Author: Diane Hoover Bechtler
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Diane Hoover Bechtler lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, Michael Gross--a poet with a day job--and with their cat, Call Me IshMeow. In addition to writing short work, she is looking for an agent for her memoir, which is about learning to live with brain disease. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Queens University, where she graduated summa cum laude, and subsequently earned her MFA.
She has had short work published in The Gettysburg Review, Thema, Literary Journal, The Dead Mule, School of Southern Literature,
What You Don't Say
I have a movement disorder as a result of a rare brain disease. During the diagnostic phase of my illness and even now, I wondered if a list of the newly disabled was regularly distributed throughout the world. Remarks I’ve had made to me range from plain thoughtlessness to exceedingly rude.
While at Mayo Clinic, a guy approached me, said I was pretty, and asked if I wanted to go with him to his room and talk. Only he didn’t say talk, but used another four-letter word instead. I thought, “Man, I may be a wounded antelope, but you are not a lion.” Then I threatened him with my cane. The next morning at a CAT scan, a nurse assured me that he was not a Minnesota boy because mothers in that area raise polite sons. She said, “He must be from New York.” My boyfriend at that time was from New York.
I had an occupational therapist who told me how lucky I was that my illness was not systemic but only in my brain. Only my brain. That little thing. Another person said I was lucky that my left hand was useless, not my dominant right one. Yet more luck was to be found by a woman who said I should be thankful my intellect had not been affected. I kept waiting for the “yet” to be tagged onto her remark.
The shuttle driver said, “Everyone needs to go through the double doors and up the escalator to the skywalk to the terminal.” I said, “I need wheelchair assistance.” I was wearing my high-top, putty-colored Nike running shoes, but I could no longer run nor even skip. My brain had stopped all communication with my left foot. He said, “You need what? You should have told me at the beginning of the ride.” I said, “I’m telling you now.” He argued, “I’d have to drive all the way around the airport just for you.” I argued back, “Guess we’d better get going, then.” He had the last word and the car keys. “Sorry ma’am. I can’t do that. It would put me behind schedule.”
When I limped while getting on an elevator, I was asked how I broke my leg. To God it were that simple.
At airport security, a screener confiscated my business card-sized Swiss army nail kit. With a perfectly straight face, the airport worker handed me the kit and told me I had time to “run it out to my car.” Many things are personal, not worth explaining, or they are self-evident; yet, I told the attendant my car was in another state about a thousand miles from Minneapolis, and as I tapped on the wheelchair, I explained that my running days were behind me.
When I was buying a wig before the radiation treatments that would leave me bald, the saleslady said, “That style takes ten years off your age.” I was very sick, and I certainly didn’t want ten years taken off my age.
I was complaining one day, just before radiation, that I couldn’t do a thing with my hair. My own son said, “Well, Mom, soon you won’t have that problem.”
I walked in the den to talk to the man installing my stair lift. He said, “I certainly hope it doesn’t come to this, but you’re very pretty and would make a great Miss Wheelchair.” That was a terrible compliment. I ignored him. Plus I knew that contestants for Miss Wheelchair had to be totally dependent on their chairs. My need for a chair came later.
The phone rang. A man was selling disability insurance. “Too late. I’m already disabled.” He asked the nature of my disability. I explained briefly. He continued, “Well ma’am, that wouldn’t be covered, but there are a lot of other disabling things that could happen to you.” I slammed down the phone.
A fireman said to me during a drill, "If there is a real fire, get out of here whatever way you can." The floor leader said, “Call someone on the phone to come for you.
There was the invasion into my personal space by a stranger at physical therapy. He just stared, then blurted, “What put you in that chair?”
Then the other shoe fell.
I waited in my powerchair for the elevator. A man joined me. I said, “I’m tired. Walking with this brace is especially tiresome.” I lifted my jean leg and tapped my brace. He knocked on his leg, which gave a metallic sound. I had been had. My brace did not equal his prosthetic leg. I am alarmed that I spoke before I thought. I became a definition of what you don’t say.