When my husband, Barton and I moved into our new house, our neighbors were curious and commented, “Was Barton in a wheelchair when you met him? You are so good to have married him.” I laughed off the usual assumptions, “Well, actually, I’m so blessed that he married me.” I go on to tell our love story.
Before Barton and I met, I lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Barton was finishing up school at the University of Arizona in Tucson. We met training at a martial arts seminar in Tucson, Arizona on February 15, 2003. We didn’t even have enough time to say anything other than introductions, but there was something in his bright blue eyes that took my breath away. Like everyone else, I had the same response, “How does he train in a wheelchair?” Later I would find out; Barton’s wheelchair is quite a dangerous weapon. Barton has Cerebral Palsy, using and training in both a motor and manual wheelchair.
In May, I had another opportunity to attend a longer seminar, which gave the chance to get to know each other a little better. We found that we were both writers, which was another instant connection. I remember watching Barton across from a campfire late one Tucson night, and while it took my head a while to catch up, my heart was already very much in love.
I returned home to Tuscaloosa only to find a greeting from Barton in my e-mail box. Barton and I swapped poetry and short stories back and forth to each other everyday. Finally, that August, he sent me flowers with an inscription:
Together, we waltz at the cusp of creation.
With all my love, B
In November 2003, I traveled back to Tucson to spend Thanksgiving with Barton and some of our close friends. I arrived decked out in a mini-skirt and go-go boots, a gift from a very good friend at work who also styled my hair and make-up. There are several versions to that night I arrived in Tucson- the kosher, the PG rated and only a few know everything. I’ll leave the details to your imagination.
My flight didn’t arrive until 11pm. When we walked in, there were candles lit all over the apartment. So that night, Barton and I were “talking” in the living room and somehow ended up on the living room floor. Around 3 am in the morning, he began giggling. “What?” I asked. He asked me to go find the Norton Anthology of Poetry on his bookshelf. I went into his candle lit bedroom and came back, poetry book in hand. That sent Barton into a fit of laughter. “What?” I asked, missing the joke.
Finally he had to ask me, “Would you marry me?” I had to go back into his bedroom to retrieve the little ring box hidden on the bookshelf, sitting behind the Norton Anthology of Poetry.
It wasn’t on purpose, but neither of us had really told our parents about the other, so when we called to announce our engagement, our families were shocked. “Engaged, to who?” My father didn’t speak to me for a full week before voicing concerns that his daughter would end up caretaker, and Barton’s family knew that he would lose disability benefits once we got married. It wasn’t until dancing during the reception at my cousin’s wedding that my father could see us as a couple.
Barton moved to Tuscaloosa once he graduated that May, which gave more opportunities for my father to meet and get to know him a little better. My father had good intentions; he was worried about me. The last couple of years had been difficult - a broken engagement and the death of my mother left my heart broken. As I was going through my mother’s house, I came across my wedding dress; my mother had cried when she saw me walk down the aisle at the dress shop. Thinking I would never get married, I had it cleaned and boxed, tucked away in the garage.
Little did I know that three years later, I would be pulling it out and dusting it off. In the dressing room at the church, I stood, looking in the mirror, and part of me knew that my mother was there, giving her blessing. For our wedding, none of Barton’s friends and family knew that he had been working on standing and walking. Barton stood in a special walker for the entire ceremony, and at the end, we walked out of the church together.
I wasn’t aware of how our relationship would burst every assumption towards people with disabilities. The most common question entailed our intimate relationship. “Well, how do you have sex?” I never realized I would become a sex education teacher. Instead of snapping (well, how do you have sex), I smile and come up with all kinds of polite answers. I doubt anyone really wants to know that Barton and I broke his old wheelchair by good old-fashioned fun.
We quickly realized that Tuscaloosa, a small Southern town, did not have the accessibility Barton was used to; he couldn’t even get down the street. So we began looking for another place that would sustain our family. We moved to Raleigh just after Katrina, a time when so many lives were devastated and shaken to the core. We are now settled in Raleigh and love where we are.
Like any other couple, we deal with everyday life, finances, dreams and jobs, health. We celebrate life, we fight, we worry, we have fun. We survive and persevere. Barton challenges me to be better than I am everyday, as I challenge him.
When I am lazy, I sit in Barton’s lap, zooming around on his motor wheelchair walking our dog or heading over to the coffee shop. I often wonder what people must think of us as they watch us from their car windows.
Wherever we go, there is an opportunity to share our story. Last year, Barton organized a conference for youth with disabilities transitioning from high school to college. During lunch, I could see him talking to a family, and I was walking across the room to help set up the afternoon sessions. Barton pulled me over and introduced me as his wife. I could see tears streaming down the woman’s face and all of her worries and wants for her son release as she heard our love story.
Our love is visible and contagious, and that has been the most abundant blessing of all.
Written by Megan Cutter
You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org