I called my friend Kevin “Cowboy” years before he rose to reality star status as “The Brooklyn Cowboy.” I’m probably not the only one to make this claim. Kevin is a retired New York City Police Officer who ended his twenty years on the force by serving on the Mounted Unit. Now he is a thoroughbred handicapper for Saratoga Bets and was an actor in the Esquire show “Horseplayers.”
I met Kevin almost ten years ago while out for a night of fun in Saratoga, NY. My friends and I were celebrating summer and we were on our third stop of the night. As we waited for our drinks, I noticed a tall red head looking at me from the other end of the bar. He continued to watch as my friends and I moved to the other side of the room and joined the dance floor. I kept catching his eye and not being shy, went over and asked, “Are you just going to watch me all night or are you going to say hello?” I remind him from time to time how much he would have missed if I hadn’t been brave enough to introduce myself.
Kevin’s interest in me was not romantic. He told me that night he was impressed because he had never seen a woman in a wheelchair at a Saratoga bar, dancing with her friends, laughing and singing, having a good time. I chided him and told him he needed to get out more. Because of the height difference, it was difficult for us to have a conversation. Kevin was very aware of this and said, “I want to keep talking but we need to find somewhere for me to sit down so you don’t have to look up at me.” I appreciated his sensitivity. The only unoccupied seat we could find in the crowded bar was the old payphone booth. So, there we sat talking for the next half hour – Kevin in the booth leaning forward and me in front of him. He asked honest questions about my disability and I answered as openly as I could knowing he might not have the chance to ask another wheelchair user these questions. At the end of the night, he walked me to my van asking me to call when I got home so he would know I was safe. I laughed, knowing I would never call and thinking I would never see him again. When my cell phone rang an hour later, it was Kevin making sure I was home. I went to bed thinking I may have been wrong about Kevin.
It took some time for me to adjust to having a new friend who worried about me. I’m pretty sure my other friends worry about me from time to time but they do a good job not letting me know about it. Kevin was learning I was a competent and capable woman. I was learning to let someone new into the reality of my life with a progressive neuromuscular disease. He was seeing the world with new eyes and would call me to tell me of experiences with wheelchair users in his world:
“Do you know how often the subway elevators break down?!” Yes Kevin – it’s why I never take the subways in New York.
“Hey Dee – I met a girl tonight and told her all about Ms. Wheelchair New York. She might be calling you.” Thanks Cowboy – I appreciate the help recruiting contestants.
“I never realized how many people stare at you when you are out in public with a person in a wheelchair.” Humans are drawn to differences, it’s just our nature.
The Kevin I know is generous, courteous, loyal and dedicated to those he cares for. In 2007 I fell just before Thanksgiving and sustained the injury which required me to begin using personal assistants in my home. It took several weeks for me to heal, which meant I had to rely on others to help me prepare for the holidays. Kevin learned I was being a bit of a humbug, not planning to decorate or put up a Christmas tree. He called me the Friday before Christmas and told me he and his wife, Nicole, were planning to visit me the next day. I explained how I hadn’t prepared for the holidays, didn’t have my usual cookies baked, had not gone shopping – basically I threw every excuse I could at him. He blew me off and told me it didn’t matter.
On Saturday I opened my door to Kevin and Nicole holding a huge Christmas tree and a bottle of wine. He told me I needed a little Christmas and the two of them proceeded to decorate my entire apartment. Kevin was right, I did need cheer. The scent of fresh pine and the glow of the lights helped me through the next two weeks of recuperation.
Kevin – thank you for asking intelligent questions, for offering your perspective whenever I am stuck in a quandary, and for always being there at all hours of the day or night. You make me laugh and you still like me even though my horse selections, based on what you call fluff, are sometimes more accurate picks. I am grateful for your generosity and your willingness to learn about others.