“I’m looking for a novel written by a deaf quadriplegic,” I said, putting a note to that effect on the counter.
The note sat on the library’s dark mahogany counter under the rays of a brass desk lamp. The librarian, a stern looking woman in her fifties dressed in a no nonsense navy blue A lined dress stared at me, blinked, then looked back down at the note.
“About a deaf quadriplegic?” she asked. “For books about quadriplegics, there’s the Jeffrey Deaver character.”
“No, a novel written by a deaf quadriplegic,” I said.
“Well,” she said, clearing her throat. “For this I suppose you’ll need to follow me.”
She led me through the library in that nonchalant manner many folks do, not bothering to glance behind her to see if I was keeping up on my forearm crutches. I was. I’m good on those crutches having used them my entire life. Born with cerebral palsy, I found my legs never carried me far unless I propped myself up on crutches, adding what I jokingly referred to as a four dimensional approach to walking.
“Betsy is four dimensional!” the kids in my kindergarten grade class yelled to the teacher, Miss Gorman, after recess one day.
Miss Gorman’s smile evaporated and she glanced over at me. “Four dimensional?” she repeated in a noncommittal tone.
I held up one crutch, then the other, then pointed at my legs. “Four dimensions.”
Years later we all learned that we were three dimensional and that I was no exception, but a kindergarten teacher won’t challenge such things. I suppose it’s just as well because it seemed to break the ice in a way between kids who never saw or used crutches before.
It became common to hear them ask if they could borrow one of my “dimensions” referring to my crutches when they couldn’t reach something. And when Tommy Overlook broke his left leg in first grade, the kids all said how wonderful it would be that he’d be four dimensional too. I enjoyed it when someone else was on crutches. Tommy and I played soccer the same way, hitting the ball with one crutch, trying not to fall down as we played each other on the sidelines, banned for liability purposes from the regular gym class. Four dimensional soccer we called it.
We were at the reference desk, manned by a dour looking fellow in his early thirties. The librarian handed him my note. “Simon, this woman would like your help with this.” She nodded brusquely at me, then walked away.
“Well,” Simon said, staring at the note, “this is a treat. Is it for some kind of report?”
“No. Personal interest.”
“I see. Well, I don’t think our library system is set up so that I can find out whether a particular novelist is disabled, much less a certain disability.” He turned toward his computer monitor. “However I could google this for you and try some online resources.” Simon typed out a few words then peered up at me. “There’s a C.A. Harmon who writes children’s books. He has multiple disabilities including blindness, being deaf, quadriplegia and uses a respirator from a condition called Spinocerebellar Degeneration.”
“I see,” I said, nodding.
“I’ll write that down for you.” Simon jotted down the name on a piece of paper.
“But what about a novel by a deaf quadriplegic?” I asked.
He shot me a disgusted look- the one that implies you’re being ungrateful. I’d seen that look many times before during my life – people who offer to help , then get upset when I somehow don’t do it “right”. It’s that mixed message some people give off – “I’m here to help but only in a way I say is okay”.
Besides I could tell he thought he was done. What more could I possibly want than the name of C.A. Harmon?
Simon turned back to his keyboard and monitor and pecked in a few more searches. “No,” he said, “I’m not specifically finding a novel written by a deaf quadriplegic.” He handed me the note. “Do you want this information I found?”
I took the note. “Okay, thanks.”
He nodded rather brusquely and returned to the work on his desk.
“Just one question,” I said.
“Yes?” Simon asked, not looking up.
“Do you think, as a reference librarian, that perhaps it would be a good idea to have a system that could find information like that? About authors, I mean?”
“I suppose. The library does issue lists of authors from different cultures, like for black history month. And, of course, women authors.”
“Yes, lists. But wouldn’t it be good, now that the enormous capacity of search engines like Google exist, to have information referenced in many different ways and more ways? Just a thought. Of course, a list of disabled authors and writers would also be good.”
“It would.” Simon leaned forward toward me. “May I ask why you want this information?”
“Because,” I replied, “I met a deaf quadriplegic who wants to be a novelist. Maybe the first one. But it would help for him to know if there were others – sort of like knowing about your history if you’re from a different culture.”
He nodded. “I see. Well, there is C.A. Harmon.”
I looked at the note. “Yes, there is. And that’s a start. Thanks.” I hesitated, then jotted down my number and handed him the piece of paper back. “Could you do me a favor? If you find any free time and come up with more names, would you please let me know?”
“Sure. Happy to. Good luck to your friend.”
I nodded and made my way back through the library. The librarian looked up at me. “Did you find anyone?”
“A children’s author,” I replied. “As for another – maybe in a couple of years.”
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan