A Box of Fortune Cookies
by Saralee Perel
I was always uneasy around a disabled person until I became one myself.
The proper term is “differently abled” but “disabled” works for me because after all, who isn’t disabled in one way or another?
My husband, Bob, and I were at the supermarket. “I have to buy fortune cookies,” I said. “David’s bagging groceries today.”
David is very tall and thin and looks about forty-five. Years ago, he was the victim in a car crash and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“When David’s working,” I told Bob, “I buy him fortune cookies and say, ‘These are for you to have good fortune.’ He never remembers me, but that doesn’t matter.”
With difficulty (due to my spinal cord injury), I hobbled to David. I was using my cane with one arm. The box of cookies was tucked under my other.
He didn’t see me at first. He was diligently and ever-so-carefully putting shoppers’ items in bags. He said kind words to each customer. Simple words that came from his heart, “I hope you have a wonderful day, sir.”
“David?” I said, repeating his name until he could figure out I was there. I handed him the cookies and said, “These are for you to have good fortune.”
He had a five-year-old kid’s look of astonishment. “Are these for me?”
He then looked around as if he had done something wrong – as if he shouldn’t be taking the time to hold a box of cookies.
The cashier appeared annoyed at him. He stammered to her, “These are a present to me, from this young lady.” He pointed to me. “She paid for them and everything.”
I had put the receipt with the box because I had a strange feeling he’d be questioned. Yet, even though David had explained, the cashier still insisted that I confirm he was telling the truth.
I said, “These are paid for. They’re a gift for David.”
She begrudgingly nodded and said to him, “Then you can keep them.”
He said, “Oh thank you.” He was so excited. “These will be my lunch!”
He awkwardly reached out to hug me, not noticing the impatient look from the cashier. What a pair we made, with me being so short and him being so tall that I couldn’t reach up around his shoulders. As we hugged, we were both wobbling so hard that we needed to hold onto one another for balance. Yet, wobble and hug we did. It was heartbreakingly beautiful.
Then I walked away.
Ever since I’ve been disabled, I’ve noticed the stares. Most have been kind “Can I help you?” stares. Children stare at my cane, wondering what it’s for and if they can play with it. Some adults avert their eyes when they see me. That’s what I used to do – before.
On the ride home, Bob said, “Sometimes I’m uncomfortable around disabled people.”
“You’re not uncomfortable around me.”
“That’s because I don’t see you that way.”
“I don’t see you as different.”
I could see gorgeous water lilies on our ride. Did their varied colors mean that one was “different”? I don’t think so. Each one was lovely in its own way.
I pictured David in the back room of the supermarket, savoring his lunch of fortune cookies. And just like I knew him to be – sharing his good fortune with everybody else.
It can also be ordered through Amazon, or directly from the publisher, as well as from Saralee for a personalized signed copy.