Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Linda Cassady, wheelchair user.
“On June 16, 1999, I was driving southbound on Damen, going to pick up my dog from doggie day care. I was having an awesome day, and I looked supercute. I had my brand-new shirt on, that was later cut off me, and my favorite pair of overalls, and cool shoes. I still have all of it.
“The guy that hit me ran a red light and T-boned me. Then he pushed me into a fuel truck, but I don’t remember that. My pelvis was shattered, my arm was broken, I had a head injury, I had a punctured and collapsed lung and seven broken ribs, and my aorta got transected, cut straight across. I kind of just caved in on one side.
“When I came out of my coma, I didn’t realize I was paralyzed, because it wasn’t like TV paralysis, where you can’t feel anything below your waist. I could feel everything the same as before. But then different medical teams kept coming by and being fascinated that I could wiggle my toes. After a few days of that, I was like, ‘OK, wiggling my toes—why is this amazing? Do I not walk?’ And they said, ‘No.’ Ironically, the guy who hit me was a paraplegic already, before the accident. It was like some fucked-up game of pass it on.
“I had thought being in a wheelchair was going to be horrible. But the first weekend after rehab, I went to a wedding, and then the next weekend I had a party, and I was like, ‘This isn’t that bad. I’m just short.’ Plus I’ve always been kind of lazy and looking for somewhere to sit down. I’ve cracked that nut. And I can wear the highest heels I want to. If you’re a paralyzed woman and you’re not taking full advantage of that, I don’t understand. Like I tell people: ‘I stayed vain. I just sat down.’ Why is just staying a normal person, being the normal person that you were, so inconceivable?
“One thing I’ve learned since the accident is that the wheelchair can be a super-desexualizing vehicle. It feels like you’re not even entertained as a dating option when you’re in one, unless you’re redonkulously hot or the guy is a fetishist. Plus it’s impossible to flirt in a wheelchair. You know how you move a little bit closer to the person you’re flirting with? Well, when I move closer, everybody clears the path. I’m like fucking Moses. No one knows how to physically interact with me. It’s like I’m in a Lucite cube. And then if anybody would deign to be romantically involved with a disabled person, they get a ticker-tape parade. Fuck that.
“Also, I miss effortless gesture. You know what I’d love to do? Flop on a bed. Fall in a pile of leaves. Or walk through sand. That’s the kind of shit I miss. Still, my take on paralysis is that it’s kind of an inconvenient hassle. It’s a nuisance. It didn’t devastate me. Same with my breast cancer: I had a lumpectomy, they think they got it all, and I didn’t lose a boob. Clearly, nothing kills me.
“I don’t understand why the expectation after something like this is that you’re gonna give up. You should fucking deck yourself out. Figure out how to make the new way work, and then go forward. You can’t keep letting the bad thing win by thinking about it 24/7. It’s like Trump: Turn the cameras off; he’ll stop talking.”