A string of obscenities flew out my mouth as I drove towards my usual parking spot in the back area of my apartment complex. My only parking spot would be a more accurate description. With the wheelchair lift on the right side of my full size conversion van, I need a minimum of 8 ft. of open space to the right of my vehicle when parked.

If the tiny, red pansymobile occupying my big parking space was simply an ignorant student or someone who justified the sin by saying “It’ll only be a few minutes”, then it wouldn’t be worthy of simmering my blood and sending the temperature on a vector to boiling.

This car was different. It was different because the owner also occupies a wheelchair. We discussed the logistics of parking back in September. As the only two crippled clowns in the place, it seemed like a no-brainer. I have one parking option and he can park essentially anywhere.

Getting over it wasn’t a problem because I was parked in my secondary place and on my way back to my apartment thinking about programming procedures and the book that I am currently reading- Jihad vs. McWorld- instead of vengeful lectures.

As I rolled towards building number six, a man approached me. I recognized him as another tenant whom I have seen frequently in my time here. The only time that I had seen him in a social setting was back in late September while drinking beer with other tenants in the parking lot at 2:00 a.m.

The memory stands out because he approached the group almost distraught and asking that nobody hurt him. I shared the opinion that this guy must have swallowed a bottle of whiskey in two minutes because of his severely slurred speech, his unstable gait and an unreasonable request than nobody exact violence on him. Somebody said something about brain damage and I thoughtlessly agreed. Unless he was also blind, he obviously didn’t see my chair-bound ass having a good time while safe and sound.

This moment, however, was six months later.

“Is that your van?”, he asked.

The slurred speech was still there. The unstable gait was still there. The difference was his mood. He seemed to be in a content state of mind and his eyes betrayed a very sharp mind. So sharp that I answered with caution, fearing a remote possibility that I had just started conversing with a con man or a thief at twilight and in an unlit section of the parking lot.

“Yes, it is.”

“Is it difficult to drive? How do you drive?”

So far, so good. I drive a very complex machine that is personally tailored to give my body complete control of the vehicle. Like all technology, this can be abused and I am not one to reveal those ways to anybody. Not there and definitely not here.

“I drive with my hands.”

“You do what? How can you do that?”

“The right hand steers. The left hand operates the accelerator and the brake.”

“Is it hard?”

“Not with a few hundred hours of training. And besides, it is the only thing I know.”

“That makes sense. I guess it’s that way with everyone.”

Now that was a deep insight that normal people fail to make on a regular basis. The common tendency is to associate my ability to drive with some superhuman or supranatural trait that God gives to only a few rather than with plain old blood, sweat and tears.

At this point, I was convinced that this man was not a con man or a thief. He was simply looking for a conversation, so I decided to keep the good will going.

“I am Chris.”, I said while extending my hand out for the greeting. “And you are?”

Because this guy does not know that I am writing about this encounter, I’m going to refer to him by the fictitious name of Fred. His words will resume on his response to my inquiry about where he lives in the complex.

“I live in building three.”

“Well, I’m on my way back to building five. Let’s keep talking while heading in that direction.”

The next couple of minutes were awkward. He began to speak about his brain injury and how it occurred. Fred was a victim of an automobile accident. The awkward part came when he asked if I could tell. Mumble, mumble, mumble. Dodge, dodge, dodge.

Because I wear 99% of my problems in plain view, there’s no debate in my own life as to whether people can tell if I’m disabled. Such a debate would be rampant absurdity. I consider my looks to be so irrelevant and beyond my control that the only time I even consider clarifying exactly what is and is not disabled is when I am with the right woman in private, with an assertive woman in public or with a wingman on a need to know basis, so no opportunities are lost in a social setting.

That little bit of information says a lot more than just the superficial thought that I have an active gameplan that accounts for and minimizes my disability in the pursuit of intimacy and/or carnal pleasure. Is says that life is good enough that I have the luxury of choosing when disability becomes an issue instead of having the disability choose for me.

Somehow, thankfully, the conversation shifted to politics. I found out that he was from Boston and the conversation shifted to the Socialist tyranny that allegedly subjugates the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, leading to a disagreement about Jimmy Carter being the worst president ever and another disagreement about Ronald Reagan being the greatest president ever.

The tempo of the conversation picked up when the subjects went from politics to religion/metaphysics. I shamelessly admitted to being Roman Catholic and pointed out the best parts of the religion: temptation is OK, confession clears up actual transgressions, the great appreciation for the parable of the prodigal son allows you to show up at your convenience and fundamentalist Christians react to it like vampires to garlic.

He was a little more serious about his own religion. He described his view of the world and moved into discussing how people perceive each other. Particularly, how people view the disabled.

I quietly disagreed with most of it. This was the correct course of action because I sensed that he wanted someone to listen.

People care only about themselves …I disagree. A girlfriend will drive a man to insanity … women might, but a girlfriend will smooth the edges and soothe the soul … people are cruel … W T F? … The world is cruel … Now we’re going little overboard.

“So be completely honest,”, Fred began, “Isn’t this world just a cruel place to be?”

I didn’t answer immediately. Giving serious consideration to the question, I was in a long pause. Of all people in my 26 years of existence whom I could think of, only five were deserving of the cruelty title. Others who have harmed me cannot qualify below stupid or thoughtless, and are certainly eligible for forgiveness if they haven’t been forgiven already.

There are no women on my short list. The scores of times that I’ve been shot down have nothing to do with the shooter … or have everything to do with the shooter. In both cases, these instances just don’t fit well under the heading of cruelty. Getting shot down by women is simply a fact of life for every guy who repeatedly put his heart out for the taking. There is a way to pursue a woman without any emotional risk … it’s called prostitution.

So I really had no idea what he was talking about. For me, it’s been a wild life. Very tough but very accomplished also. I have a van and a bachelor’s degree in political science. I am an experienced writer, editor and programmer. I have experienced the full range of the human condition from blocking shots as a goalie in a grade school soccer game to being completely helpless and bedridden after fully invasive spinal reconstruction surgery. I have denied sovereignty to my wheelchair on a number of occasions by walking and I deny sovereignty to it every time I drive and swim. I have spilled buckets of blood through injuries and surgeries. I have shed gallons of tears getting hard lessons in life. However, if life were cruel instead of merely tough, those lessons would be meaningless and the proverbial beatings would continue.

The beatings don’t continue ad infinitum.

“I don’t know what to say, Fred.”, I began. “Life is a valley of tears. I don’t think we’re supposed to be happy all the time. You can’t recognize pleasure until you know pain. I think that most people have an unreasonable expectation for happiness and how much of it they deserve and a profound ignorance about where to find it.”

“Yes, but don’t you think that most people are cruel?”

“I think most people are ignorant. I don’t blame people for being ignorant.”

“You don’t blame people for being ignorant?”

“Ignorance is a curable disease. The real criminals, as a friend of mine says often, are those who know about truth and justice yet choose ignorance for a disguise. People who do that are definitely cruel but they are also so few and far between that they are irrelevant. Life is tough but it is not cruel.”

After that shortage exchange, Fred seemed to be lost in his own thoughts for a moment. It was already dark and more than a half hour had passed. He could have thought that I was an inconsiderate asshole for not joining him on the ‘life sucks’ bandwagon. I hope he did not do that, but if he did, he wouldn’t be the first. I don’t think that he left with a negative impression.

I was glad to have the conversation because I was coming close to needing another reality check to refocus myself. All I know of Fred is from that conversation. He could be living large and just likes to complain as far as I know. The person whom I was speaking to in that short period of time, however, was reaching for something. I felt a vibe of despair that comes only from experience with cruelty and violence. What he needs is nontransferable and immaterial.

On that day, like the Good Book says, I almost cried because I have no shoes. Then I met a man with no feet.

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