On Thursday night, I enlist Kate's help to pick out an outfit for my date with Rob. I secretly think I have better taste in clothes than she does, but I know she vehemently believes the opposite. In any case, Kate is better at dressing hot.
I have a nice one bedroom apartment that eats up more of my salary than I'd like to admit. It's carpeted, which means I can't spill anything ever. And I have to be a Shoe Nazi, and make everyone go barefoot in the apartment. If I weren't renting, I'd pull this carpet up in a second. But occasionally, it provides amusing moments, like when Kate takes off her shoes and I notice she's painted her toenails with glitter. Like she's 12!
Kate flops down on my bed as I pull out a selection of possibly adequate clothes. I decided when I was 16 that green was the best color for my complexion and dark blond hair, so my wardrobe is mostly green. Kate says my closet looks like shrubbery. She’s always trying to buy me clothes in vivid colors like fire engine red or hot pink, but those all get relegated to the back of the closet.
"Are you going to wear Spanx?" Kate asks me. Spanx is this horrible form-shaping clothing that is very uncomfortable but takes off at least ten pounds. Kate introduced me to it after I gained the dreaded freshman fifteen in college.
"Do you think I need it?" I ask anxiously.
"I think this guy will love you if you show up in a garbage bag, Sam."
It's possible that's true. But the thing is, he's the only one. There were no other reasonable wheelers on Match, and if it didn't work out with him, then I'd really be at a loss. I'd been fantasizing a lot about this date, to the point where the image of Rob in my head was starting to veer significantly (and dangerously) from the picture of him on Match.
"This guy probably doesn't get a lot of dates," Kate points out.
"That's kind of stereotyping. He might get tons of dates."
"He probably hasn't had sex since George Bush was President."
"And I'm talking about George Bush Sr. Not Dubya."
I grab a pillow and whack her in the head. She does manage to sober up enough to help me pick out a green and brown dress that she likes, although it apparently makes me look like a tree. I decide no on Spanx, but yes on a push-up bra, because my tiny boobs are definitely the area where I need the most help. I hope Rob will like what he sees.
I feel grateful that Kate is comfortable with my fetish and she can help me get ready for this date. I mean, none of my other friends know and could do this with me. I’m actually very secretive about being a devotee. My parents don’t know. My brother Tom doesn’t know.
Patrick knew, obviously. One night when we were dating three months and still getting sexually acquainted, we decided to exchange fetishes. I made Patrick go first. He admitted to me that he finds it incredibly hot when a girl blows…
Up a balloon.
Yes, you read that right. The end of that sentence surprised me too. You would not believe it, but there are tons of videos on the internet of girls blowing up balloons. This is a thing. And it got to the point where Patrick and I kept a bag of balloons at our bedside. If we didn’t have a balloon, condoms can be blown up in kind of the same way.
Apparently, there are two factions of balloon fetishists. There are the ones that feel like the balloon cannot pop. If it pops, it ruins the whole thing! And then there are the ones that think that the popping is basically the climax. If the balloon doesn’t pop, then what’s the point? Really, the arguments can get pretty brutal. Patrick felt strongly that the balloon shouldn’t pop. He was talking about it once, and I could see a little vein bulging out in his neck.
The balloon thing is one of those little cutesy fetishes that a little weird and quirky, but doesn’t really offend anyone. Like having a foot fetish or something like that. I don’t consider my kink to be weird and quirky. Finding disabled people sexy definitely crosses the line into sick and twisted.
I was scared to tell Patrick my own fetish for this reason. I’d told boyfriends before, and while none of them reacted badly before, I was still embarrassed. I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t actually even tell him. I had to make him guess.
“So remember how I dragged you to Avatar three times?” I said. I have literally seen that movie ten times now. The plot is stupid, but Jake is just so, so hot in it. I’m convinced that James Cameron is secretly a devotee, considering he also was responsible for one of my favorite TV shows about a disabled guy: Dark Angel. That was the dumbest show I’ve ever seen, but man, was the wheeler hot. “Did you wonder why I liked it so much?”
Patrick got this perplexed look on his face. “Do you like… blue… people?”
That was the best he could come up with. “No. I liked Jake.”
“As an alien or a person?”
“Oh...” Patrick said. He still couldn’t figure it out. “Because he’s in the military?”
“No… because he’s… you know… in a… wheelchair.”
“Oh!” Patrick looked relieved, to be honest. I guess he was imagining me wanting to rape him with my long blue ponytail or something.
Bless his heart, Patrick did try to satisfy my fetish. He really did. But he was just too perfect. With his rippling muscles and amazing physique, Patrick was about as far as you could get from being disabled. Sometimes when we were in bed together, he’d whisper in my ear something along the lines of, “I hope I can satisfy you with my crippled body.” And I’d just cringe.
Playing at disability never did it for me. I wish it did, because that would have made my life a hell of a lot easier. But it doesn’t. I want the real thing.
I got a sinking feeling when my day on Friday started out like crap. I believe in good days and bad days. If something good happens in the morning, I take it as an omen that the rest of the day will be good. And if something bad happens, I basically refuse to leave the house for the rest of the day. I know that's an oddly superstitious attitude for an engineer to have, but I can't help myself. I've always been that way."
Anyway, my boss marched into my cubicle first thing Friday morning and told me I was going to be giving a presentation on Monday. Goodbye, weekend. Luckily, I could work on it at home, so I wouldn't have to actually be at work, but the thought of doing work on the weekend just made me sick. And I couldn't hope to get it out of the way on Friday night, since I had my date. Which was now destined to go horribly.
But the rest of the day didn't go too badly, so I try to tell myself that the presentation thing was an isolated incident. Things might still go well with Rob. But just in case, I decide to wear a brighter shade of lipstick. Whoring it up never hurts.
The Apple store is on my way to the diner, and I can't help but take a peek inside. Even if nothing will ever happen between him and me, I know seeing Chris will get me revved up for my date. Except unfortunately, I don't see him inside. I'm about to continue on my way, when that voice startles me once again.
I whirl around and see Chris sitting in his wheelchair, just outside the door to the store. His deep brown eyes are looking at me from behind his rimless frames and my knees get that weak feeling again. His feet are perfectly aligned in the single footplate to be right next to each other and he's got a paper bag on his lap, presumably his dinner. I smell Chinese.
"Oh, hi," I say. I act like I'm thinking real hard to remember his name: "Uh... Chris?"
"Yeah, that's right," he says, brightening visibly. For a second, I see his gaze run over my dress, which is pretty short and clings very nicely to my skin. Maybe it's my imagination, but his eyes seem to widen slightly. He puts his hand on the bag on his lap and I hear crinkling of the brown paper. "Did you...um... come to look at phones?"
I couldn't very well tell Chris that I had come to gawk at him, could I? "No, I was just sort of, um, passing by, you know?" Smooth, Sam. So smooth.
"Going somewhere special?" he asks me. “You look…” I bite my lip, waiting for a possible compliment. “You look dressed up.”
I look dressed up. Be still my heart!
I hesitate for a minute, then figure I may as well tell him. "I have a date."
He nods and drops his gaze. "Oh, of course. Okay. Well, have fun then."
He reaches out and pushes his fist into the button on the door with the little blue handicapped symbol on it, and the unlocked door swings open automatically. There's something sexy about the way he does that. But then again, this guy could make eating a pickle look sexy. Wait no, bad example. Pickles are very sexual.
I’d give anything to be going out with Chris tonight instead of Rob, but that’s obviously not going to happen, so I continue on my way to the diner.
We agreed to meet outside the diner, and I see Rob made it there before I did, even though I’m about five minutes early. He’s sitting there like he’s been waiting half an hour, which makes me check my watch to make sure I got the time straight. In any case, he’s pretty hard to miss, being the only wheeler in sight.
When I first see Rob, I stop short. And for a moment, I consider doing an about-face and making a run for it.
Rob is not attractive. At all. He looked reasonably okay in his profile photo, but that must have been the best photo taken of him in his entire life. And it was taken at least five years ago, because Rob looks significantly older. And heavier. And balder. Compared with the photo, his hairline has seriously receded. He’s not bald, but he’s definitely balding. He will be bald.
And in the photo, he was in a manual wheelchair. But now he’s in a power wheelchair. Not that I wouldn’t date a guy who was in a power wheelchair, but I feel like maybe it’s another level that I need to work up to. Of course, it might help if he weren’t so overweight that he’s practically spilling out of the chair. He is not rocking the power wheelchair look.
I feel like an awful person saying all this stuff. But here’s the thing: the whole reason I’m looking for a disabled guy is due to the attraction I have. Dating an unattractive wheeler sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
Of course, just as I’ve made up my mind to run for it, Rob spots me. He recognizes me from my photo and I’m forced to come over to him and give him an exaggeratedly enthusiastic hello.
“Hi!” I say, hoping he’ll look better up close but knowing he won’t. “You’re Rob, right?”
“Yeah,” he says. “And you must be Sam.”
Now I can’t fault a guy for looking me over. Chris did it too. Pretty much every guy does it… I think it must be encoded on the Y chromosome. But Rob does it in such a painfully obvious way, I feel like he’s eye-fucking me. I mean that in a bad way.
“Wow, you are really pretty,” Rob says to me.
“Thank you,” I say.
Rob grins at me. “You want to go inside? Get some food?”
I really, really don’t. But I recognize that at this point, I have no choice but to go through with this date.
Even though Rob picked this place, it quickly becomes obvious we’re not going to be able to eat here because even though there are no stairs, he can’t fit through the door. His wheelchair is about an inch too wide. He makes several attempts, maneuvering carefully and slowly with the joystick on his chair, but it’s pretty clear he’s not going to make it. “Sorry,” he says to me. “I was in a different wheelchair the last time I was here. This one is bigger.”
“It’s okay,” I say. “We can go somewhere else.”
Rob smiles at me. “Usually I’d feel really weird about something like this happening, but I know you don’t mind.”
Aaaaand… now I hate myself.
Rob and I head uptown, looking for another restaurant. As we go down the street, he tries to put one hand on the small of my back. Meanwhile, I’m trying to move away from him because the thought of him touching me is distasteful.
After way too long, we find an Italian restaurant with a big enough door for him to fit through. Even then it’s a little bit of a problem maneuvering through the restaurant to get to an empty table. Everyone in the restaurant is staring at us, and I know this sounds bad, but I actually feel embarrassed to be on a date with this guy. At one point, he manages to knock over some lady’s wine glass and it spills all over her white blouse. “I’m really sorry,” Rob says to her. And he actually tries to lean forward to pick up the fallen glass from the floor. But he’s got a seatbelt over his lap and he can’t manage it. Then his leg starts going into spasms and he grabs it to calm it down.
“Are you all right, sir?” the hostess tells him.
“I’m fine,” Rob says as his leg thankfully stops jumping.
When we get to our table, the hostess pulls away a chair and I sit in the remaining seat across from Rob. It’s funny how I’d always dreamed of being on a date with a wheeler, and now that I am, I just want this to be over. The sad part is, I can tell that Rob really made an effort tonight. He has on a nice, crisp white shirt and a tie. I don’t remember the last time a guy put on a tie just for a date. Also, he has this silly grin plastered across his face like he’s thrilled to be here.
“What is it?” I finally say.
“I just think it’s really cool, that’s all,” Rob says, still grinning. “I have to be honest, I get rejected a lot because of being in a wheelchair, and it’s just great to be with someone who is into that.”
“Well, I’m not that into it,” I say lamely.
“Into it enough to answer a Match ad just because of that,” he pointed out.
Before I can start insisting I didn’t like disabled guys after all, the waiter comes and takes our drink orders. As a rule, I don’t drink anything stronger than wine on first dates. But tonight, I order a Long Island Iced Tea. The only way I’m getting through this date is to get smashed.
I watch Rob as he fiddles with the cocktail napkin in front of him. His hands are shaking a little. “I don’t date very much,” he admits. “I signed up for Match a while ago, but I haven’t gotten many dates out of it. Have you been on Match long?”
“Not that long,” I say. I’m not about to admit that I signed up just to meet him.
“You’re really awesome,” Rob says, smiling at me a little more shyly this time. “You know, you can ask me questions if you like. About my disability. I don’t mind.”
“Yeah, I mean, I bet you’re really interested,” he says. “Most girls just get freaked out.”
“Like what do they do?” I ask. Just so I could avoid repeating history.
“A bunch of girls have gotten their friends to call them and make up some bullshit excuse to leave,” Rob says. Damn, Escape Plan #1 is out the window. “Or else they start the pity party, acting all sorry for me and patronizing.”
“You’re telling me.” He sighs. “One girl was a religious nut, and she tried to convince me that if I went to her church and picked up the faith, I’d definitely be able to walk again. I even went once because I was hoping it might make her like me better. But it didn’t.”
Our drinks arrive. It’s like a big glass of liquid courage.
“So how long have you been in a wheelchair?” I ask him as I take a big gulp.
“About six years,” Rob says. “I was having a surgery and they cut a blood vessel to my spinal cord. I still have sensation, but I can’t move my legs at all.”
“Oh,” I say. I run my finger along the rim of my glass.
“And I can feel everything down there, if you know what I mean.” Rob winks at me.
I know what he means (because I am not a complete idiot), and now I have to take another gulp of my drink to keep from picturing what he means.
“It was a rough adjustment the first few years,” Rob says. “But now it feels normal to me. Like, it would almost be weird to be walking at this point.”
“So if your arms are okay, how come you’re using a power wheelchair?”
Rob holds out his pudgy wrists. “I gained some weight and got pretty bad carpal tunnel.” He turns his hands around and I see scars across both his wrists. “I had surgery to fix it, but I still get pain. So I switched to the power chair to save my wrists, except that’s only made me gain more weight, so the carpal tunnel’s gotten worse. Bad cycle.”
“Oh,” I say, and I feel bad for him. It’s not his fault his weight makes him unattractive to me. But at the same time, I still don’t feel anything. Generally, I find scars very sexy, but Rob’s scars don’t turn me on at all.
The waiter comes and takes our orders. Rob orders a chicken fettuccini alfredo that probably has about a billion calories in it, which makes me feel a little less sorry for him. After the waiter disappears, Rob turns his attention back to me. “So tell me, Sam,” he says. “What do you find so hot about us crips?”
He said that way, way too loud. I feel my cheeks getting hot. “I don’t know,” I murmur under my breath. “I guess I just feel like most guys I meet have had such an easy life. When I meet a guy in a wheelchair, I know he’s faced adversity and it’s made him a deeper person.”
That’s not entirely untrue. I do believe all those things, but it doesn’t quite explain my attraction. Like why do I get all hot and bothered every time I lay eyes on a wheelchair, even if it’s empty? Or the way I’ve gotten accidentally aroused by several bicycles before I realized what they really were. But I’m not about to start psychoanalyzing myself in front of this guy.
“I mean, a girl like you could get any guy she wants,” Rob says. “You don’t have to settle or anything.”
He’s making me sound like the most gorgeous woman on the planet. I’m so not. I’m somewhat attractive. I can’t get any guy I want, trust me.
“It’s so awesome you’re into wheelers,” Rob goes on.
I flash him a tight smile.
Rob reaches across the table and takes my hand in his. His hand is smoother than Chris’s, and it’s pretty sweaty (not that I should talk). I feel a wave of revulsion come over me, and all I can think is, “How the hell am I going to get out of this?” And then, to my horror, Rob pulls my hand into his lap and places it squarely on a bulge that I’m fairly sure is his penis.
I snatch my hand away from him and stare at him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
Rob looks shocked. “I thought you… I mean, you said you were into… this.”
“You thought I’d want to give you a handjob on a first date in a restaurant?” And now I’m the one talking way, way too loud. A few people actually turn to stare at us.
Of course, this is the moment when our food arrives. The waiter plops our plates down in front of us, but I’m already grabbing for my purse. I’m not hungry enough to spend another minute with this guy.
“Please don’t go,” Rob whispers, his eyebrows scrunched together. “I’m really sorry, Sam. Please stay and finish the meal.”
I shake my head. Sorry, Rob, but I am gone baby gone.
Rob tries to touch my arm but I yank it away. “Please, Sam,” he says again. I can see sweat breaking out on his forehead. “I haven’t been out on a date in a really long time. I just got excited when you said you were… well, anyway, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to freak you out.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you didn’t.”
“Please, Sam.” I look at his face and his eyes almost seem watery. “Don’t leave.”
I have every right to storm out of this restaurant in a huff, but something makes me hesitate. I mean, I don’t want to make the guy start bawling.
“You don’t have to see me again if you don’t want to,” Rob says. “Just please, stay and finish your food, okay?”
Well, I am hungry. This is better than grabbing White Castle on the way home.
I end up staying to finish my food, which I do as quickly as possible. Rob mostly stares at his plate through the whole meal, and I mostly do the same. At the end of the meal, he pays the check. We exchange less than half a dozen words in that entire time.
And then, as we’re leaving the restaurant, Rob knocks into a table and spills some lady’s wine again. When I look at the lady, I realize it’s the exact some customer whose glass he knocked over on the way in, who now has two purple stains on her blouse. The look of disbelief on the lady’s face would have been funny if I wasn’t so miserable.
We get outside and I can see beads of sweat on Rob’s brow. He’s got pretty bad pit stains too. Again, I feel that twinge of guilt. Who’s going to go out with this guy if even a devotee won’t go for him? He offers me a sad smile. “I guess it would be too much to ask for a hug?”
Okay, that was a lot of nerve. I don’t feel sorry for him anymore.
“A friendly hug?” he pleads.
There is no way in hell I am touching this guy ever again, not even to be nice. “Goodbye, Rob,” I say.
He looks at me, frowning. He rubs his knee. “You know, you don’t act like a girl who’s into disabled guys.”
“Goodbye, Rob,” I say again.
He looks like he’s about to say something else, but then he changes his mind. “All right, I’ll see you around,” Rob says.
In a perfect world, that would have been the end of my night. Well, not a perfect world, but a “less horrible” world. I would have marched off in the opposite direction and never seen Rob again. But the gods were angry that night, and they decided to torture me a little bit more. That’s the only explanation I can think of for the fact that my ex-boyfriend Patrick chose that moment to bump into us.
“Sam!” He looks utterly shocked to see me, despite the fact that he knows I don’t live far from here. And he does live far from here, which makes me wonder why he’s on my territory.
And what’s worse, he appears to be on a date. He’s standing next to a really cute blond girl, who’s got the trifecta of being younger, prettier, and bustier than me. And she has the kind of long, flowing hair that mostly only girls in the movies have. For a moment, I can kid myself that maybe this girl isn’t with Patrick, but it quickly becomes clear that she is.
“Hi, Patrick,” I say, wanting to crawl into a crack in the sidewalk.
“Um, this is Karen,” Patrick says, indicating his adorable date.
We shake hands. Karen’s hand is so soft, and her fingers are long and slender. I’m beginning to want to date this woman. Anyone would be better than Rob.
Speaking of which, Rob is sitting there in his wheelchair, patiently waiting to be introduced. Crap, there’s no way I’m going to be able to get out of this, is there? I don’t want to introduce him. I don’t want Patrick to think he’s my boyfriend or my date or even some guy I know. But I guess my upbringing won’t allow me to be rude, so I’m forced to do introductions.
“This is Rob,” I finally say, almost choking on the words.
That’s right, Patrick. You are on a date with a woman who could be a model, and I am on a date with… this guy.
What bugs me most is that Patrick acts like Rob and I are deeply in love. He shakes Rob’s hand, and then pats me on the shoulder and says, “I’m really happy for you, Sam.” He’s not trying to be a jerk, but I still want to punch him in his ruggedly handsome face.
“She’s a great girl,” Patrick says to Rob. “Be good to her.”
“I will,” Rob says.
And now I want to punch Rob.
I watch Patrick and Karen walk off, and I’m left alone with Rob, who is smiling like an idiot again. I glare at him. “Why did you tell him you’d be good to me when we’re never going to see each other again?”
The smile fades from Rob’s face. “Well, what should I have said? ‘Sorry, she hates me because I put her hand on my penis’?”
“Well, anyway,” I say. “Goodbye, Rob.”
He still refuses to say goodbye, but I want him to realize that’s what this is. So to get my point across, I wave very emphatically before marching off in the opposite direction.
Honestly, it’s enough to turn a girl away from cripples.