I am sitting at a table in Bryant Park. I just met with a guy from Long Island who did his Master’s degree in Critical Disability Studies at York University. He was there a year after me and we had never met in person before. We spent two hours in the park talking about York, CDS, the horrible and not-so-horrible staff of Ontario March of Dimes, the organization providing attendant care on York’s campus, attendant care services in Québec and in New York, public transportation, politics and hockey.
As my new friend leaves, I turn to my phone. My friend Marcel is in town and we are planning to go to Staten Island with my mom in the late afternoon. I text them to let them know I am ready to meet somewhere near the ferry. We just need to decide on our meeting place. I suggest by the elevator of Bowling Green station. As I wait for their answer, I go through the emails I received during the afternoon.
“It’s for you and your friend!”
My eyes leave my phone screen and turn to a white tall guy in his late 20s/early 30s dressed like any typical American guy who seems to enjoy football and frat parties.
He put a little brown box on the table. My face says “WTF” but there are no words that come out of my mouth. I think my hands try to say that I don’t need his box.
“These are cookies. They are really good!” he says with enthusiasm.
I don’t say anything. I think I smile. I smile not because I am grateful. My smile is just an automatic response to awkwardness. My smile is involuntary. I am not in a mood where I am ready to respond to ableism in a nanosecond.
He takes his left hand to his heart to show where the cookies come from. And as fast as he arrived, six seconds earlier, he leaves.
I look around me. The guy has already disappeared. It seems like nobody noticed our short interaction. I wait a few seconds, make sure the guy is not around anymore and then I open the little box.
The cookies do look really good.
But it’s all coming back to me. I think about Montréal, Toronto and Berlin.
It is not the first time a complete stranger has run to me to give me something. I have been given money four times. It happened to me twice in Montréal. The first time, a woman tried to give me a few coins that were worth less than one dollar. I had my MP3 player in one hand and my cellphone in the other while talking to a friend. I thought she needed money. Or a smoke. When I understood that she wanted to give me that money, I refused. The second time, I man threw two dollars at me before even seeing me (I was having a conversation with two friends and he was behind me). He told me to go get a coffee. We yelled at him, trying to cram a disability politics class into one angry sentence. When he finally saw my face, he said “Oh I didn’t know you had such beautiful eyes. I would not have given you money, you are cute!”. In Berlin, I was walking/wheeling with my friend when a man aggressively came towards us to give me one Euro. We refused, in our best German. “Nein, danke”. He was scary. In Toronto, I was about to pay for my groceries when a man in his 70s or 80s who was in line behind me handed a twenty dollars to the cashier for me. Again, I refused.
I had the privilege to refuse without even hesitating. I am not in a difficult financial situation. This is not the case of most disabled people.
But this time is different. It is not money that I’ve been offered, but cookies. And they look absolutely delicious. And I am a little hungry for cookies.
I could give them to someone who’s more in need than me. It would not be hard to find someone.
But I already have one cookie in my mouth. And yes, it is really good.
I can barely taste the pity in it.