11.1.18 Community centre floor
Difference is an odd thing. I'm beginning to realise it's a spectrum - or a wedge maybe is a better image. We're all in it, we're all different, but some of us are undeniably more different than others.
The thin edge of the wedge is a strange place to exist. The further down into difference you go, the more of you that doesn't match, the tighter it all gets. Fewer and fewer people look like you or act like you or live like you. Fewer and fewer environments fit your body or meet your needs, spaces catered for the masses. Opportunities and choices shrink. It gets harder and harder to see yourself in other people, harder and harder to find common ground. You begin to realise what a privilege it is to have the ability to blend in, and what it really means when you don't. More and more people begin to look past you, through you, or to stare. I have never decided which is worse.
Two years ago, a community centre opened five minutes from my house. I had taken another tumble down deeper into that wedge of difference around that time and was trying to learn what that meant for me and how to navigate it. Five minutes from my house was about the limit of my independence, and I will thank the stars until my dying day that fate aligned us like that, me and my community centre, because it meant I could get to it.
It is wide and spacious and light, ceilings high. The coffee is cheap and served by an army of matronly hens who fuss and flap and laugh and remember your name and what you like to eat. The windows face south, the day's light moving in long waves across the tables and chairs and sofas and armchairs, casting great, slow, shadows. From my usual seat, I can see two larches, needles spent now, and a blue cedar. There is elder too, and ash, and young hornbeams all in a line and some days all I do is sit and relish in so many trees all in one place, for that is rare around here.
I go there almost every day for an hour or two if I can. I go there for the light and the free warmth and internet and the high-backed seats that support my head if I need them. I go there for a toilet that doesn't require a climb, and for food and drink placed into my hands by people who know me and care about me, but mostly I go there to stop being different for a while. For my community centre is a temple of difference, glorious and unapologetic, and is more special in that than it knows.
It sits between a sheltered housing complex, a health centre, a care home, a women's refuge, and classrooms for people with learning needs with butterflies all over their windows. There are also meeting rooms for businesses and a dance and yoga studio, but their visitors are the ones who stand out, not us.
Here, everyone is different, or at least us regulars are. Some talk too loudly, using their bodies and their sounds in different ways. Others don't speak at all. No two bodies look alike and no two faces. Some have always been different, others have been made different by age. I, with my odd, lurching gait of a few steps managed here and there, get to join a cheerful legion of shufflers and hunched backs and sagging skin. At any time of count, at least three people will be asleep, nodding chins on chests, and there will often be more slippers than shoes. My wheelchair moves like a slick bobsled across the level floors and there is a counter built to my height. I am never, ever in the way.
It is the best and brightest place I know. I could tell you a hundred tales of life there, and maybe I will. For now, just know that these places are rare and precious. These places split that narrow end of the wedge wide open. These places let you breathe.
Today, I went, still sick and full to the brim, unexpectedly, with a grief for it all that took out my words and my strength, with legs that couldn't manage two steps together and nobody stared and nobody minded.
"Here, Josie duck. Let me get you a coffee."