The crip and the fat chick met in a church parking lot one grey and muggy late June day. The fat chick was cranky; churches make her tense and she wasn’t sure she really wanted to be there. The crip, who to the fat chick looked like a regular woman sitting in a car, waved her over to make the odd request that the fat chick scout the locale for stairs. The fat chick remained puzzled as the crip pulled on a pair of bicycling gloves, the fingerless kind; dawn broke over Marblehead as the crip extracted a walker from the back seat and, using it, got a folding wheelchair out of the trunk. “Don’t help me,” warned the crip. “I won’t,” said the fat chick, mesmerized.
The fat chick got the “special” door by the ramp opened, and the crip and the fat chick bellied up to the table. It was a CoDependents Anonymous meeting, you see, of the kind routinely held in the basements of churches throughout the nation, and that day was a CoDA birthday. The fat chick and the crip accepted ice cream and cake celebrating some achievement they didn’t understand by someone they didn’t know–despite the crip’s dairy allergy and against her better judgment. Because the fat chick had recently been told by a heavy user of pornography and exploiter of women in prostitution that she was “too needy,” and the crip’s last girlfriend had destroyed a desk with a hatchet, resenting the crip’s dedication to her work, they both were looking for relief, but were skeptical of finding it there. As the meeting continued, an unpleasant man whined about his girlfriend; the fat chick privately thought he sounded like an abusive prick. She passed the crip a note, written on a napkin, that said, “In case I have to leave suddenly, here’s my phone number.” The crip smiled, tore off half, wrote down her own number, and passed it back. The fat chick found her impulse to flee canceled out by a mysterious equal and opposing force emanating from the vicinity of the crip.
After the meeting, the fat chick sat in the hall to wait while the crip went to the restroom. When she rolled out, their eyes, on the same level, met. The crip’s eyes were like dewy marbles with melted milk chocolate centers, and the fat chick felt the proverbial arrow in her proverbial heart.
The next day the fat chick went to the library to check out a book on disability. It was full of useful facts, such as that doorways should be a minimum of 36 inches wide. This wasn’t exactly what she had been looking for, but she didn’t know if the information she wanted would be in any book, even if she knew the name for it.
Nevertheless, the relationship proceeded predictably enough with only a few twists, mainly involving the crip getting over her internalized fat hatred. The fat chick thought it odd, though she never said so to the crip, that it didn’t seem to occur to the crip that some able-bodied folk might not consider her a prize either. The crip, who was beautiful, was used to being liked, and she almost always was.
And so it was that the fat chick sat on the steps of the bank one afternoon to share an ice cream with the crip. She chattered on about some argument she’d had with her mother, concentrating on the mint chocolate chip, until she looked up into the crip’s face; the expression she saw there mirrored the one on her own face that day back in the church basement, just a few short weeks before. The fat chick blushed and looked away, but the strickenness from then on was mutual. After that it was only a matter of time and working out of logistics, such as the fact that the fat chick lived in a third-floor walkup. The narrowness of doorways paled next to the obstacle of two flights of stairs, but they were determined and resourceful and found a solution that you would never guess in a million years, unless you knew them.
And not very long after that, the fat chick and the crip became a regular feature on the sidewalks of that small town, walk-rolling hand in hand, for ice cream, for groceries, for coffee and videos and cheap breakfasts at the Geezer Gallery (so dubbed for its 4 PM offerings of meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, liver and onions served to white-haired patrons filling a row of booths along a plate-glass window next to the sidewalk. The crip was irreverent like that). It never occurred to either of them that others might think them strange; they were just going about their business and expected other people to do the same. One day as they sat in the town park, someone yelled “Dyke!” from a passing car. They looked at each other, momentarily puzzled, until the fat chick was inspired to shout back, “Rocket scientist!” which amused them both no end.
The fat chick and the crip did all sorts of things together; once they went ice skating, which meant that the fat chick donned ice skates and pushed the crip around the rink until her ankles gave out. They often went swimming in summer at the boat ramp at high tide, which resulted in a great deal of rust on the crip’s spare chair. They found a way to dance together, relying on the fat chick’s physical strength. They drank rum and wrote letters to their ex-lovers, encouraging the pornophile to become gay immediately so he could have all the meaningless sex he wanted, and demanding the hatchet-wielding rageaholic turn herself in to the nearest police station as a public service. The year there was a full moon at midnight on winter solstice the fat chick pushed the crip through a quarter-mile of moonlit dunes to the water’s edge and waded in naked. They went out for soft serve and quattro formaggi pizza. They poked fun at themselves when they told their friends the story of their meeting, concluding with, “We found our CoDAs and we’re never going back!” In the grocery store, they’d position themselves at opposite ends of the bread aisle and one would yell “Go long!” as she overhanded the other a loaf of Pepperidge Farm. They took ASL together so they could talk about other people without them knowing, though the crip never got very good at it, and anyway didn’t usually mind calling people “able-bodied motherfuckers” to their faces. Once, in a parking lot, an elderly woman approached them and said how brave she thought the crip must be to be out and about! She turned to the fat chick and said, “And is it your job to help her?” The fat chick looked at the woman and said, “No, she’s my lover.” And the other woman said, “Well isn’t that nice.”
You see, by this time the fat chick and the crip had gotten used to seeing in others’ behavior reflections of themselves that didn’t look like them at all. For it was easy to see that something was wrong with the crip, but the fat chick’s brokenness was less apparent.* People thought they knew what the fat chick did for the crip, but the days when the fat chick’s heart was so heavy that a sheet was enough to hold her down, no one saw the crip sitting next to the bed, stroking her hand, and not just once or twice, but for years, without once saying, “Snap out of it.” Their shared knowledge of what it was like to be hated and patronized, pitied, stereotyped and underestimated was a powerful bond, but the crip’s insistence on laughing at everything, and her willingness to share her talent for taking it all less seriously than the fat chick had been taught, was what filled their life together with mundane spontaneous joy. And so they thought they’d live happily ever after, and so they did–until they didn’t.
*Except for the fact that this culture considers fat visible evidence of brokenness, but that’s another story.