“You just gotta find the people who are willing to help you stack portable ramps dangerously on top of each other to get you into the frat houses for parties.”
Such is something a fellow delbasid friend and mentor told me when I was entering college and she was a senior. Thankfully, my college has wheelchair accessible frat houses, and I am not a frat party type of gal anyway. But what this person told me rings true in that for delbasid individuals, at least for me, there is a certain criteria aside from the normal indicators of friendship (gives you a shoulder to cry on, makes you laugh, feels like a fraction of you, is saddened by your sadness and joyed by your joy) that signal who a real friend is.
Knee-deep into my sophomore year of college, I believe I have found “my people” on campus. Not to say I didn’t find them last year – in fact, most of my best friends are people I know from freshman year – but there is a certain depth of connection one can only reach through the mere passage of time spent together, the amount of life conquered together.
As this time has passed, I’ve reminisced about the first impressions I had of some of these people around me and the steady development of our friendship. And recently, I have started to do this thing where I rank the closeness I feel with an individual by association of whether or not they put my elbow up on the table for me at a meal. Let me elaborate.
In order for me to eat independently, I must first get assistance putting my right elbow up on the table in front of me at a specific 90 degree elbow-to-chest angle. From this position onward, as long as I am handed a fork, I am able to feed myself and carry on with the meal as a non-delbasid person would. With this in mind, here is how I determine the stage of friendship I’m at with an individual:
The Stranger. I am not comfortable asking them to put my elbow up on the table for me, and thus I proceed to order the rare foods that I can stab easily with a fork and shimmy into my mouth, even with my elbow at a low position. Cut up fruit and steak frites are good examples of such foods. I have this irrational fear that one day I will go on a date with a stranger and have to ask them to put my elbow up on the table for me. Why must the first step into a relationship of any kind be “let’s get a meal sometime”?
The Acquaintance. I am comfortable explaining that I can eat independently once my elbow is up on the table and asking them to help me put it there. It’s amazing how much easier it is asking someone you barely know for help over someone you don’t know at all. ‘Barely’ is something, and so ‘barely’ is a lot. ‘Barely’ goes a long way. I have yet to come across a person who is unwilling to help me with this simple task of putting my elbow up on the table, but the Acquaintance usually makes a bigger deal out of it than need-be. They get up from their seat across from me, walk around the table, cup my elbow with both hands as if it is a frail infant, and gently place it on the table. “A little more inwards, please,” I usually follow-up. “Slightly more to the left. Perfect, thanks.”
The Friend. I ask them to put my elbow up on the table, and they know what to do. They hit me with the “Oh yeah, of course.” They put it up, shift it around to the perfect position at my request, and hand me my fork. I’ve discovered there’s a power in the word ‘oh’ before the ‘yeah’ – an implication of history, an enthusiasm, a recollected understanding. Sometimes, once the food is served, a Friend will ask if I need my elbow up on the table before I even bring it up. That’s a Good Friend.
The Best Friend. I don’t have to ask them to put my elbow up on the table; they’re already on it. The food arrives, they reach across the table (a certain level of rudeness indicates closeness, I think), and grab my hand as if going in for a worthy handshake at a job interview. They lift my arm up into the air and set it back down — my elbow hitting the table in a smooth landing. This process sometimes follows a cue I give them, but often, no prompt is necessary. They just know. In fact, it’s instinctive. The Best Friend is a rare breed; keep close if found.
I’ve gotten into the habit of trying to minimize the amount of physical help I ask my friends for — I recognize the importance of differentiating between my friends and my helpers. I wish my friends could just be my friends, as I wish my mom could just be my mom, and my dad just my dad — not my helpers. But as I pile into my accessible minivan to go out to dinner with my five of my Best Friends, I look around to see one preparing to drive us, adjusting the driver’s seat to the appropriate height, and the four others crouched around me on the floor — one person by each wheel — expertly hooking my wheelchair up to its tie-down safety straps. I thank them for making sure I don’t fly out of the car in an emergency situation. They thank me for organizing a fun trip off campus. We drive, singing (shouting) throwback jams the whole way, eager to fill our stomachs with non-dining hall food. I realize that, perhaps, a friend and a helper are one and the same, and that’s not a bad thing.