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by Evelyn Rae
I love the feel of wind in my face as I wheel fast. I lean forward just a little and give my wheel rims hard thrusts. The air lifts my hair and pushes over my skin. It’s yummy. I almost feel like I’m flying.
My favorite place to do this is the track in the park by my house. Its surface is smooth and there’s almost never anyone there. Just some old ladies walking on the far edge sometimes. I zoom past them on the inner loop.
I don’t have a racing chair. I just like building up speed and zipping along pretending I’m a bird. I barely notice my legs jiggling as I push. The only thing I feel is elation and the only thing I hear is my heart beating in my rib cage. My boobs bounce slightly, but I don’t think anyone notices the rack on a paraplegic girl. Too busy tut-tutting over my legs.
I’m grinning like a fool when I finally take my hands off the wheels, coast for several seconds and allow my chair to come to a gentle stop. My windbreaker jacket is hanging off my shoulders and bunching up behind my back and I know my hair must be a fluffy wreck, with curls darting off in all directions. I can feel the ruddy glow of my cheeks rebelling against the chilly air.
That’s when I notice a man standing in the parking lot and looking over at the track. He’s a young man, around my age or maybe a little older and he’s got his hands deep in his pockets, causing his shoulders to rise. He’s looking at me.
Just as I meet his eyes, seeing how gray and deep they are, he frowns, darts his head and turns, walking back into the parking lot. I frown too. Who is this man? I’ve never seen him before. I’m tempted to chase after him but there’s no way I’d catch up pushing my wheelchair over the grass.
Another part of me doesn’t want to be anywhere close to this stranger. Men are dangerous. We’re all told this from a young age. Be careful of men. They may want to rape you. And after my experiences with men, I might be even more distrusting than most.
Cold returns to me as my heart rate normalizes and the flush of going fast fades away. I shiver and pull my windbreaker back up to sit snugly on my shoulders the way it should. I push toward the parking lot, the zipper of my coat clinking rhythmically against the spokes of one wheel with a music like windchimes. The grass is rough and my upper arms ache as I force my wheels to turn. The uneven ground bounces beneath me, vibrating through my chair all the way up to my teeth. I’m concentrating and so I don’t look up until I reach the parking lot and the ground evens out.
Movement catches my eye and I look to the adjacent side of the lot where a group of skateboarders are enjoying a new half-pipe that wasn’t there even last week. I sit mesmerized by the way they swoop up the sides, grab the edge with one hand while their feet fly off into open air. It looks like a lot of fun.
Then I see something even more amazing. I roll forward, the palms of my hands making whispery sounds against my wheel rims, and my mouth hangs slightly open. There’s a guy in a wheelchair on the half-pipe. The chair itself is small and compact. The man is strapped to it and wears a helmet and knee-pads. At the top edge he pushes off and is completely in the air for a good three seconds. The chair connects with the side of the pipe and he gives it more speed, sailing up the other side. He lets one wheel go off the edge and swings around with an expert flick of his hands. I try to imagine my body making this motion, my wheels soaring over the edge of the half-pipe.
I have to do it. I have to learn. I can only imagine the kind of wind I'd feel rolling down the incline of a half-pipe. This guy has got to teach me how to move like he does.
I'm about to roll over and try to get his attention when I hear a horn honk and then my mother is calling out her car window, “Chelsea! What are you doing over there?”
I sigh. I'm just putting my hands on my wheels to turn around when I happen to look up and straight into the guy's eyes. Even from several yards away with his helmet on I see the same gray eyes and I gasp. My stomach tenses. This is the man who was watching me?
I'm thrown. After all, I saw him standing up just minutes ago. But then, people need wheelchairs for different reasons. Some people can walk a little bit.
“Chelsea! We need to get going.”
I turn and wheel to my mom's car. Even though I’m twenty-two, my mother has gotten particularly protective after what happened to me. I still live at home and I don’t really mind it. I prefer to be around people. I don’t want to be left alone with my thoughts.
I open the back door and lean in. I press my hand on the seat and swing myself into the car. Mom makes hurry up gestures while I slip the wheels off my chair and load them in next to me. I lift my legs in one at a time. They are light and small, easy to move around. I grab my knee and pull them further in while I close the door.
“Did you have fun, sweetie?” Mom says.