Perhaps it's because for years I traveled with these two friends, but when we were reunited at the Abilities Expo, being together felt as if we'd never been apart.
Without missing a beat, we immediately slid into the way we are together, laughing at old jokes and smiling at each other's foibles. And in the six hours we shared the same space, these friends whom I see these days only via email, Facebook and hear from on the phone reminded me why relationships can remain strong over distance.
We know how to be with each other. They reach over without asking and open my straw, slip it into my drink with the familiarity that comes from all those shared spaces in real time years ago. When I thank them for their help, they ask "What help?"
I tell them that when I ask a stranger for help, I'm sometimes told "You should bring someone along to help". My inability to do physical things is seen as an unacceptable burden, a bother to some very vocal people.
This kind of attitude is why we have warehoused people with disabilities in institutions for years, out of sight. It's as if some in our society are afraid of what would happen in a world where people who need help getting straws out of paper covers were set loose. Do they imagine hordes of us hitting Starbucks at noon, causing havoc by holding up the line and asking "Can you open this for me?"
My friends open doors and straws and cans without thinking. They know what I can and can't do physically. We don't debate whether they should do it. We don't judge why I need the help. I'm a quadriplegic. I lack dexterity. We get that all relationships are, at their best, interdependent.
When I asked them at the end of the day how many times they had to help me, my friends' eyes glazed over. "Two?" one says. "Ten," the other says. "Even it it was ten," my first friend says, "at what point should you have to pay for help just to go out? Needing two things? Five things a day? Ten things a day?"
We were all suddenly silent. The waitress brought the bill. I struggled with my money and my friend reached over and grabbed the dollars, made change and put the bills in my wallet.
"Eleven," I said.
To which my friend said "Who's counting?"
But I'm reminded on almost a daily basis that some people are.