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Cheryl Marie Wade

Cheryl Wade

Cheryl Marie Wade

A Sassy Juicy Poster Girl Gone Awry

March 4, 1948 – August 21, 2013

At a memorial for Cheryl Wade, or celebration of her life, held on the UCBerkeley campus yesterday, four or five of her close friends offered memories of her and their friendship that moved me to tears. Cheryl was one of those people that others, myself among them, sometimes envied for her wide circle of devoted friends. They came from the different areas of her life, each fitting into another aspect of her many-faceted personality, art, and work. With one she went to Broadway musicals (and later acted them out); with another she organized performances, and so forth and so on. She was almost always authentic: she didn’t hide her anger for fear of alienating people, or bury resentment under fake smiles.  She was a political activist who placed her art above and beyond any message, yet delivered a heartfelt message every time.

“I want my art to be so good that someone who doesn’t give a damn about disability comes to see me because I’m good,
and goes away with a new consciousness about disabled people.”

I met Cheryl the way I met a lot of people in the Bay Area: interviewing her for a newspaper story.  I keep trying to remember where I first heard of her, how she showed up on my radar in the first place, but I still haven’t figured it out. It would’ve been logical to see one of her shows and want to write about her, but I didn’t see her perform until after we met. Cheryl onstage was inspiring, and had I seen her there first I know I would’ve asked for an interview. But she was just as inspiring off stage as on, and interviewing her was one of the high points of my journalism career. The high lasted quite awhile, as I interviewed and wrote about several other disabled performers after her.  Disability culture is, in a word, HOT!  As Cheryl once told me, “The gift of disability is the experience of not taking physical or mental abilities for granted.” She  exemplified this idea, as usual, in poetry:

Do you walk?
Do you feel your muscles tighten?CMW Onstage
Do you drag bare feet through warm shag carpet?
Do you feel the muscle in back of your right calf
tightening and loosening,
tightening and loosening?
Do you walk?

My absolutely favorite of all Wade’s poems is Not a Reason To Die, which she wrote after reading an editorial by an able-bodied man proposing that people with certain levels of disabilities be allowed to die.

I’m trickster coyote in a gnarly-bone suit
I’m a fate worse than death in shit-kickin’boots
Unknown-2I’m the nightmare booga you flirt with in dreams
‘Cause I emphatically demonstrate: It ain’t what it seems
I’m a whisper, I’m a heartbeat, I’m “that accident,” and goodbye
One thing I am not is a reason to die.

I’m homeless in the driveway of your manicured street
I’m Evening Magazine’s SuperCrip of the Week
I’m the girl in the doorway with no illusions to spare
I’m a kid dosed on chemo, so who said life is fair
I’m a whisper, I’m a heartbeat, I’m “let’s call it suicide” and sigh
One thing I am not is a reason to die.

I’m the poster child with doom-dipped eyes
I’m the ancient remnant set adrift on ice
I’m that Valley girl, you know, dying of thin
I’m all that is left of the Cheshire Cat’s grin
I’m the Wheelchair Athlete, I’m every dead Baby Doe
I’m the Earth’s last volcano, and I am ready to blow
I’m a whisper, I’m a heartbeat, I’m a genocide survivor and Why?
One thing I am not is a reason to die.
I am not a reason to die.

I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone judge this life as not quality.
Thousands of non-disabled people would be very fortunate to have my life.”

She was right. She was sassy. She was juicy. She was brassy.

RIP Cheryl. You will be missed.

Cheryl Wade Must-See’s:

Disability Culture Rap Part I

Disability Culture Rap Part II

Thank You Cheryl Marie Wade: A You Tube channel where anyone can visit or contribute.
For info on uploading your own video contact: ThankYou CMW@gmail.com.

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2 responses »

  1. How do you know she’s going to die in 2016?

  2. Whoops! Thanks for pointing it out.

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