First step: consult the directory of campus services. Not surprisingly, there's nothing for my particular concern. I guess people like me haven't made the leap from “scientific curiosity” to “minority group” yet. Next step: branch out and look for whoever might have experience with similar issues. I do find the official campus disability services, who claim they can help with accessibility issues, but they want you to bring a doctor's note with your diagnosis, and well, I'm not sick. I'm just not normal. That's the problem.
Well, so much for working within the system. I flip to the list of student organizations and clubs. Still nothing addressing the concerns of big green scaly girls of the mutant persuasion. I look to see if there's anything for fat acceptance. I don't think I'm overweight, exactly – maybe I am by BMI chart standards, but I'm pretty sure those assume that you don't have a tail, and everybody knows that muscle is heavy – but at seven-foot-two and three hundred and twenty five pounds, I know I count as a “person of size.” It's worth a shot. No luck there, either.
I consider contacting the Animal Rights club – maybe they'd have some sympathy for a fellow vegetarian, and considering that my current difficulties are related to my nonhuman features, it might be possible to convince them that helping me would be part of the grand struggle against speciesism. It would be a stretch, though. I keep flipping.
I reach the “disAbility” section and take a closer look. It doesn't explain the capitalization, but it does have a listing for the campus chapter of ADAPT, the murderball team, and something that calls itself the “Dis/Abled Students' Self-Advocacy Center,” which rather enigmatically claims “Sick of jumping through hoops? DASSAC can help!” I have no idea what this involves in practice, but it sounds more promising than anything I've encountered yet. A glance at the contact information reveals that it's currently their office hours.
I pick up my phone, but don't dial right away. What if DASSAC can't do anything? What if they're annoyed that I'm wasting their time with my able-bodied problems? What if they have something against mutants? I wouldn't expect a disability-rights group to hold people's physical differences against them, but you never know. Is my problem just too specialized for anyone else to bother taking an interest? And what if I sound like a complete idiot on the phone?
Well, there's nothing for it. If I don't call now, I probably never will. I take a swig from my mug of cooling tea for courage, double-check their number, and dial. I don't know whether or not to hope someone picks up.
“Hello! Disabled Students' Mafia! Sorry, I mean Self-Advocacy Center. How may we help you?” The DASSAC representative is a sprightly lyric soprano and sounds like she's already hit her caffeine limit for the day, when it's only three-thirty.
“Hi, er, my name is Shoshannah, and I don't know what you guys do, exactly, so I really hope I'm not wasting your time. It's just, I've been having some, I guess you could call them accessibility problems, and I thought you guys might be able to help.”
“Yes, that would certainly be relevant to our interests. You haven't had any luck with the campus bureaucracy?”
“I, uh, haven't tried them, actually. I mean, I don't know if this is how they really operate, but the literature makes it sound like you need an official diagnosis to get so much as a cough drop, and, well, there's nothing actually wrong with me. Not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with you guys, either! I just meant I don't have any official medical problems.”
There was a sigh on the other end of the line. “Of course, one can't expect campus disability services to have heard of the social model by now. After all, there they are, stranded in an intellectual wilderness without any of the advantages of a well-stocked university library or even internet access. Oh, right. They're not.” There was a pause, and she resumed in a lighter tone of voice. “Sorry, I can get a bit ranty. It's just so frustrating dealing with people who hold so much power and yet can't seem to understand basic concepts in their area of authority.”
“I can imagine,” I say sympathetically. “Oh, and, um, at risk of sounding like a stupid bureaucrat, what is the social model and what does it have to do with anything?”
“I don't mind,” she says. “You recognize what you don't know and are taking appropriate steps to remedy it, that puts you ahead of most people. And from the little you've told me, Shoshannah, the 'social model of disability' is quite relevant to your situation. I'm Galatea, by the way.”
“Pleased to meet you, Galatea,” I say automatically. Fortunately, Galatea continues her explanation before there can be too much awkward silence.
“It's like: okay, a human with one missing limb is considered disabled. But snakes have no limbs, and aren't considered disabled. That's because most of human society is set up with the assumption that everybody has two hands and two feet, whereas snakes' lives are entirely organized around the strengths and limitations of being limbless and cylindrical as a matter of course. Am I making any sense?”
“I... think so. Like how my, uh, issue doesn't objectively stop me from doing anything, but I'm still at a disadvantage because a lot of classrooms aren't structured to deal with it?”
“That's right!” Galatea continues, more softly, “What is your issue, by the way? If you don't feel comfortable talking about it, I'll still try to help you, and I can promise to maintain complete confidentiality if you'd feel more comfortable. I'd probably be more use with more complete information.”
Oh, dear. Here it comes. “Oh, no, it's nothing embarrassing. Well, it is, kind of, but trying to cover it up won't do me any good. It's, um, pretty conspicuous. And really kind of weird.”
“Believe me, Shoshannah, I've had experience with weird.”
“Not my kind of weird. Look, uh, this might be easier to explain in person. Is there any time I could meet with you guys?”
“You could come over now, if you wanted. Our address is in the directory. Are you still on campus?”
“I'm close enough. I can get there in half an hour.”
“That should work. I'll be waiting at the front desk, so you should be able to find me reasonably easily. Will that work?”
“I don't see why it wouldn't.” Actually, I can think of several things that could possibly go wrong, but they're all pretty far-fetched and not worth burdening anyone else with.
“All right. Feel free to bring anything you think would help you explain things. See you in half an hour!”
“See you!” I hang up, gulp down the rest of my cold tea, and grab a sweater and my shoes. I'll have to put them on to enter the university commons, of course, but it's a warm day, the sidewalks are smooth, and I'm trying to make this pair last until the end of the year. Shoes made to fit digitigrade feet with giant talon-like toenails don't come cheap.
I stick the ABBA anthology in my CD player – bouncy European pop's always a morale booster, which I may sorely need – and head out towards campus.
It's a beautiful late September day. There's a bit of a breeze, but the sun is bright, and the sidewalk is warm under my feet. It could be a slightly cooler than average day in July if not for the red and gold leaves on all the maple trees. I concentrate on the leaves, the bright clear autumn sky, the sun-warmed concrete under my feet, the wind at my back, and the music in my ears, and do my best not to notice if anyone's staring.
I wonder if the older lady who'd tried to pray the scaly out of me will show up again, but nobody bothers me on the way to campus, and I arrive at DASSAC's office without incident. The first thing I notice when I poke my head in the door is a young Asian woman in a wheelchair seated at a desk and reading a copy of Feet of Clay. “Galatea?” I ask.
There's the usual flicker of surprise across her face when she sees me, but it's a lot – I'm not entirely sure, but I'm tempted to say happier – than most people's reactions. I have to give her credit, though – she recovers from the “Sweet merciful gods, it's a giant lizard woman!” stage a lot faster than most people do.
“Shoshannah!” She smiles and waves. “Please come in.” I do, and she maneuvers herself out from behind her desk. We meet a few feet inside the room. “I would advise,” she says, rather more quietly, “that you hug the walls and prepare to duck. Matt and Teresa are having one of their contests.” She sighs a little and shakes her head. “Wannabe-lawyers and their damned competitiveness...”
There's a significant coughing noise from the red-haired guy sitting on one of the couches.
“Sorry!” Galatea says. “Shoshannah, the redhead with the regrettable tie is Matt, the scary brunette in the red sunglasses is Teresa. Guys, this is Shoshannah.” I smile and wave, and try to think of something to say. “Er, hello. So, how long has this operation been around? Is it new for this year?”
“It started last spring, actually, but a bunch of the founding members graduated,” Galatea explains. “I'm the only founding member left, so I'm currently in charge of things until we get enough candidates to have a proper election or Teresa stages her inevitable coup.” Teresa smiles like a shark, then turns toward me, sniffs the air, and flicks her tongue out like a snake. Galatea glares at her, which of course is totally ineffectual. “No, I don't care if you learned from a very reputable scientific source that body chemistry is the key to human compatibility. You do not get to lick the new girl.” Teresa sulks for a bit and goes back to throwing shuriken at a battered poster of Jerry Lewis with Matt, and Galatea and I make our way to a small private room that seems to be some kind of library.
As soon as we enter, Galatea closes the door and turns on the fan. “This won't keep Team Blind Justice from listening in if they really want to,” she explains, “but it should help to some degree.” Then she pauses, looks at me, and I hear, in my head but not my ears, You're like me.
I'm not psychic, I reply. I have no idea how to respond properly to telepathic communication, so I settle for trying to form my thoughts clearly and “loudly.”
I didn't mean it- she points to her head -this way. I meant in general. Different. Have you always looked this way? What else can you do?
I started, well, changing when I was almost fourteen. It took about two and a half years to stabilize. My parents homeschooled me during high school. You know what teenagers are like. Oh, and as for what I can do – I'm really strong, I can run pretty fast, although it burns up a lot of energy, I recover from minor injuries a lot more quickly than I used to – I've never had any major ones – and I can see heat if the temperature difference is strong enough. Oh, and I need to eat about three times as much as I did before, and my fingernails grow into claws if I don't file them.
A feeling of wonder and curiosity bursts into my mind that's a little disconcerting at first. I've been living in this body for the past five years, I've had plenty of time to get used to it, why is it suddenly so awesome? Then I realize the feelings come from Galatea.
I knew I couldn't be the only one here! I mean, considering the nature of the data he had to work with, it's likely that Claremont's estimate of one in five thousand is a gross underestimation, but still! Considering the size of the student body and staff, that would mean at least two other mutants, but there was no sign of anyone else last year. And now it's only two weeks into the quarter and I've already met you! This is so amazing!
“I'm glad you like it,” I say, dropping into verbal communication. “Not everyone does.”
“Whyever not? I mean, I hope I'm not coming across as unduly personal or creepy and fetishistic here, but you're so fabulously saurian.”
Well, that's one way to put it. “Apparently there are people out there who don't believe that everything is better with dinosaurs. I haven't had people picketing my family's house and telling me to go back to the Mesozoic or anything-” Galatea giggles at that “- but once an old evangelical lady told me that Jesus could 'heal my curse.'” I disentangle the Star of David from the rest of my necklaces and lift it out for Galatea to see. “So, yeah, I didn't take her up on it.”
Galatea smiles wryly. “Back in Seattle, there was this Pentecostal lady from the South who took the same bus I did, and whenever we were on the same trip somewhere, she'd always sit in the row right behind the wheelchair section and try to faith-heal me. It was kind of disconcerting at first, but we made friends after a while, and she'd tell me all about her children and her cats and the wacky people at her church. But enough about that. You mentioned you'd been having accessibility problems, and I assume that your particular mutation has something to do with it. What's the issue?”
“It's those little combination desk-chairs they have in the lecture halls! They're incredibly cramped, there's nowhere to put my tail, and my knees always wind up squashed against the underside of the desk since the aisles are too short for me to stretch my legs out! And those are the ones I can fit in at all! Maybe I should – I don't know, just bring a lap desk and a cushion or folding chair to all my classes and set up camp in an empty space.”
“That could be a possibility,” Galatea says thoughtfully.
“Only problem is, it's a lot more bulk to carry around. I don't mind the weight, but even collapsible furniture is kind of an awkward shape. And I'd need to find a folding chair that can support my weight reliably and stand up to being knocked around in transit.”
“I suppose assembling it Ikea-style on the spot would be too time intensive,” Galatea says.
“I am not putting together a chair from scratch every day for a forty-five minute class! I'd rather sit on the floor.”
“So, sounds like you've thought of somewhere to start. Want to go portable furniture-shopping this weekend?” Galatea asks matter-of-factly.
“Um, wow,” I say. “You guys really do believe in personal service.”
“Well, it's not like DASSAC has much else to do right now. You're actually the first student this year to ask us for anything. We've spent most of our meeting time drinking coffee and planning humorous protests.”
“And throwing shuriken at Jerry Lewis,” I add.
“Hey, he's said some very patronizing things.” Galatea doesn't choose to elaborate, but I figure that to a tiny, adorable woman in a wheelchair, an excessive tendency to make patronizing remarks could well be considered a stab-worthy offense after a while.
“Oh, honey, you have no idea,” Galatea mutters to herself, then goes pale and flustered. “Sorry! I didn't mean to do that! I wasn't reading your mind on purpose or anything, I just didn't put my shields back up after out little mental conversation and you were thinking rather loudly.”
“No harm done. Oh, and sorry I mentally called you tiny and adorable. I didn't mean it as an insult.”
“Hey, I verbally called you 'fabulously saurian.' Fair's fair. You still want to go shopping?”
“Sure. Oh, by the way! Do you know any place on campus that does good high-protein vegetarian food? I haven't had anything but tea in three hours and I need to refuel if I'm going to walk home. I can get something for you, too, if you want – I have the Adamantium Meal Plan and I need to use all those extra points for something.”
Galatea's eyes light up. “You're a vegetarian too? This is such perfect serendipity!” She bounces a little in her chair. “I am so glad that the first mutant I met on campus is a cool person and not, you know, an ultra-right-winger or a patronizing jerk. Oh, and if you like Mediterranean food, there's a little place by Miskatonic Hall that does great falafel. Is that okay?”
“Of course I like falafel! I'm Jewish.”
She turns off the fan, I open the door for her, and we leave the little library, pass by Matt and Teresa – who have stopped attacking Jerry Lewis' picture and are now arguing about the value of alternative forensics techniques or something similar – and head off in search of falafel.
“Shoshannah,” Galatea says, as we exit the building into the bright September sunlight, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”