Here's What It's Like When Everyone Thinks Your Girlfriend Is Your Carer
Shane Burcaw and Anna Reinalda are the most awesome couple you've ever seen.
Here's Shane Burcaw and his girlfriend, Anna Reinalda.
I have an enormous penis. Am I allowed to say that? Off to a great start! But seriously, I was born with a disease called spinal muscular atrophy that causes my muscles to waste away as I get older. I've been in a wheelchair since I was about 3 years old and my body is incredibly weak, so I rely on people to help me with pretty much every aspect of staying alive.
Oh yes, the other really important thing about Burcaw is this: He's a very funny guy. His blog, Laughing at My Nightmare, has over half a million followers. It's by turns moving and hilarious: He's writing about a condition that will eventually kill him. But take a while to read it: His humour in the face of his daily struggles is inspirational.
Anyway, a couple of days ago Burcaw wrote an article for the The Morning Call about Reinalda, his girlfriend of two months, and how strangers assume she's his nurse.
Once, a person blankly asked if she was "the one who takes care of him." We've gotten used to this bizarre, recurring question, and often find ways to poke fun at their ignorance.
"He's my dad," Anna will answer with deadpan perfection.
"I just pay her to be my friend," I will say.
In the thoroughly heartwarming piece, Burcaw said he didn't think he was worthy of romantic affection for much of his young life. "I worried that my physical limitations would prevent girls from wanting to date me," he wrote. "I will not be able to pick her up in my car, I can't give hugs or hold hands very well, and we will be limited in the activities we can do for dates."
But at college, he "met some spectacular people who helped me shake the notion that love was only for the physically abled".
He added: "Once I realised that there are girls out there who are more than happy to 'make it work', the fear of being unloved for all eternity drifted away like a funny joke of the past."
And he wrote about how he and Anna had bonded over laughter:
One of our main sources of bonding became teaching her how to keep me alive, like how to brush my teeth without choking me, or how to put my shoes on without snapping my ankles ... She deserves an award for putting up with my relentless teasing.
So we decided to ask them more about their relationship.
Our first date wasn't strictly speaking a date, but it was our first meal together one on one. We were both ridiculously nervous to even be in the same room together, but the wheelchair had nothing to do with that. My first time driving his van was slightly nerve-wracking, but only because the vehicle was older than I am and probably not the safest thing to have on the road. At the restaurant, we sat next to each other, laughed at our stupid shyness and just enjoyed exploring each other's minds. I think that by far the strangest thing to me was having a stranger approach the table to congratulate Shane on the success of his book and his column in the Morning Call [a Pennsylvania newspaper]. The whole fame thing isn't something I'm used to. But cutting his food, giving him sips of his 'dicksweat', also known as beer, and remembering to drive slowly enough to avoid setting Shane's head off-balance were things that came without a second thought.
It was never really a question for me as to whether we could make a relationship work. From pretty early on in our friendship, Shane was practically throwing himself at me. I'm kidding, but we did both express that we had hopes of some day having a romantic relationship, though we agreed that it was best to get to know each other first.
I realised very early on that Anna was smarter and funnier than me, and I knew right then that I wanted a relationship with her if that's what she wanted.
People are overall very nice about the whole wheelchair thing; they hold doors for us and tend to be respectful of our space, which is lovely. But there are definitely occasions where I've felt the taboo of disability creeping up on us. For example if we're out to dinner, until Shane opens his mouth, waiters tend to look at me to tell them his order. It isn't a huge deal for either of us, I don't think. We usually ignore little things like that because it most often comes from a genuine lack of understanding, which is entirely valid.
In my 22 years of being in a wheelchair I've learned to roll my eyes and laugh at this sort of behaviour. But it is rather annoying. Anna and I make light of these situations by screwing with them.
Anna and I really connected over writing. We both majored in English and found that we can talk for hours about books we've read, or pieces that we're currently working on. We may or may not even be working on a book together.
We're both warm-weather people, and neither of us, Shane in particular, enjoys being cold very much. So most of our outings up until now have been indoor and food related. But we look forward to all kinds of outdoor adventures when the snow melts. We're actually planning a southern mini-vacation in a few weeks to get a headstart on spring temperatures!
Then we asked them about the one thing they really like about the other person:
Reinalda told us: "He takes wonderful care of our betta fish, Crème de Menthe."
And Burcaw said: "She has the world's most adorable yawn, which reminds me of Little Foot from The Land Before Time. She's constantly making me laugh. It's so tough to pick my favourite thing about her, because there are so many things about Anna that make me feel unbelievably lucky to even know her, let alone be in a loving relationship together."
And these guys are pretty upbeat about the future, you know.
Burcaw told us: "It's probably a little early to be saying this, but I'm going to have her babies."
Pretty awesome, huh? And if you enjoyed that, Burcaw would like you to go to his shop and buy an autographed copy of his memoir: "The proceeds will go to my nonprofit organization, which helps people with muscular dystrophy!"
Burcaw's article first appeared in The Morning Call. An earlier version of this post said it first appeared in the Huffington Post – which subsequently ran it.