Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Differently Abled Heroes"

This poem came out of the June 6, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer and [personal profile] readera. It also fills the "handicapped heroes" square in my 3-1-17 card for the Disability Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles and Shirley Barrette.  It belongs to the shared world project Schrodinger's Heroes.

Warning: This poem deals with disability. Some characters have a healthier view of it than others, and not everyone agrees on what language is acceptable. Please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Differently Abled Heroes"

It's no surprise when they
step into a new dimension
only to discover that

alter!Chris has blown his hand off,
alter!Pat has been pounded to pieces,
alter!Quinn has awful scars down there,
or alter!Kay has a raging case of PTSD.

It's harder when it's Alex.

She's their leader,
and seeing even alter!Alex
in dark glasses or on crutches
or signing too fast to understand
is always going to feel like
a punch in the gut.

It's not that there's anything
wrong with having disabilities,
just that they know the odds.

Schrodinger's Heroes have seen
some seriously messed-up stuff,
from the dimension of slavers
to the psychotic Amazons.

But it's Alex.

It's Alex in a filthy alley,
sitting in a wheelchair and
wearing second-hand clothes
with a hole ripped in one knee.

It's Alex staring at a quantum rift
like she doesn't know what it is,
and oh, that doesn't bode well
for them getting home in a hurry.

They know the drill, though.
They shut the rift behind them
and introduce themselves and
introduce Alex to who she really is.

"I don't know why you think that
I could help you," she says,
waving at her wheelchair.
"I'm not good for much."

"Whoever told you that
underestimated you,"
Bailey says firmly.

"Everyone," Alex says,
and the Heroes are really
starting to hate this place.

It takes months in order
for her to learn enough
about quantum mechanics
to do any good, but it's Alex,
and she does it, somehow.

She falls on the information
like a starving dog on a whole hog,
and she won't stop even when she
knows how to get them home.

"I don't want to do this,"
she says, hand shaking.
"I know it's selfish, but once
I press this button, you're gone,
and I don't want to be alone again."

They look at each other.

It's Alex, and
they know the odds.
Someone will have to tell her.

Fortunately they have Chris
for situations like this.

"World without Alex,
life expectancy of
a glass hammer,"
he says bluntly.

"We've seen it before,"
Ash says. "Dimensions
where you die, don't tend
to survive a lot longer."

"Ones like this, where you're
alive but shut out of science
for some reason, don't seem
to fare much better," Quinn adds.

"We can take you with us," Pat offers.
"Find you a world with no Alex where
you could go and follow your dreams.
The best revenge is a life well lived.
What do you say to that, Alex?"

"I, I need to think about it,"
she says, biting her lip.

"Okay," Pat says. "How about
we get lunch to celebrate you
finding our way home?"

He likes to feed people,
and geeks can forget to eat
if someone doesn't remind them.

Alex is still Alex, and therefore
just as astute as ever. She leads
the team to a tiny restaurant that
has good, affordable food and
mouthwatering aromas.

Everything is fine until
Alex says, "I want a salad
and a salmon burger."

The lady behind the counter
asks Chris, "And what will
your girlfriend be having?"

Chris crosses his arms.
"Didn't you hear Alex?"

"Oh, she has MS or ALS
or something, it's just hard
for her to do things by herself,"
the lady says. "You know
how these people are."

Chris waits for Alex
to respond, but she doesn't,
and he damn well won't
let that shit pass.

"Alex has cerebral palsy,
not that it's any of your business,"
he says. "Now take her order
or find somebody who will."

"I've only said it every week when
I come in here," Alex mutters.

"Maybe we should go eat
somewhere else," Quinn says.

"No, I keep coming back because
the food is really good and really cheap,"
Alex says. "Anywhere else edible means
a bus ride, and that's ... inconvenient."

Because the buses in this dimension
rarely have any accommodations at all.

Chris finally badgers the girl into
taking Alex's order, and indeed,
when the food comes it's fantastic.

Alex tucks into hers without another word,
and for a while, that occupies
everyone's attention too.

"It's exhausting, isn't it?" Pat says,
dipping his sweet potato fries
into the cream cheese.

"What is?" Alex says,
looking up at him.

"Having to explain things
over and over to people who
don't listen," Pat says.

"Oh. Yes. It is,"
Alex agrees. "That's
just how things are, though."

"Not everywhere," Quinn says.
"This world doesn't deserve you."

"I thought about your offer,"
Alex says as she picks up
the last bite of her salmon.

"What about it?" Pat says,
leaning toward her.

Alex swallows, then throws
her empty paper in the trash.

"Let's get the hell out of here."

* * *


People may love or hate the phrase "differently abled." It relates to social and medical models of disability. I typically use it to describe things like autism that create an uncommon pattern of strengths and weaknesses. In this case, however, it refers to multiple versions of a person across the dimensions having different ability levels.

This touches on the Alternate Self Trope, and as Chris mentions, also the Dead Alternate Counterpart. If you mistreat people, they may leave -- and Rude Ableist Lady will probably never realize that she inadvertently doomed her world by snubbing Alex.

Here is alter!Alex in her wheelchair.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It is also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system, and tends to follow one of four common patterns of development.

Cerebral Palsy is a non-progressive condition caused by damage to an infant's brain. It does not cause cognitive impairment, and many people with CP have average or higher intelligence -- but sometimes the same root cause behind the CP also instigates other problems that may impair the mind.

Backstopping means giving someone a chance to respond first, and if they don't, handling it yourself. In this case, the person being mistreated has the first right of response, but after that, bystanders may object on grounds of preferring civility to discrimination. People with disabilities are more likely to suffer abuse or neglect. Learn how to deal with that and with everyday bigotry.

Many people with disabilities have difficulty traveling. In our dimension, bus systems typically have most or all of their stops and vehicles accessible now. However, some still have little or no accessibility, which causes serious problems.

Explaining things to people, such as racism or disability, can be exhausting. You aren't actually obligated to do it. Pat understands this from the racism angle, but alter!Alex doesn't have much awareness of identity theory yet.
Tags: activism, cyberfunded creativity, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, weblit, writing
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