Hollywood doesn’t often cast people with disabilities in romantic movies, but there are inter-ability couples like Barton and Megan Cutter who are living love stories.
Barton has Cerebral Palsy (CP). Megan doesn’t. The Raleigh, N.C. couple gives a no-holds-barred account of their courtship, wedding, and nine-year marriage in their book “Ink in the Wheels: Stories to Make Love Roll.”
The Cutters are like many married couples in their 30s. They’re developing their careers, starting a business, finding a social circle, coping with the ups and downs of home ownership, and meshing the strong desire to have children with the disappointment of infertility.
But the memoir is unique for the layer of considerations that Barton’s disability adds to decision.
For example, the couple had to move from Tuscaloosa, Ala., where Megan had inherited her mother’s house, because that city was lacking in accessible public transportation. The move to Raleigh solved Barton’s transportation issues, but housing-related costs almost tripled, devastating the Cutters budget until they made major adjustments.
In sharing the story, Barton says he hopes to empower people with disabilities to reach for greater personal and professional satisfaction and achieve greater independence.
Megan says she hopes to show that marriage can be very satisfying, even if your spouse has a disability.
“I get so much from Barton,” Megan said. It was her husband, she said, who took the lead in re-branding their marketing and public relations business to one specializing in life coaching and creative expression, Cutters Edge Consulting.
Barton, who speaks with a thick accent because of the CP, said people he meets usually assume that Megan is his caregiver. Often he is asked how he got such an attractive personal assistant.
Barton just smiles broadly and answers, “She said yes.”
Because getting married caused Barton to lose his Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, there have been times when the Cutters have had to economize and Megan has provided Barton’s direct personal care.
But the Cutters make sure Megan is treated as a wife, with equality, and gets time to attend to her own needs.
The couple met a decade ago over Valentines weekend at a martial arts seminar in Arizona.
Barton has long combined a meditation practice with budo taijutsu training, a discipline that requires acute concentration to make intentional, sweeping movements.
Megan’s friends encouraged her to try budo taijutsu as a diversion after a broken engagement followed closely by the death of her mother, who had multiple sclerosis.
Barton and Megan weren’t looking for love, but love blossomed through another shared interest – writing.
Barton was just completing a bachelor’s degree in creative writing at the University of Arizona. Megan had also majored in creative writing and was then working in corporate marketing in Alabama.
Barton emailed her a new poem every day, although the process was arduous. He pecks out letter by letter with a beak-like pointer strapped to his head.
Megan emailed him her writings, seeking literary critique.
“It was a dance of words that lasted several months,” Barton said.
Barton also summoned courage to begin phoning Megan. Because of the CP he was afraid his speech would not be clear enough for her to understand.
Before long, the couple was engaging in pillow talk on Barton’s accessible speakerphone that made his college roommate blush.
Barton and Megan were nicknamed “Gilligan and Mary Ann” by organizers of the next martial arts seminar they both attended. The couple went AWOL for more than a three-hour tour, during which Megan was spotted sitting on Barton’s lap in his wheelchair as he motored around the UA campus – too fast, as always – and doing sharp 360-degree turns to make her giggle.
When Megan talked to family and friends about her new boyfriend, she’d mention the most important things – they were both into martial arts and writing and he emailed her a poem a day.
She didn’t disclose his disability until Barton had popped the question – by placing a custom-made engagement ring by the “Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry” and asking her to take the volume off his shelf.
Parents of the couple initially opposed the union. It would be hard work for Megan to marry someone with a disability, they said. And forfeiting benefits might be foolhardy for Barton because a time might come when the couple could not self-fund his direct care.
Undaunted, the couple planned a beautiful wedding. The ceremony culminated with a big surprise: Barton – for the first time publicly – standing and escorting his new bride out of the church.
It was the first of many moments that signaled this love is the real deal.
Barton is handsome -- and a poet --but those things aren’t what wins the heart of a pretty girl, he said.
“Be humble, but confident,” Barton said. “Be patient and express yourself in a way that the other person will not be put off. That’s the important first step.”
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