Since being hit while riding, I have lost my ability to walk (though only for a few months) and am in a wheelchair. Everything is harder. Getting in and out of the car is less habitual and more physically exhausting. Taking a shower is less relaxing and more frustrating. Even checking out at the store is an ordeal; the card readers are built to be seen from above, not below.
The strangest part of being wheelchair bound is the way society reacts to me. I seem to catch people off guard. I look able-bodied, am young and tattooed, have somewhat fashionable duds on, and seem for the most part not what one would expect of someone in a chair. I get one of three reactions:
The first one is a sympathetic smile, followed by a look of self-realization. At first they smile because it’s the polite thing to do, and then they realize that I was probably more like them than they first thought. I used to walk, jump, run, bike and dance, but in the blink of an eye those daily activities were taken away from me. Just as easily as it happened to me, they think, it could happen to them. As soon as that thought flashes through their minds and across their faces, I get a look of a pity and they hurry off in the opposite direction.
The second reaction is the one that makes me feel the worst: avoidance. They see me being pushed towards them and they avoid eye contact with me at all costs. It’s as if I am not worthy of their acknowledgement. It hurt at first. For the first week I avoided going out—I hated this reaction so much that it crippled me more. Finally I decided to not allow other people’s ignorance or fear stop me from living…plus I needed underwear that didn’t ride up. Wedgies and wheelchairs are a real thing and they really suck.
The third reaction is my favorite. They smile, realize I have not always been handicapped, and suddenly are overcome by the thought, “how?” I answer their question the same way every time: “I am a cyclist and was hit by a car.” I hope that maybe my answer will make them take extra care around their pedal-pushing counterparts when they are on the road. Sometimes I get to hear their own war stories about accidents and injuries, other times I get promises for prayers and a hurried healing. These compassionate people make me feel less like an alien and more like a human. I even had one little girl tell me, out of the blue, that I looked pretty. She nearly made me cry. I feel anything but pretty in the wheelchair, but I am learning to love myself on these wheels instead of bike wheels.
I never thought I would be in a wheelchair; I never thought I would be parking in handicapped spots (totally awesome though, princess-parking everywhere) and I certainly never thought I would need help with nearly everything I do. I suppose no one ever thinks about going from able-bodied to wheelchair rolling. I will never again take my legs for granted or think mean things about my thunder thighs. Some days I am thankful I was hit and am alive, other days I struggle with the simplest of tasks and find myself in tears. Most of the time though, I am looking for someone to challenge to a wheelchair race.