When I run errands, I park in the lot’s equivalent of the North Pole, so my car doesn’t get dinged. I walk quickly, with swagger and purpose. I learned to do this in my twenties under the advice of security types who said women can deter attacks against themselves by adopting this attitude. I stride everywhere, thinking nothing of how far I need to walk. I whip around impediments.
When I took care of my mother after her knee surgery, my experience was quite different. I drove her in Daddy’s Lincoln Town Car, looking for accessible parking. Believe me, when you’re driving a land yacht, you’re grateful you get to park in an ample space. I had no idea how scarce these spaces are though. I’m thinking, This is a doctor’s office. Why is there ONE accessible space? And why is the parking lot a steep hill? Or if there are a lot of spaces, they are so far away you have to walk a distance to get to the door. Inside one building, we had to traipse the length of a football field to get to the office we needed. Granted, a volunteer offered her a wheelchair; but that’s a long way.
We went to a big box store, which had lots of accessible spaces; but those were all far, far away from the door. I let Momma off at the entrance, and then I looked for a scooter for her. A clerk said they were scarce that day because “It’s the first of the month.” Oh. That’s right. The first is payday for a lot of disabled people and older adults. We managed to get a scooter, but competition was fierce and vigorous. So vigorous that a caretaker who wanted a scooter for her charge rapidly loaded our goods in the car I had pulled up to the curb for Momma, so she could more quickly claim the scooter Momma was in the process of abandoning. I thought of home, where I can work in peace. At that moment I felt like Greta Garbo. “I want to be let alone.”
During my time with Momma, I realized that to some, a slight incline looks like Mount Everest. The close-in accessible spaces aren’t close at all. Navigating a large store without a motorized vehicle is impossible. Protecting your car’s appearance is not a dictatorial priority. And things may not get done. When they do, they get done very, very slowly.
I’m home now, swaggering and striding with a spring in my step and getting things – lots of things – done in a hurry. But caring for Momma showed me what some must live with every time they go out. Now I would be able to write about a character recovering from a knee operation or otherwise unable to walk well in a much more convincing manner than I could have in the past. I’m just glad I can still swagger and that my mother is expected to experience recovery in the future.
What characters have you written about who aren’t like yourself? How did you learn about them?
What character do you find the most intriguing who is nothing like you? How did the author make the character convincing?
What type of character would you like to write about who has little in common with yourself?