At 33 I was in a job that was going nowhere. I am a software engineer, and have won a few professional awards for my work. My job was getting stale. I was looking for a new challenge. I carefully followed the professional journals and local newspaper want-ads. I saw an ad that fit my qualifications and at the end it said: "First preference given to disabled."
I am not disabled but the job description was just what I had been looking for. It offered an opportunity to work in a field that had always fascinated me. I knew, with the recent economic slowdown and so many engineers out of work, there would be fierce competition for the job. I had the experience and educational qualifications but so did a whole lot of other people that were vying for the position. I decided I would have to add something that others did not have.
I scanned the Internet. I tried 'disabled,' 'crutches,' 'wheelchair.' When I found 'braces,' and the many Internet sites that explore the wearing of leg and body braces, I knew I had found my answer. There were several sites for people who were not disabled but wore braces for pleasure. Some wore full leg braces, some just ankle braces, some body braces, some neck braces, and some various combinations.
After searching thru Internet links I found a site that would supply any sort of brace without requiring a medical prescription. Since I was anxious to secure the new job I contacted the brace supplier. I was told that every body is so different I would have to take very careful, detailed measurements, and make plaster casts of my legs. These were necessary to ensure the braces fit my body exactly with the ankle, knee, and hip joints corresponding to my joints. If I was going to wear braces all of the time they must fit perfectly to be comfortable.
I got the plaster bandages. I spread a tarp on the floor, got a bucket of warm water, dipped the bandages, and wrapped my legs from hip to ankle in a thick layer of plaster. After a half hour the plaster was hard enough to allow me to cut it off without destroying it. With shears I cut a slit down the side of my legs and carefully removed the casts. Then I closed the slits and plastered over them.
I sent the casts off along with the measurements. When the braces came back I was stunned. They are a magnificent example of careful, caring workmanship. Not only are they functional, they are beautiful to look at. The shiny sturdy chrome struts go from under the heels to under the armpits. The polished tan leather is carefully sewn with a soft lining. The calf casings have three strong buckles, the thighs, and four straps. The body brace has two strong steel struts going up each side of the spine, ending just below the shoulder blades. There is a steel support, top and bottom, circling half way around to the sides joining with thick leather straps that secure the body firmly upright. In addition there is a front leather corset with four buckles, and straps that keep the shoulders from drooping.
When I first saw the braces I wondered if I would be able to wear such an elaborate device for any length of time. Just how much did I want that job? Was it worth going thru all this? Well, I'd never know if I didn't try it out.
I slid the foot supports into the metal troughs that had been put in the heels of the shoes. I spread the leather of the thighs and calves, slid my feet into the shoes, and tightened the buckles around my legs. Next I swung the back brace up around my body and secured all the straps. I stood up and slid the drop-locks down on the hip and knee joints.
That was an exciting new sensation. I was standing up. The braces were keeping me upright and my muscles were relaxing. I tried walking, I should say hobbling, around the room. It wasn't long before I fell over backward. There was no way to catch myself with my hips and knees securely locked. I got some bruises but fortunately no serious injury.
The problem then was how was I going to get up? I felt like an overturned turtle. I undid the drop-locks and rolled over on my stomach. When I brought my knees up, the braces prevented them from bending far enough to get under me. Struggling I grabbed a chair and pulled myself up.
I was going to need practice. I went out to a large mall. I practiced walking from one end of the parking lot to the other. I kept the drop-locks unlocked. I did not want to repeat falling down. After several hours of walking I was confident I could act as though I had always worn braces.
I got out the job ad and set up an interview for the following day. When I walked in to the office the interviewer noticed I was walking slowly and stiffly erect. He could see the braces extending below my pants legs to my shoes. He did not ask me right away about my 'Disability.' He spent some time going over my education, experience, work interests, and hobbies.
When he got around to health he asked me about the braces. I told him I was in excellent health and wore braces because of muscle weakness. I said I wasn't sure of the cause. Doctors thought I may have had a mild case of polio at a very young age and it could be recurring. In any case I assured him that it was stable and did not interfere with my ability to write software.
He accepted my explanation and said I had excellent qualifications and was a promising candidate for the job but there was one other person that he had interviewed who was also disabled. He wanted to re-interview both of us before deciding. He set up an appointment for the following week.
This gave me an opportunity to get more familiar with wearing braces. I couldn't wear them on my present job but at night and on the weekend I practiced walking, sitting, getting in and out of the car, going to stores, and restaurants.
The awkwardness I felt at first was starting to wear off the more I wore them. I was actually starting to relax and let the braces do their work. My muscles, out of habit, had been fighting against the rigid support but as the week went by my body learned new ways of moving. I was beginning to enjoy wearing braces. They were becoming a natural part of me. The shiny steel and leather was making me feel strong.
At the second interview I was told I had the job. He said the other disabled candidate turned out to be faking his disability. The interviewer saw him over the weekend on roller blades in the park without braces. When confronted he admitted to wearing braces just to get the job and didn't know if he would have been able to keep on wearing them because they made him feel uncomfortable, and they interfered with his life-style. He was glad to have been found out.
This news made me realize that if I wanted this job I'd better not be caught without being in braces. I gave notice to my employer and started in at my new job. At first I wore my braces at work and took them off at home in the evening. After a few months I noticed my legs were getting a bit unsteady and I was leaving the braces on later and later.
What started out as a way to get a job I really wanted was turning into a lifestyle that I was enjoying more and more. Putting the braces on each morning, seeing the shiny steel supports and strong leather that supported my body was becoming a pleasurable experience as well as a necessity.
As the months went by my back muscles became noticeably weak. If I tried to sit up straight in a chair without being braced I would slump forward. It was getting harder to hold my body upright. The first time I put on this body support I felt confined, uncomfortable. After experiencing positive support for months I now look forward to it and find it gratifying.
At the beginning of this quest for a new job I thought it might be inconvenient to wear braces. After a month or so it seemed like something to have fun with. Now that I have worn them for an extended period they have become a part of me. They are like an addiction; I can't exist without being held securely in leather and steel.
- - -
Work is getting really intense. We're developing software modules for a Central Office telephone exchange. Our competition is Bell Laboratories. We have to come up with products that are better and more unique that appeal to corporations and the public.
This puts a lot of pressure on the whole unit. I am fortunate to be wearing braces. They let my body relax, relieving the stress, while maintaining good posture. The braces actually help me to do a better job because my muscles don't get tied up in knots. I can relax and can think more clearly. Because of this I have come up with some new products and have improved some methods.
Over the past year I've become totally adjusted to getting around. The braces have become a help instead of a hindrance. When I first started wearing them they seemed very awkward. I had to learn new ways to walk, to sit, and to drive. They got in the way of how I had learned to move. Now I realize moving in braces is just as natural, it only took teaching my body to move in a different way.
The braces are such a great stress reliever I would suggest that more people wear them. After getting used to them in the first couple of months, I wonder how I ever survived without them. Now when I stand I can set the knee and hip drop-locks and be confident I will be firmly held and supported. When I release the locks I can walk with assurance. The leather corset holds my abdomen in a solid cylinder against the steel uprights going up my spine improving my digestion as well as my posture.
There is an advantage in having the body brace attached to the leg braces with a hinge at the hips. When walking I can let my legs swing from the hip pivot and not have to use the leg muscles. I can lock the knees and let my legs swing freely. The springs in the ankle joints keep my feet from dropping down. I have learned to swing from side to side letting the back brace propel my legs forward.
Everyone in the office has been very supportive. At first they were curious about why I had to wear braces. They asked about what it was like to be confined. They wanted to know if it curtailed any of my activities. Eventually they got around to asking what they were really curious about, sex. I let them know it didn't slow me down one bit. In fact, my sex life had greatly improved since I started wearing braces. For some reason, I found out, many women are attracted to a man that is somewhat encumbered.
Getting used to wearing braces just takes time and patience. When I first started wearing them I felt guilty, awkward. My body didn't want to move in the way the braces allowed. Now, after wearing them over a year, I realize the advantages of keeping my body firmly braced. It improves my posture, and strengthens my back so there is no strain when I am trying to lift things. The heavy leather corset prevents my abdomen from protruding thereby improving my digestion. The body is very pliable and given time will accommodate most any modification.
In the beginning I just wanted to get out of the restrictive straps, buckles, and rigid steel supports. Since my job depended upon being disabled I had to continue wearing them. With persistence and perseverance I not only overcame my original discomfort but now enjoy the many benefits of having my body braced.
One noontime, in the cafeteria, I saw a young woman in a wheelchair. For some reason my attention was attracted to her. I was fascinated by her face, in the way she held her head, in her mannerisms. Until now I had avoided any close personal relationships because I did not want to be discovered as someone pretending to be disabled.
When I get home at night I often don't remove my braces until bedtime. But there are times when I take them off and wander about, thinking I should be exercising to keep up my muscle tone. It's becoming harder to function without the braces. I have become so dependent on them that my back gets very sore and my legs feel like they are going to collapse when I am not wearing braces.
If I got seriously involved with someone I would not be able to keep them from knowing my secret. But, still, I couldn't get the woman I saw in the cafeteria out of my mind. I kept seeing her face and thinking 'If I were with a woman like that we could accomplish some great things together.' My fascination with her was unexplainable.
Just like magnetism, or gravity, it can't be seen or known, it just is.
A few days later one of the guys at work decided to have a party. He invited me and the rest of the group. This was a long weekend so we could whoop it up Saturday, Sunday, and into Monday if we wanted to. We had all been under intense pressure trying to beat the competition and were ready for letting off some stress.
I arrived a bit late Saturday night, about ten o'clock. I wasn't sure I even wanted to go. I surely did not want to get drunk. Wearing braces when sober was hard enough without adding the burden of alcohol. There would be dancing and swimming and other activities that I would not be able to participate in. I was going to stay home but at the last minute I put on my braces, got in the car and joined the party.
When I got there I knew many of the people but some were from other sections of the company that our host had invited. I mingled, talked with friends, worked my way around the living room, had some interesting conversations, and about midnight I stepped out to the yard and the swimming pool. It was a warm night, some people were swimming, some sitting in deck chairs, but at the end of the pool, in the shadows, I thought I could see the back of a wheelchair.
- - -
By now the party was getting to the stage where people were congregating in small groups. Each group was caught up in discussions that the participants were sure would change the world. Not having the benefit, at this point, of alcohol omniscience I was pretty much alone. After seeing a wheel chair at the end of the pool my pulse got to doing double time. Could it be the person I had seen in the cafeteria? If it is, what do I do now? Should I just intrude on her group? I don't even know her name, or what part of the company she works for.
I had to find out if it was the person I had seen. I started my slow braced walk to the other end of the pool. As I came closer I saw a colleague that I worked with, talking to the woman in the wheelchair. When I got to them I sat in a vacant chair and said Hello. My friend introduced me to the mystery woman.
"Bob, this is Julie Budd."
"Julie, here's a good friend that works in our section, Bob Tracks."
She offered her hand, I took it and felt the warmth and softness.
I said, "I've seen you in our cafeteria, what part of the company are you with?"
"I'm in marketing. I contact vendors to promote our latest products. What do you do?
"Software. I get to think up those products you promote."
We talked for several hours. We had a lot of mutual interests. She enjoyed watching tennis matches. I used to play a lot of tennis before getting braced. I was a big fan of the 49ers and she the Broncos. We both read a lot and agreed the writer that had made the biggest impact was John Steinbeck. Both of us thought Hemingway was a fraud and loved Jack London. I was amazed she had read Hermann Hesse.
It was getting on to 2:30 in the morning and we were both getting tired. Neither of us had been drinking anything but soda and lemon. I suggested we get ourselves home and meet tomorrow for brunch.
"How do you get around, do you have a car, or does someone drive you?"
"I have my own car. It's fitted with hand controls. How about you?" she said.
"I'm able to drive, so far, but I can see I'm going to need to equip my car with hand controls before long."
We agreed to meet Sunday morning at a restaurant known for it's great brunch menu. I had been to this restaurant before but never in braces. I didn't know it the staff would recognize me. I arrived early, before Julie. No one took any notice that I walked rather stiffly and had shiny braces below my pants leg going into my shoes, so my secret was safe.
When she arrived she wheeled over to the table. She was radiant.
"How do you manage to look so beautiful after a late night out?"
"You're very kind. You're looking good yourself."
After a delicious brunch and some good conversation she joined me in my car and we went to the aquarium. I got her chair out and wheeled her thru the exhibits, enjoying every minute. She had not been to the aquarium before. We spent several hours looking at the sea otters, the sharks, the huge school of sardines, and all the rest.
I really enjoyed being out in my braces with Julie in her wheel chair. I felt like we belonged together. We seemed to think alike and agreed on so many subjects. Inwardly there was guilt of pretending to be needing braces when she was confined to her wheelchair. She did not wear leg braces and she never moved her legs. I asked her what had caused her to be disabled. She said it was something in her past that was best left forgotten.
She said "What about you? What happened to put you in braces?"
This was something I didn't want to get in to. I didn't want to lie but it had to be answered.
"I was faced with either wearing braces or not able to get around and make a living."
"How long have you had to wear them?" she said.
"A little over a year. Since just before I started with the company."
We had a great day together. I didn't want it to end but I knew if I asked her to my condo, or if we went to her place, I would be found out to be a pretender. That would not only ruin our relationship but could cost me my job. So, I took her back to the restaurant and her car and suggested we get together sometime during the week.
Monday night I called her at home. She seemed glad to hear from me but she was a bit shy, or reserved. I wondered if there was someone else in her life.
"Are you seeing someone else?"
"Why do you ask that?"
"You just seem a bit distant tonight." I said.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I just have some things on my mind that I have to sort out. No I am not seeing anyone."
I said, "Good. I'm not seeing anyone either. I had a wonderful time with you yesterday and would like to see you."
"Well let’s take it slow. I enjoyed being with you too. It's just there are some things about me that you don't know."
"I think we both have things to discover about each other." I said.
Over the next few weeks we dated, going to plays, the park, to movies, just enjoying the company of each other. Our interest in each other was getting serious. This was just what I had been afraid of. If I was going to be intimate with someone they would find out I had been pretending to need braces. Our relationship was to the point of going to the next step. If I told her my secret I could lose her. If I didn't tell her my secret and continued in a superficial relationship I could lose her.
One Saturday night we went out for dinner and then went to a club to listen to some jazz. There was piano, bass, and drums, a saxophone, and a female singer. They did a lot of upbeat tunes but mostly they did romantic ballads. It was the songs of love that got to both of us. We looked at each other and a message without words passed between us.
We went to her apartment because my condo was not wheel chair accessible. It was after midnight but neither of us was tired. I started to help her from her wheel chair onto the couch when she said:
"Don't, Please wait. There's something I have to confess. I've become very interested in you, no, more than that; I want you in my life but for us to continue I have to be truthful. What I am about to tell you could cause me to lose my job and your respect. I don't want to lose you but I can't go on pretending if we're to have a serious relationship."
I said: "What do you mean? Pretending about what?"
"Pretending about this wheelchair. There, I've said it. It's out. I don't need a wheel chair. I only got it so I could get a good job and now I've become addicted to it. It's become a part of me, a part of who I am. I've even come to enjoy it. But the main thing is, I don't want to lose your friendship. You have brightened my life and I don't want to lose that."
I sat down on the couch, stunned. I said:
"I have some things to tell you!"