All Downhill

Taking big pleasure from little things…that seems to be the key to quadriplegia life. I do wish I could remember this. Unfortunately, I rarely do. Take yesterday. For some merrily inexplicable reason, I set off for the nether purlieus of suburban San Mateo County and simply drove there. No complications. No doubts. Well, no serious doubts. The less serious doubts are there all the time. Why quibble?

More to the point, why not enjoy? After all, the rift valley of the San Andreas fault is a thing of beauty. No, it is not a joy forever. In the sense that nothing is forever. Still, for your average mortal, this is relatively close to permanent. The motorway provides stunning angles on the landscape. The Coast Range rises from the reservoirs at its base in a sort of arc. Is it a bowl or a canyon? The ground curves upward in a characteristic sweep, perhaps only visible to us natives. That’s good. You’ve got to be a native somewhere. And this is my somewhere.

The drive back found me at the end of the day. And this has become a time of worry. And since knowledge is the antidote to worry, I do hope to see the end of these anxious days. I see my physiotherapist on Tuesday and fully intend to have a word. But it’s not Tuesday now, and I’m leaving Menlo Park at 6:45 PM. The setting sun has a good two hours to go, long enough to cause a certain amount of mayhem. It slants, striking me the driver through the side window of my Dodge. I have the visor turned to my left. I have the radio turned to Prairie Home Companion, a folksy National Public Radio show that is only intermittently funny. Fortunately, I have caught it at one of its intermittent moments. Driving north into the sun I laugh out loud. Jane, electronically immersed in an audiobook yanks out her earbuds and asks what’s happening. Have I said something? Is there something I want her to do?

All is well, I assure her. This is a lie. I am nervous, afraid that motor neuron fatigue is going to do in my limbs…in particular, the left foot that I keep swiveling from accelerator to brake. There is something I want her to do. I want her to drive. Acknowledging that this is impossible…my van is singularly lacking in a driver’s seat…I have fantasies about losing such control of my braking foot, that Jane will be obliged to somehow push the pedal with her hand. It’s not clear what, in this fantasy, has rendered my left leg so inactive. Except that this is my reality. Things can fail at any moment.

Heading home, I have some of the going-downhill thing. Maybe this is because there’s so much sun blasting from my left. You know, disorienting and/or disconcerting. Anyway, whenever I come to one of the crests in the hilly motorway, I lose heart. I also lose speed, pressing the brake in the more or less hallucinogenic belief that I am somehow rolling too fast, Everything literally going downhill. Doubtless there’s something existential in this. But I don’t have the luxury of savoring my existential dilemmas on Interstate 280. My only luxury is radio, and the funny parts are over now.

So is about 50% of the drive. I measure the entire route in thirds. There is the first climb up and over to the turn off for Half Moon Bay. From there, the middle third to the airport turn off. And we are right in the middle of the middle third. At the end of which, there’s another disturbing downhill bit. Again, I keep hitting the brake pedal. Which has the unfortunate effect of slowing my car, at times to about 45 mph. I know other drivers hate me. I hate myself for making them hate me. Really, we form a coherent neurotic mass, the other drivers and I. It’s just that we don’t know it. This is the nature of driving. Individualistic on the outside, collective on the shared level of motorway survival.

The next day I awake discouraged. Why can’t a routine drive be…a routine drive? I don’t know. Nothing is easy. But things are. And when I think about it…and I must to stay sane…that a remarkable thing.

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