed out almost as soon as it ignites. That mantra is drowned out by the mantra that plays on repeat while I’m hobbling around with my metal stick. “They feel bad for you. They just feel bad for you.”
So I tell her thank you, sincerely, but I am fine waiting in line.
Apparently I lost all rights to that decision when I got the limp and when the limp brought about the use of the cane.
“No, sweetie, you come on up to the front. We’ll get you out of here in no time.”
A few guilt ridden faces climb their glances back up my legs and to my face and to the beaming face of the Guest Service Agent with the scarf tied around her neck.
I don’t want to make a scene, as I very much enjoy being just another person lost in the crowd, so I follow her up to the front.
I bend down to pick up my luggage and place it on the scale that will tell the man behind the counter that my luggage is so heavy it needs a yellow sticker. What a mistake! “My goodness, I will get that for you!” says the man.
“Enjoy nice things. He is just trying to be nice,” I say to myself. “Thank you,” I say between clenched teeth.
He hits a few keys on his computer and sees that I am sitting in a middle seat. This seems to visibly upset him.
“Oh no! You seem to have a middle seat. That’s not very good. How about I get you another seat?”
“No, I’m fine, thanks,” I reply.
“Nah, I’ll get you an aisle seat. How about an aisle seat in first class? That would be good for you,” he continues.
“I’m actually fine, thanks. I picked that seat.”
“You sure you don’t want an aisle seat?” He’s persistent, I’ll give him that.
“Yes, I’m sure. I picked that seat myself,” I say like a stubborn five year old.
During this dialogue I attempt to zip open that same pocket from before to fish around for my photo identification and my airline ticket to prove that I am the girl he is already referring to me as and that I am in fact flying to that same cold, foggy island he believes me to be flying to. After he bends down to place a new sticker on my luggage he looks back at me and sees that I have my I.D. in my hand.
“Oh look at you, with your photo i.d. out already! Aren’t you on the ball!” he says to me in what I take as a condescending tone, which Boyfriend would probably debate.
I take this as a cue to show him my identification but he has already thrown my luggage on the conveyer belt and waved me off while pleading with me to have a good day.
So I hobble along to the security line to get my bags and person checked for weapons or drugs or whatever it is they check for these days. Sure enough, it being 8:30 in the morning, the line is long and full of bored humans who seem personally offended that they have to wait. I plop my cane down behind the last person in the line and prepare once more to wait my turn. The security guard comes up to me and, without even asking to see my boarding pass, escorts me to the Nexus line which surprisingly has zero people in it.
Fuck it, I think, I’m not causing another scene. So I hobble down the Nexus entrance and place my bag on the conveyer belt. The man in front of me carefully folds his blazer and hands over his boarding pass to the woman for a quick scan. I attempt once more to unzip my pocket to grab my boarding pass but once again I am escorted through the metal detector before I have the chance to grab it. So I hobble through, coat and all, and I’m told to have a very, very nice day.
About twenty minutes later I am standing around while the Guest Service Agent at my gate calls pre-boarding for my flight. I wait while a man in a wheelchair and two couples with young babies board the plane. I am patiently waiting for my row to be called so I can board with the other passengers when the Guest Service Agent gestures for me to come forward.
“Pre-boarding, ma’am! That means you!”
Oh, I wasn’t aware I had no choice in the matter.
So I hobble up towards her, and without even attempting to unzip my pocket to grab my boarding pass, I hobble right on by.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the guy standing next to her calls out to me. I just keep on going, positive they are talking to another ma’am. But two seconds later he is by my side looking down at me. “Excuse me, ma’am, I cannot let you board that plane without seeing your ticket,” he curtly explains to me.
“Finally!” I reply, and happily unzip the pocket of my rain coat.
I reach my middle seat and snuggle in between two rather large men. The one on my left is chatty and misquotes George Costanza three times before the emergency briefing and the guy on my right has a copy of the Globe sprawled out in front of the two of us while he loudly munches on a huge bag of Cheetos. The stale air smells rife with cheese, the stale jokes are swimming all around me and I feel claustrophobic sandwiched between these oversized gentlemen. I let my eyes wander around the cabin to take my mind off of this uncomfortable situation when a flight attendant moves swiftly down the aisle and opens the curtain to first class. There it is – that beautiful aisle seat that could have been mine. Are my eyes deceiving me or is it glowing celestially?
“Well…crap!” I think as the curtain is moved back into place and my first class dreams are cut off. That seat would probably be just as comfortable with my pity upgrade as it would have been if I had been a rich snob who paid an extra $400 for it. They are drinking champagne up there! It’s all champagne and laughter! They are probably laughing at us – silly fools in economy class. I could be one of them, I think. I could be sipping on some bubbly with the bourgeoisie and chuckling at the fate of those back there in coach, all scrunched up together with their Seinfeld jokes and their Cheetos.
If Boyfriend had my muscle affliction he would be sporting a bad ass cane, probably a replica Dr. House’s flaming cane. He would be proud of it and love it when people acknowledge it’s splendor. He would also be sitting up there in First Class, proud that his cane got him the free upgrade. He would be taking what he could get because there should be some perks, shouldn’t there?
Once again I find myself thinking “Boyfriend was right.” Maybe I should stop focusing so much on the cane. Maybe I see it more as an outward sign of my vulnerability than just a metal stick I use to lean on. Maybe I’m the only one who sees it that way. Maybe that’s why I worry so much about the floor stares and the line skipping and the free upgrades.
As the plane lands back on my cold, foggy island, I stand to disembark. I hobble towards the front of the plane and the male flight attendant standing at the front exit watches as I make my way towards him. He doesn’t look down at the ground, he makes eye contact, so I assume he is about to bend over backwards and offer to carry me all the way to baggage claim. Instead, he pats me on the shoulder and says, “girl, you make canes look fierce!”
For once I grin and think “you’re right, I do!”
I hobble down to baggage claim with an extra kick in my step (this time not caused by a muscle spasm) and I find myself not giving a damn where people’s glances land. I join up with the rest of my in-flight family and I smile. I’m in such a good mood that I don’t even think twice about the stranger who offered to take my luggage off the carousel for me. I would probably do the same for him, it’s nice to be treated nice after all.
My decision to appreciate the nice things lasted roughly twenty minutes and I find myself once again hating everyone who tries to offer me help. So if you happen to work for an airline keep an eye out for a female brunette, mid twenties, black and brown cane. If you go above and beyond to make my flight a comfortable one I will smile and I will say thank you but, just know, on the inside I hate you and I am picturing myself punching you in the teeth.