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  • Writer's pictureErin Clark

The wrong envy

Here I am staging my daily laps at Mitches park. I go around and around for a half an hour everyday in the late afternoon. Me and the joggers and the strolling families and kids on bikes and rollerblades and, now and then, a skater.

Now that I’m outside a lot, I’m getting called speedy everyday again. “Next time you’re pushing,” “woah, do you have a license for that thing?” You must have strong arms!” “How do you do it?” “You get around pretty quick!” “Hey there, speedy!”

Yesterday I kept pace with a young girl on rollerblades for 5 or 6 complete laps. Just on her tail at a comfortable roll. And I think she liked it, being in the lead or having me keep up. Because when she bailed around a bend, she pushed hard to catch up and pass me, looking to see I was with her, grinning. It was some secret she had. And I was happy to let her have it. It let me have one, too. not having any real idea what she was thinking, I assumed it was near to what I was thinking: it was kind of nice to have someone at my pace, to have company in my exercise.

She had no need to call me speedy, she had nothing to admire or envy, we were at the same level. So we just rolled our hearts out in the wane of day.

Lately, this is what I chalk that dumb nickname and those dumb catcalls up to —envy.

When people say things like 'it must be nice not having to work,' or, 'I need one of those' (referring to the wheelchair), there is a sense of something like the idea that my wheelchair makes decisions for me, and that simplifies my life in a way people crave. Not just the simplicity, but maybe also something in the perceived abdication of responsibility? They are tired of the work they have to do and the decisions they have to make and the effort it all takes and they see disability, briefly, as a kind of exemption, a kind of rest and ease. Yes, we also get pitied for this, but I wonder if envy and pity are somehow more linked than is obvious. I think it's why it's so incomprehensible to some that we actively fight so hard for independence and autonomy. Why wouldn't we just.. enjoy letting other people do things, make decisions, live life -- for us?

And sometimes I think that the way we are praised for so little, admired for nothing, given so much attention triggers an envy that kind of makes a bit of sense to me. People want to feel special. Special is seen as 'our' word. Even our *needs* are special. It's easy to identify when someone resents this, but there are times when what people are expressing seems more like a wistful envy. That they would maybe not mind being disabled so much if it meant they got to feel special all the time. Which is why it's so incomprehensible to them when we are mainly offended by the weirdly scripted overtures of inspiration porn. People don't understand that you can't feel special when attention isn't really about you, when it doesn't come from someone who has invested real time and effort in knowing you apart from all others. feeling special is, ironically, one of my more insistent emotional needs - but it has never been satisfied by a stranger commenting on my wheelchair by saying the same thing 12 other people said that week.

Which reminds me, the super repetitive statements people make for no reason in casual passing. While we're do our daily laps, while we pass their driveway as they get out of their car, as we stand in line at the grocery store, as we're at a casual gathering and they haven't met us yet... the 'i used a chair for a week so i know what it's like,' the 'what happened to you?' For the most part, smells like terrible conversation skills. Those people are also saying 'lovely weather we're having' a dozen times a day. They pick out the most observable thing and follow the script. And the going script on what to say to someone who has a disability you can see was written by terrible writers who I hope got very fired. But those people, that's how they talk to everyone. They just hit a loaded topic with us, and the weather usually doesn't offend. There wasn't a deep ocean of insight and observation that turned to desert in my presence. (it does happen that someone who was perfectly interesting or even connecting with you quite well suddenly takes an awkward turn, but that's not the path i'm going down at the moment). With the boring, I nod, I respect their limits, and I wonder... if some of them.. might not envy that a disability makes you seem instantly more interesting than anyone else in the room. Everyone is curious about *you,* everyone has something they want to say to or ask *you,* everyone can talk about you for ages after a brief glimpse of you and with no other information. It's as glamorous as being famous, disability. So of course, it's confusing when we don't think it's terribly interesting at all and don't want to talk to or answer them back. What they wouldn't give for people to want to know so much about them, to be so interested.

It's happening a lot, my friends are venturing back out into the world and realizing just how restful it has been to not contend with the public. We forgot how we handled it, how it stung our skin. We're happy to be out, we don't want to spend our liberation in a confinement of a whole other kind. Accumulating a sense of rejection and otherness that pushes us out of ourselves. I muse to myself instead: People who are interested in me, don't have to be interesting to me.

They envy the wrong things, but they're not wrong to envy.

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