Mornings are connected to all other mornings. They run in a straight line, a stratum as consistent as geological time. Which is their problem. Or my problem with them. It is a rare morning that bursts like a bit of finely aged Parmesan upon the tongue. Finely aged myself, I take this for granted. Perhaps I shouldn’t. Not that this matters, for mornings, all of them, reveal their character early and completely.
Most mornings commence with worry, and of the fundamental sort. Can I get out of bed? Here, reality and fearful fantasy commingle. My abdominal muscles, the half that are not paralyzed, are not quite sufficient to sit me up on my own. To get sedentary, I twist both legs off the edge of the mattress. Then I kick. The one functional leg shoots out, providing enough force to rock me forward, until I am seated. Actually, this takes a few attempts. And it is the latter reality that can prove most sobering. It feels very marginal, this situp. I seem right on the edge of not being able to do it at all. And there was a time, one occasion…let us be clear…when the sitting up in bed maneuver failed utterly.
True, it was an anomaly. I had been sitting in an airplane seat for 12 hours, on and off. And the next morning, the leg-kicking and abdominals-straining effort was all for naught. I could not lift my torso. Still, any reasonable person would attach a very important detail here. This not-getting-out-of-bed morning occurred once, now more than a year ago. It has not occurred since. Yet each morning, every morning, I half expect the worst. I will be stuck in bed until help arrives. And naturally there is this other part, the question of whether or not it will arrive. Ever.
Mentally, I am already preparing for this next eventuality. After all, I cannot reach the phone in this position. If morning help isn’t scheduled, Jane is working, and there is some otherwise perfect storm of isolation…well, my mind already embraces the next development. I will slide off the bed, straight down the side of the mattress, to the floor. The idea is to remain seated so that I can now grab the phone from the bedside table. But this is not so simple. I have not done this maneuver at any point in the last decade, and there is no saying what my back will encounter as it slips along the edge of the bed frame. Some sharp metal may cut or bruise or merely make me spasm. The latter would definitely throw me off my game, as would any significant pain. The upshot being that I would be lying on the
carpet, not sitting. And from there, well, the scenario worsens. Me sliding along the carpet, pushing desperately with the one working leg. But finding little traction. A final act of home decorative kindness by my late wife, the carpet is designed for ease of wheelchair rolling. Not quadriplegic body pushing.
What happens next? Hitting the bedside table, perhaps, or kicking it, hoping that the cordless phone will fall to some convenient spot on the floor. Not the most reliable assumption. The phone has as good a chance of rolling under the bed. Which would leave me on the carpet for…well, one doesn’t know. There is a chance, admittedly a slim one, of pushing myself back up the mattress and onto the bed. This being something I have not attempted in, oh, 15 or 20 years. It’s not looking very good, any of it. And although I supply a certain level of narrative detail here, all these images coexist in my mind upon awakening. Every single scene, like the sets for some massive opera, sit parked in the wings ready to roll on stage. It’s 6:31 AM. Is this any way to start the day? It is my way, and that is all I know.
Northbound on the 11:44, no longer housebound and now lunchbound…this is the other thing I know. Actually, there is yet another. That one is damned either way in the matter of hydration. I am all for it, keeping bodily fluids, you know, fluid. Liquidity. Which is why I drink one big glass of water at about 7 AM. Which combined with a cup of tea is now having its evil way with me. I had a perfectly sensible plan to drink my morning water ration early, then embark for Berkeley free of peeing worries. This hasn’t worked. By 12 noon, I can see that something has to be done. Caltrain does have a toilet, of sorts, in my car. In fact, it is adjacent to me and can be even described as wheelchair-accessible. I can certainly reach the room, close the door behind me, even standing with relative safety thanks to a good supply of handrails. What I cannot do is successfully aim into the toilet. I can’t get close enough, the bowl being built into a sort of stainless steel table. I do my best and with disastrous results. There is no option. I have to pee. Now there is no option but to grab masses of paper towels and attempt to undo the damage to the floor. People are waiting, of course. That is the way of trains and of life. I have done my best, that can be said. And in all fairness, my best is appalling.
At Millbrae, I transfer to the BART subway system and begin a ride through socioeconomically troubled waters. Daly City, and a woman boards carrying a small infant and a cardboard sign. Help, says the sign. Hungry, it also says. Me and my baby. She is young and quite attractive, this girl. I feel manipulated, rightly or wrongly. By 24th St., I am entirely turned off by the black guy aggressively in search of funds to pay someone’s excess baggage charge. A person is stuck at the airport, he bellows to the car, and let’s pitch in and help them out. See, there is this bag exceeding the 50 pound limit, weighing 60 pounds. He is stuck, this person. Give this guy some money, provide your address, and you’ll get it back.
Whatever can be said of these two pitches or two scams, they have occurred aboard the transit system designed to unite the Bay Area. If the stories don’t hold water, never mind. They hold my attention. I couldn’t hold water either. We are all doing our best these days, whatever train we are on.