On the 11th day of this month, I’ll celebrate the 44th anniversary of the moment my life changed forever. Those of us with mangled spinal cords never forget these dates, and we’re no doubt guilty of both trivializing and overdramatizing the big change. For me, the contrast between B.C. (Before Crashing) and A.D. (After Disability) serves as a kind of divining rod.
There’s a huge difference between suddenly becoming disabled and being born with a disability. Those with disabling conditions from birth immediately begin a process of adaptation immersion that soon becomes second nature to them, while people with SCI or MS or polio, for example, often divide their lives into fractions and struggle with the difference between before and after. Now that I’ve been a man on wheels for more than two-thirds of my life, it’s getting harder to remember how I used to view life as a man-boy on two strong legs.
In my earliest A.D. days, in the late 1960s, I was fond of using my anniversary date as an excuse to get wasted — by drink, drugs or both. I used to enjoy letting strangers I met in bars assume that I was a Vietnam vet. A fellow drunk would approach me and bravely ask, “‘Nam?”
I’d take a generous swig from my beer and look at him with no expression.
“Mind if I ask what happened?”
“Fell from the sky.”
Another big swig.
“Can I buy you a beer?”
I suppose I was still stuck somewhere between denial and grief, but more often than not I’d wind up laughing inside, rather than crying, knowing I had cheated death.
When I approached the 50/50 point, which for me was 40 years old, I became philosophical, marking the occasion more soberly, savoring the balancing point between B.C. and A.D., as if my dual viewpoint allowed me to see more clearly than anyone else in the room. By this time bars and beer were out. Wine, friends and