I want a handicapped parking spot sticker. I don't want one out of selfishness, laziness or because I think I am special. I want one because of the pain. Incredible, breathtaking pain. I mean it. When it hurts so bad it is hard to breathe. When I walk my dogs because, well, they need it, after about 100 meters I stop and sit down for a minute or two, and I am breathing a little hard. It is not so much being out of shape but because my knees hurt so bad I feel I cannot get a breath in and the tears in my eyes are from not screaming because of the pain. I sometimes wonder if people can hear me swear on the occasions when the pain warrants it when I am at home. Anyone listening outside my house might think that there is a violent person inside. If not for the pain then I am yelling at my dogs for making a mess. That may seem a minor thing to most people but for me bending over to clean up whatever puts pressure on the knees and then I get lightning strikes of pain running through them.
When I have to climb stairs I hope no one who knows me is there to see it. My gait is unsteady and I pull some of the weight up with my arms by holding onto the railing. If there is no railing I need my cane to keep my balance. Walking funny has thrown off my balance andI manage to trip over the smallest things. Happily I have only hit the ground once, but I do live in fear of finally landing on a kneecap and breaking it, and being left helpless on the floor. I got caught by one of my coworkers who didn't know about my knee injury and she was quite worried for me. That was kind but sometimes makes me feell even more helpless. I have to admit that this is now affecting the quality of my life significantly. I have stopped going places and doing some things because it hurts too much. Like volleyball. I gave it up in April, to the point where I don't go to tournaments because sitting in the chairs or on benches hurts too much. I had to limit my role in the International Conference for Koreatesol (Kotesol) because standing or walking hurts too much and when I am in pain my temper is incredibly short and smart people should fear me.
When I reach my destination I sit down because the knees are shaking in pain. My students have witnessed the twitches on my face when my knees have jolts of pain run through them when I stand to teach, or sometimes spasms of pain even when I am sitting down. But a stranger would judge me differently. They would see me shake out my legs when I get out of the car and then walk seamlessly to the door, not knowing if in a few more meters the knees are going to fail me, throw off my balance and just hand me the most excruciating pain I have had in years. If I could park near the door I would have less distance to walk and manage to move before the knees reach higher echelons of pain. But since I still walk mostly normal and keep my screams to myself, everyone will think I do not have that privilege legitimately. But I know better, so when someone gets out of a car with the sticker, I know that they may start out fine but not return to the car in good shape so I don't give them a hard time. And that is also why I get angry at people who park in handicapped spaces without need and the handicapped sticker, because it is not just inconvenience but you could be causing someone a great deal of pain. And that is cruel.