Hugo worked at a bank.
He was a friend of my mom’s.
–A dude who’d been disabled all his life,
but “passed”, for the most part,
as nondisabled, probably because
he used to joke
about his crippled gait, and said
that he could always fake it
and pass as a drunk
because society would rather deal with a drunk
than with a cripple.

That’s how most probably viewed
disabled people,
but at the time, I was too young
to really care.
I was busy in my teenage world
of trying to fake
my own way into normality
while dealing with the permanence
of my physical reality
in a world that had no room
for those who looked like me.

Hugo became like family to us
even though my mother got criticized
for being a divorced woman
hanging out with a man
and especially one who looked like him.
But everybody pretended to be nice
when he came around, and eventually
his differences just seemed to disappear.
That was, until we were out in public with him
and we got double stared.
And I hated how people thought he was my father
because we were both disabled.

I hated how people talked, and I had no choice,
but to let them talk, because Hugo was
my mom’s best friend,
and he kidnapped us all
summer after summer.
Took us to the beach, and took us camping,
and even put up with me and my demands
of taking Niki with us — the German Shepperd
I loved and refused to leave behind,
and that forced all of us
to travel like sardines in a little car
that had to accommodate two adults,
three girls, a wheelchair, our luggage
and a big dog.
But Hugo made it work.
And because of him, we had a chance to live
magical summers…summers of bonfires
and camping stories.
Summers of swimming
and building sand castles.
Summers full of sun and full of fun.
Summers that have become
precious memories that now morph
into poems.

Us girls loved Hugo.
But we loved him as long
as he was “just a friend”
and not a boyfriend
to our mother
because the thought of having
a disabled step-father
was not something we could even
It was ok to explain
a friendship
with a disabled person.
But a love relationship?
What would everybody say?
What would everybody think?

Even I, who should have been the one
to not feel shame…the one
to speak up and defend
the humanity
behind our differences….even I
rejected the idea
of having a cripple as a step-dad
I guess because, deep down,
my own internalized ableism
had already grown



Maria R. Palacios Copyright 2017