This summer, I have found myself focusing a lot on the past, thinking about what I used to do, what I can’t do anymore. For the most part, this has been painful and upsetting, like a hole I can’t get out of. It has also been curious, in that it has been 5 years since my spinal surgery, which left me far more disabled and changed my life dramatically, and I thought I would be over this by now. Why are all these memories hitting me like a wave now? Why am I clinging onto the past? It’s like I’m stuck on one of a stages of grief.
Not all of these memories and ruminations have been unpleasant. As I realized during a short getaway in San Diego, some have been flat-out funny or simply what-the-hell amusing. I thought I would share a few of these here in the coming weeks, starting with what could be called some high school antics in San Diego.
When I was in high school, I was in a home room with the other disabled students. (I wrote a poem that began, “We are the crips/ of Room 6-0-9./ Whenever we go out,/ we’re feeling fine.”) I had all my classes in other rooms with non-disabled students, but I went to this room to take tests, use a typewriter (yes, this was before PC’s, let alone laptops), get dictation taken and just hang out. In addition to being a work space, the room was a safe space of sorts, at a time when mainstreaming was still a new idea, and we disabled students felt like the freaks on campus (I know I did, and this was long before queer and non-binary kids began coming out in force on campus).
At the end of my Junior year, it was decided the we disabled students would go to San Diego for a few days. I don’t know how this decision was arrived at – end-of-the-year overnight trips weren’t the usual policy – but, hey, it meant a few days off from school, so I was all for it! Which is sort of weird, since I was a very serious student, determined to get into an U.C, but I guess this was our version of Senior Ditch Day.
As I remember, there were about 15 of us disabled students plus 2 teachers and 2 aides. (Some of the disabled students had some classes in the home room.) We all met one morning at the Amtrak station in Fullerton, about 40 minutes away – I think it was a Monday – and took the train to San Diego. When I told this story to a friend in San Diego last month, he was like, “Stop,” pointing out that a group of disabled high school students taking the train already “painted quite a picture.”
When we got to San Diego, it turned out the teachers had rented a large cargo truck. We were loaded into the back of the truck, lined up against the walls in our wheelchairs. I think the two aides were in there with us. The door was slammed down – and it was pitch black.
We took off, with us in the back not having any idea of where we were at or seeing where we were going. Not only that, but when the truck stopped or turned, our wheelchairs would lurch forward and back, from side to side, sometimes colliding into each other – all in pitch black. I think we were laughing, but I’m also pretty sure we were terrified!
When the door was opened at our destination and we and our chairs were in a jumble – it was pretty amazing that none of us didn’t tip over and/or were injured – it was clear there was a problem. It was decided that on future truck trips, we would be taken out of our chairs and laid on the floor. So that was what was done: whenever we went out in the truck, we were each taken out of our chairs and laid on blankets or sleeping bags on the floor of the back of the truck. We were still literally in the dark, not seeing where we were going, but at least we were safe, not careening into each other in the pitch black – although our bodies may have rolled into each other (no doubt fine – or not - to us teenagers!). I think one guy had to stay in his chair, because he was too difficult to transfer in and out of his chair, and an aide stabilized his chair. I don’t remember what was done with our chairs.
I can’t imagine how the two teachers and two aides handled this adventure – how did they manage to transfer us out of and into our chairs and lay us down in the truck, not to mention dressing and undressing, toileting, feeding us, etc (I remember even getting a shower….)? – but it was indeed an adventure, and we kids had a blast. We stayed at Campland, but I don’t remember our set-up or it being set up or taken down. I do remember going to the zoo, where there were a lot of steep hills that some of us had to be pushed up, and also going to Old Town for dinner. I have no idea how much all of this cost and where the money came from, and the teachers and aides worked their butts off and no doubt were exhausted, but I remember we had loads of fun – even in that dark horror house of a truck!
I also remember going back to school, back to the college-bound grind, and thinking that no one there had any idea of or could even imagine the crazy – bizarre? – fun adventure that I had just been on. I suspect also that the other school staff and district administrators didn’t hear much, if anything, about it.