Guest Post: Me Before You and Why It Hurts by Luda Gogolushko
When I look to the left, I see a couple walking by, holding hands and smiling at each other. When I look to the right, I see a couple kissing each other against a tree. All around me, I see just that. But does anyone see me? Do they not see the girl in a wheelchair, wanting for a chance at a connection? With someone. Anyone?
A guy is waving from a few feet away.
I smile as he comes closer to me.
He’s tall, dark, and handsome. Just like in the movies.
“I’m Jack,” he says, extending his hand to me.
"Luda," I reply.
His hand is strong and firm, his eyes brown and his chin strong.
He stands there, looking down at me. “Would you like a flower?” he asks.
“Of course, thank you,” I say. Am I blushing now?
I should be shocked, but it’s Valentine’s Day, so it doesn’t seem too out of context. If this is the part where he asks me to be his valentine or his date for some coffee, I am so ready.
He hands me a rose and I take it, smelling its sweet and ecstatic scent.
“My wife pointed you out from our car and we felt bad for you,” he says.
Why? I think to myself because I don’t have it in me to ask him out loud.
Romance rejection. The worse. It’s clear he’s, not into me, he’s just. being. nice. This is my normal. Maybe not exactly in that scene, but definitely a pattern of behavior I experience often.
He sees my wheelchair, not me. Or maybe he sees me in the wheelchair. Possibly, he sees a girl somehow knowing, her romance life is nonexistent and feels bad. Trouble is, he just reinforced that belief. So was it a good thing what he was doing? But it’s not his fault, right? He probably sees the same media as I do. The one that represents someone with limited mobility as helpless, weak, and unromantic.
If it wasn’t for my friends who are in wheelchairs—who have relationships, are married, and have kids—I’d probably go my entire life believing that love wasn’t for me. Or rather, I wasn’t for love.
When I come across a love story, like Me Before You (MBY) by Jojo Moyes, where a character who uses a wheelchair wants to die because of his disability, it reaffirms that no one in a wheelchair can ever live long, healthy, happy lives. Rather, I am seen as a burden, inconvenience, problem. It hurts. It hurts a lot.
MBY is a powerful and lovely romance. I congratulate the author for producing what she wanted to write about. This is her work and her writing journey. The goal of a romance author is to make a reader feel raw emotion in the deepest way possible, and to take a reader on a journey, into an experience, which Moyes clearly does.
At first, I was upset and I supported the comments made by the diversity community. I understood, because it hurt me as well. All I thought to myself was, not again. It’s like society was supporting the notion that love was not meant for me no matter how hard I tried. And that able-bodied individuals are the only ones who have the right to a happy romance—something unreachable and unsustainable for somebody in a wheelchair.
The MBY story is beautiful, but that is not what I see. Instead, my perspective automatically takes me back in time, back to every single moment that made me feel unwanted, as if experiencing a hundred breakups all at once. It hurts.
Having that reaction makes it easy to point fingers at MBY. But the problem is not solely in the media. It all stems from the misconceptions society has hooked onto through history. More importantly, it’s the culture through language and meaning that puts a restricting bubble around someone with limited mobility. From the pillars of power to the stones of control, it’s all intertwined into each other in a nasty web and uses the media to its advantage.
But that doesn’t mean that I will let any of that define love for me. Sure I may not be able to walk, but I sure as heck can love. As a publisher who represents diversity authors and diversity books, it all fuels me that much more to bring alive the voices that feel silenced, stories waiting to be told.
To those who read and loved MBY, I hope this opens you up to other diversity romance novels. To those who feel hurt, I hope you’re not discouraged because love is for everyone. To those who have no idea what I am talking about, I hope this piece gives you something to ponder about.
No matter your struggle, may you unconditionally feel love by your side always.