the emily post of car crashes

“Bless you.”

I rolled my eyes as the elevator doors slid shut.

I sighed heavily, my hands tense on the arms of my wheelchair. I was annoyed at the man in the suit who couldn’t help himself, who had waited fifteen flights up to bless me as he exited the elevator. I’m sure he was well meaning, but I didn’t need anyone’s blessing.

I knew what I looked like. I mean, truly, I was a disaster. I’d take a second look. Not only was I in a wheelchair, but I had hair that stood up in short dark spikes, a by-product of a shaved head and hair desperate to make a comeback. I wore white pressure garments resembling too-tight spandex that I would tell every girl to run away from, and, here I was, forced to wear them to combat the raised scars on my arms and legs. I was too pale, too skinny, but it was my legs, or lack thereof, that alerted people to the obvious, that something had gone very wrong. I was a clown in a garish costume in a sea of ordinary and all I longed to do was to step out of my costume and join the sea.

That longing grew greater as strangers went out of their way to place a hand on my shoulder, mutter a quick prayer, or crouch to look me in the eye and ply me with questions.

“What happened to you?”

This was usually asked slowly, each word enunciated, emphasis on the you.

My standard answer was, “I was in a car accident.”

For some, who understood tight-lipped responses, the answer was satisfactory and they moved on. For others, who were immune to social cues, followed up the first question with wide eyes, “Was it bad?”

I wanted to respond with snark. To ask incredulously, “Are you freaking kidding me?” Followed by, “Seriously??” And, finally, a roll of the eyes so huge I would put a moody teenager to shame.

But, I opted for the polite way, the Emily Post way, and met their irritating curiosity with calm.


I enjoyed not giving them what they wanted.

10 thoughts on “the emily post of car crashes

  1. Linda Sue

    Heidi brilliant Heidi! I suppose it is difficult to be honest (snarky) in that position, I mean you wouldn't want people to NOT bring you water…BUT, that situation really calls for snarkiness! People are so dumb sometimes and then they make it worse by trying to back peddle…you were so gracious – still are- but I say- snarky is honesty! well done, dearest Heidi!

  2. Intense Guy

    If those people had really cared beyond the superficial "I'm glad that's not me!"-level one would perhaps forgive them for getting off on the wrong foot? You very own description of yourself is … horrifying and fascinating combined… and shocking and not commonly seen.

    Its hard to mean well without sounding trite… and sometimes stupid.

    I can see it from your point of view – the "endless line" of clueless people gaping at you – that would surely drive anyone to be snarky (or perhaps even bitter) but you showed grace and class… Your grace and class is why I read your heart-rending story.

  3. CoffeeJitters (Judy Haley)

    people (me included) seem to swing between these extremes – either (1) they don't know what to say or they're afraid to say the wrong thing so they completely pull away and disappear, or (2) they open their big mouths and say something idiotic or insensitive.
    why is it so difficult to find a middle ground between those points?

    whatever the reason, you shouldn't have had to deal with their lack of social skill.

  4. Heidi

    lesley, no, you're the bestest! thanks. 🙂

    Linda Sue, I knew you would appreciate the snark! And probably tell me I should have gone for it. That's what I love about you.

    intense guy & judy, Yes! You get it. It was that people went out of their way to say something to me. Sometimes crossing a street to make their way to me. I'm not kidding.

    I've had experiences where you happen to be in the same room for a while and you get talking and, well, it comes up. But, what bothered me so much about the people that popped up out of nowhere was their morbid curiosity …they wanted the gory details. I understood people's curiosity, but I didn't understand their need to pry.

  5. kendalee

    As others have mentioned, it's often difficult to navigate these situations socially but I always feel that the onus is with the person who has the answers to invite questions or initiate a discussion about what happened… if they chose to. The fact that there is a story there doesn't mean someone wants to share it and it's so hideously insensitive to probe, curious or not. I admire that you swallowed the snark Heidi. I don't know if I'd have been as controlled or gracious. I'm fairly sure I wouldn't have been!

  6. loraleigh

    Just for the record…
    I think your eye rolls (especially the big ones) are fantastic. And I love your appropriate use of swears. 🙂

    Much love to you my friend xoxo(would love to communicate the feeling of warmth with text lingo, but I don't know how)

  7. Kate Coveny Hood

    Honestly? You really can't win when someone is dealing with loss. Almost anything you say can be hurtful. So if it's a stranger, it's really best to leave it alone. Sure – friends can push buttons, say the wrong things and still know that you understand WHY they are f*cking up so badly and forgive them for it. But strangers? Just be pleasant and leave it at that.

  8. jessica

    I gotta tell you. I went through a red light and almost hit a cop. Do you know how many ppl asked me if she gave me a ticket? Um hello?…..

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