It was at the back of my mind, only because I shooed it there. Go, go on. It’s just a task, like laundry or making the bed. Another task. The alarm was set on my phone. I knew it would be done as scheduled. No need to think about it. And so, I set aside the papers. I went about my business, willing it out of my mind.
Nevertheless, the day arrived. I didn’t need to set the alarm, because, despite my attempts, the issue never left me alone. Wednesday at 3:50 p.m. was the appointed time. No big deal, I tried to convince myself.
It was a busy day. The time approached oddly. One moment, when the thought crossed my mind, it seemed an eternity before I would go. The next moment, I was in the car, headed to face it.
Papers in hand, I entered the building. Even this late in the afternoon, chairs were filled and a long line stretched down the left side of a two-sided line. The right side was empty. At the front of both lines was a desk framed with a cubicle type divider and lined with a counter. One woman sat beneath the depressing florescent lights. She was asking questions of a mother, and what appeared to be, her teenage son. English was the second language. All I could make of it was much confusion concerning their transaction.
Before me to the right, on the counter, sat a lopsided, propped up sign with the words, “Appointment Line”, all in caps, staring at me. Yet, there was only one person on the other side of the counter, and she was busy translating the other transaction. I hesitated over where to go, looking to the long line to my left. My appointment was scheduled to happen in two minutes.
I chose the empty line. I waited. The two minutes passed. Then four. Then seven. Finally, the woman had completed her task with the two people. She looked annoyed and tired. Nevertheless, she put on a smile as she looked toward me. I asked her tentatively if “this” was the line for appointments. “Yes,” she said kindly, and despite the scowling, angry looks from the crowd to my left, she took my papers from me next. She gave me a ticket and told me to wait for my number to be called.
I walked away. The windows were set up so that they were in lines down one row and then, at a right angle around a corner. Before I had decided where to sit and wait, my number was called over a speaker to Window 7. I approached with my number tag and papers. Another cubicle. Another counter. Another woman. Without saying a word, she took the papers and scanned them. I was quiet. After reading and rifling through, she handed me back the doctor’s letter. “You may keep this one for your file,” she said as she handed it back to me, expressionless.
She moved toward a drawer and asked, “Is it for a permanent placard then?” “Yes,” I said softly, and, in that moment, the tears formed and welled up in my eyes. Ridiculous, I told myself. Why must you be such a drama queen?! This changes nothing. It means nothing more or less than before. You are just providing another measure of safety for your son.
But it was too late. She saw my eyes. I looked away.
“He’s only six years old,” I told her, quietly, looking at the doctor’s note I had folded back to the size that it came in the envelope. “I never thought I would see his name on a paper like this,” My voice trailed off. Even, the words implied I was unhappy with my son. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. I wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my black wool coat. She nodded sympathetically. Stop it! I wanted to yell at her. The last thing I need is your pity! You have no idea how amazing my son is. You have no idea.
She opened a large white envelope. Taking a paper she printed fresh from her printer, she placed it inside the envelope with my son’s name and address appearing through the clear plastic window, like an ordinary utility bill. The solid blue, plastic hanger that was the placard was inside the envelope. It peeked out from within, shiny blue, scratch free, with the universal symbol and white lettering clearly visible within.
“You must place this, (indicating the paper she had just put inside the envelope) in the window whenever you park your car. Place the placard on the rear view mirror. You must remove the placard again before driving.” The tone of her instruction was the same, monotonous speech I heard from flight attendants giving the fasten seat belt instructions. She knew nothing of what feelings were churning inside me as she droned on, giving the speech that she’d clearly done hundreds of times before I stood here. Or perhaps she knew how I might feel and had disconnected from it so long ago that it didn’t cross her mind anymore.
Looking at the envelope, while listening to her instructions, I was struck by the number of mixed feelings I had reeling through my head. There was relief that my little boy would now be safer, with less walking distance to dart in crowded parking lots: numbness at the realization that my son was now intertwined with the blue symbol I’d never really connected him to before: anger at myself for the selfishness of feeling sad: guilt at possessing the symbol which I thought belonged only to people unable to walk: more anger at myself for knowing my son has an invisible disability, yet still, stupidly feeling that only a visible disability justified holding this placard.
She handed me the envelope with a piteous look. Anger flushed my cheeks which felt scratchy dry from where I’d wiped my sleeve moments before. Outside the building, I could hear birds tweeting. The sun shone brightly. It was spring in the middle of winter. I walked to the car, still jostling with the mixed emotions. Seated behind the wheel, I opened the envelope. I took out the paper and read my son’s full name. And the tears flowed again, despite shameful anger at myself. Looking in the rear view mirror, I wiped away the evidence once more and drove to pick up my little boy.