I’m not disabled, just a terrible person. I’ve been called manic. Someone told me I’m “a prism through which light is refracted.” And I’ve had a complaint filed against me by a coworker who thought I was experimenting on him with a ray gun secreted between my legs. But I’m not disabled — I feel like that’s an important piece of information before we start.
Years ago, when I turned 21, my friend got me a walking stick with a bicycle bell attached so I could signal to pedestrians and other meaningless blockages that I was coming through. I loved it. But, like most of my things, the walking stick has spent the last ten years in my parents’ house in Sydney. Somehow it managed to survive the living carpet of mold that ate the family photos and the rust that turned the inside of my vintage computers into a moist, crystalline forest. But my parents are tired of housing what’s left and keep dropping hints they want it gone. My mother sent me a photo of herself next to a big, gasoline-soaked pile of my childhood treasures, one hand holding a martini and the other poised to flick a lit cigarette onto the pyre.
On my most recent visit I decided to cram as much as possible into my luggage to bring it back before my stuff went the way of Saint Joan. I wound up with two full suitcases toeing the airline’s weight limit, but I didn’t mind if one went over — even the excess baggage fees are cheaper than paying to send heavy boxes by airmail. Once, bamboozled by the shipping costs, I asked USPS if I could send something by seamail instead. There is an episode of The Simpsons in which Mr. Burns attempts to send a telegram to the Prussian embassy in Siam. The look the clerk gave him was the same one the postal worker gave me. Apparently seamail hasn’t been a thing for years.
That’s why I was determined to fit everything into my bags, which left only one problem — the walking stick. It wouldn’t fit in my luggage and it would cost hundreds of dollars to check in an extra bag. So I looked up the regulations and it turned out I could bring any amount of “Mobility Equipment” I needed. All I had to do was limp a little and I could carry it onto the plane for free.
“So limp!” my dad told me. “You know how to limp, don’t you?”
So I limped and hobbled into the terminal dragging my heavy bags behind me. As I approached the check-in counters I realized I was passing more and more people in wheelchairs. And tracksuits in the Australian colors. Right after the Rio Olympics. And then it hit me — it was the Australian Paralympic team. I had just faked being disabled in front of the world’s best disabled athletes. I could not have felt worse — at least, not until the stewardess ushered me into the priority boarding queue. And seated me next to the only empty seat on the plane to give me some extra room. Because once I’d started I couldn’t stop. If I stopped limping now they’d think I had deliberately tried to get special treatment. I was trapped in my own unspoken lie for the next fifteen hours of the flight to San Francisco. And while waiting at the baggage claim. And in the taxi home. Because once people have seen you limping with a cane, God help you if you suddenly stop.
“Mate!” Dad chortled when I told him over Skype. “You’re a genius. I should try that next time.”
But I know my walking stick is going to stay at home, at least until I actually need it. I can’t take it outside now — I never want to go through that again. The only problem is that, by coincidence, another friend also bought me a cane for my 21st — the kind with a silver knob at the top for beating up tramps and castigating beggars. And it’s still in Sydney. And I have no idea how I’m going to bring it back.