Once bitten, twice shy

When your life has a drastic change, you quickly learn your weaknesses. The wife of a married couple for 30 years suddenly passes away. The husband quickly finds out he never had a clue to how the household actually operated. He may never have paid the monthly bills, shopped for food, clothing or Christmas presents? He may never have cooked a meal in his life. For me, it was how shy and insecure I really was. Even though I could meet people and talk with them, I was one of the boys at the school dances with my back up against the wall. I do remember dancing on two different occasions, but that wasn’t the norm. I guess working at my father’s construction company every day after school and 9 hours a day during the summer made it easy for me to hide it, or worse, not realize it was true. But when it became the norm that I didn’t know how to have conversations with my friends after I was in a wheelchair that it dawned on me things were now different, being shy and in a wheelchair sucked! Too often the conversations would last only a few minutes and then suddenly go quiet. We’d look at each other and not know what to say. Or they’d say something about hiking to the top of Sugarloaf or something similar then realize I can’t so they’d feel weird and stop talking. I knew it was up to me to change if I wanted to be happy. Being shy and in a wheelchair for the rest of my life was going to suck!

When you’re different then everyone else, you’re different. You’ve experienced it! You’ve been in a room full of people and felt completely alone.

I believe it was Saturday night, Halloween weekend 1982, that I was at home when my sister Jean and her boyfriend, (now husband) Tom stopped by the house. They asked me if I want to go to Danny Joe’s house (actually garage where he entertained)? I didn’t know Danny Joe and I was on a new medication that was causing stomach problems, so I said no. As luck would have it, Tom talked me into joining them. He told me that if I needed to come home because I wasn’t feeling well, he’d take me home, no problem.

At the Halloween party the first thing I learned was talking to a group of people was a lot easier than one on one. When the conversation ended with one person, you moved onto someone else. It sounds simple, but when you rarely left the house for the past couple of years, it was a breakthrough for me. The second thing was noticing that there were a few people that controlled most of the conversations. There were three types, the loud ones that made a lot of noise, the quiet ones that had something to say and the few that mostly listened but always said the right thing when needed. There was no one better at listening then saying the right thing to keeping conversations going, or change it when necessary at Danny Joe’s garage then Danny Joe himself.

It turned out Tom, Jean and I were some of the last to leave that Saturday night. While I only knew maybe 25% of the people there, most of the crowd knew me or of me. I come from a family of nine children. I love coming from Marquette, it was easy to know a lot of people. You often knew the entire family. Not just individuals. It brings up a problem I always had there. Everyone seemed to know me, but I didn’t always know them. To this day there are people there that I’ve known for 30 years that I never knew their names.

Before leaving Danny Joe’s that night, he told me he’s in his garage most days working on cars to stop by sometime. Danny Joe was a mechanic, so people would often stop by work on their cars or just talk. The next day, Sunday, I pulled into his driveway in my 1969 Pontiac GTO. A car I bought for $275. He was working on a carburetor or something at his work bench. I really liked Danny Joe, he stayed at his work bench and, although looking up from time to time, let me take my wheelchair out of the back seat of my car, unfold it then transfer into it – a process (back then) that took 2 to 5 minutes, or more. For the first several years, it was important to me that (even though I was at the limits of my abilities, everyday) my family and friends didn’t feel the need to help me every time I showed up. Independences was and is a driving force I’ve had for as long as I can remember – even before the accident.  I’m now 50 years old. I’m not stubborn like I was back then. I don’t turn down everyone’s help. I proved to everyone, especially myself for a long time that I can do it on my own.

Some people are natural teachers or role models. Danny Joe was that to me. I’d spend a few afternoons every week at his garage. There I watched him deal with all the different personalities’ types that stopped by to hang out. It’s a skill that not everyone has. The best part of it was he knew what I was doing. Every once in a while when I’d have a puzzled look he’d actually explain why he said or did something or he’d point out important things. Watching him was fun. Probably the most important thing I learnt from him was to pay attention and listen to ”what” people are saying. You’d be amazed how many people don’t have a clue to what’s going on in their own lives, let lone the town, country or the world. Some people are not very smart while others are too smart. Talking with each is going to be different. The second thing I learnt from Danny Joe was everything has consciousness. Be careful what you say and to whom. My writing these blogs are going to have consciousness. Not all of them are going to be good. The third thing I learnt was ‘’don’t be in a hurry’’. Sit back, listen to others talk and enjoy life. The best way to do that is to ask them a question and that’s where the paying attention comes in. If you ask the right question, you can sit back, relax and enjoy your ”ginger ale” while someone else talks all day. While I do listen a lot more often then some people think, I now tend to be a talker as well.  The other great thing about Danny Joe’s garage was it was a great place to broaden my social contacts. When you don’t leave your house for a couple of years, you lose track of everything and everyone. A few years after I met Danny Joe, he moved to Florida. The last time I seen him was in 1994. He offered me a room in his house if I wanted to move to Florida. I hope you’re doing well Joe.

The first few years of leaving the house I did a lot more listening then talking. I didn’t just study Danny Joe, but others as well. another important observation I learned was to make eye contact. Look people in the eyes and say hi. It sounds simple, but so many people don’t do it especially in bigger cities. This is one area where being in a wheelchair makes life easier. Men don’t think you’re looking for a fight and women don’t think all you want to do is get into their pants. Some of them are right!