CN: Ableism, Threats of Violence,
It’s been a hard week for me. Today was the first day I could walk semi- normally after crashing my e-bike into a car on Thursday.My legs are black and blue. I’ve got whiplash, sore muscles, and have spent the last several days in bed with icepacks at the ready.
I was happy to be feeling better today, because tonight I was going to see “Phantom of the Opera” at the NAC with my 11 year old niece.
Being barely able to move, with my legs looking like a cross between a gorilla and a black and blue elephant, and not to mention that fabric on my legs is extreme agony, I opted to wear some comfortable pants and running shoes. I wasn’t going to risk falling again by wearing heels, or risk having a miserable evening by wearing clothes that hurt my legs, or revealed their startling mosaic of bruised hairy nightmares to the whole NAC. Pants are definitely more respectful.
When we arrived at our seats, sitting directly ahead of me was someone I knew. The person who told me Phantom was in town and one of the reasons I bought tickets for this showing for this specific section. This way I’d have someone nearby that I knew, and my anxiety wouldn’t be as bad. When we get to our seats, I see that she’s there. So far, so good.
I said hello as I sat down. She looks at me with disgust in her eyes. “Really? You couldn’t dress up? This is the NAC, Sophie, you’re an embarrassment.” Well. I’m sure my hairy black and blue legs would have been more so, thank you very much. The safety zone I’d planned on wasn’t going to happen, clearly, but I had a backup plan. I took out my Anxiety Duck. He comes with me to my appointments all the time, and helps keep me calm. Again, my “friend” felt the need to comment: “Really? Put that away. You’re humiliating me.” OK fine. Guess who’s on ignore the rest of the evening.
I grab my duck, and my niece and I have fun making sure he’s comfortably sitting on my lap. The show is about to start. Over the loudspeakers are the normal news items, and a reminder that videotaping equipment and photography are strictly prohibited.
I understand this. I accept this. The only picture I’ve taken so far is of my niece’s adorable cat nylons. I tell the people next to me “I’m half blind, and will be using my phone to be able to see the stage. I’ll have it on low light, and block the glare with my hands”. Which I proceed to do.
You see, I have complete central blindness. I only see from peripherals. And the stage… well, it’s in my center field, and a complete blank to me. Aim the phone, adjust the zoom to have the full stage on my screen, cover the edges with my hands, and bring the phone up to my face where I can see it in my periphery by looking at my hands, and it won’t bother anyone.
A ball of used napkins hits my head and then bounces off my nieces arm.
“No phones allowed!”
“Shut that thing off”
“get out of here you bitch”
There were others. I blocked most of it out.
“I’m half blind!” I exclaim. The guy to my right, who’d had no problems when I said I’d be using my phone to be able to see, says to me “Use binoculars” and turns away with a grunt.
Yeah. Binoculars that work by focusing things into your central vision. Which I don’t have. I’m sure that would work great.
People kick my seat, and I lower the phone. During unfamiliar scenes (The play is different from the highlight’s CD I have at home) I bring the phone back up to be able to watch, so I know what’s going on.
It’s about halfway through the first act, and an usher comes down our row.
“If you don’t put that away, you’re going to be forced to leave.”
I can’t do anything, and I don’t want to bother the other guests, so I do as he says, and spend the second half of act 1 listening to the play and watching my niece enjoy it.
Intermission came. I went to the bathroom, and then sought out an user.
“I have to discuss something, but I’m very emotional about this.”
She’s very nice. Takes me aside. I start explaining to her what’s going on, and she brings me to another user, her manager, I think.
“I’m the one you told to turn off her phone. And I want to. But I can’t see. I can’t use binoculars. I’m not taking pictures. I’m not taking videos. I’m just using the zoom feature on my phone to be able to see the show, which is my favourite musical, and it’s the first time I ever have a chance to see it in Ottawa. And I’d love to sit closer but I can’t, and the stage is a giant blind spot for me, can I please use my phone to be able to see?”
They are both kind, and understanding. And my niece has snuck out of the theatre to check on me since I was taking a long time. She holds me while I cry, and the senior usher puts his hand on my shoulder in sympathy.
The younger one, female, comes with us as we go sit down, and explains to the people around me that I’m half blind and have permission to use my phone to be able to see the show.
“We paid for this too! We want a refund!”
“The glare will be distracting” (which I was controlling using my hands as a photo box)
“If she can’t see, she should stay home”
“She’s just trying to scam the system and take pictures”
“keep disabled people out of society”
“You’re just a waste of resources”
“All gimps should die”
Here I am, sitting down, in tears, horrified at what I’m being told. Humiliated that my 11 year old niece is having to witness this. Distraught that the person I thought would be a friend is turning around to yell at us all to shup up.
The man to my right changed places with his girlfriend. Guess he didn’t want to be near the underdressed burden to society. His girlfriend is handing me tissues to blow my nose, and wipe my eyes. I was so upset, I’m not even sure what order I did that in. For all I know I’ve got nose gunk stuck on my cheeks now from wiping my tears. Least of my worries, if I have to admit.
The lights dim. The people behind us keep whispering these nasty things (see above). When I keep my mouth shut and start to cry more, my niece hugs me, and tells me it’s okay. She loves me. And the lady to my right hands me more tissues. And we’re all doing our best to ignore the hacklers behind us.
They don’t like this. I take my phone out of my lap and aim it at the stage, and start watching in my (literally) hand-made photobox. The people behind me start kicking my seat. I ignore it. So they continue by kicking both my seat, and that of my niece. This 11 year old sweet adorable girl who’s done nothing wrong except accept an invitation from me to go to a play at the NAC. Throughout the second half, the kicking of the seats pretty much doesn’t stop. Except for when they decide to use the top of our backrests as footstools. They can’t reach my seat. But my niece spends most of act 2 leaning forward in her seat, due to the feet that are IN HER FACE if she sits back on her chair.
The person to my niece’s left occasionally turns to tell them to behave, and grow up. They respond by telling my niece she should be ashamed to be in public with me.
By the end of the show, I’m still in tears. Hours later, I’m still in tears, and mad as hell.
My niece says she had a good evening despite the people kicking her seat and putting their feet on her head, just because she was with me. Despite the people humiliating me, shaming me, telling me I should die, because I am a half-blind, disabled woman, who had the NERVE to think she was allowed to TRY to have a normal life, and to see her favourite musical at the theatre.
After the show, I pulled us both out of the way to let people pass, as my anxiety was mounting in the crowd. The user spotted me and told me if I ever go to play in the future, let them know beforehand, they will speak to people before the play to tell them I’ll be using my phone to be able to see the play. So at least I won’t have usher’s threatening to kick me out next time. The hecklers though… who knows?
I am just astounded at the complete lack of compassion that humans have for others… especially those who are disabled.
I’m glad my niece enjoyed it. But I don’t know when I’ll have the courage to go out in public again.