Can a cold knock an otherwise sensible person into a prolonged state of anxiety? Perhaps, at least in my case. And why? This has been a matter of some discussion in these blog pages. I maintain that the stamina-sucking properties of the common cold are just enough to push me into something closer to reality. Which is that my life energies are in an unusually critical supply, any drain is noticeable, and with an eye toward age and so on, I am completely fucked. And if this sounds a bit cavalier and humorous, I am obscuring the point. Which is that a certain anxiety level has taken over in these last few days. And the only way to get to the heart of the matter is to, you know…get to the heart of the matter.
On Tuesday nights I leave the weekly rehearsal of the Menlo Park Chorus at around 9:45 and roll home. Often on my own. For 20 years Jane has had her own chorus to lead. So she doesn’t turn up for our community chorus rehearsals all that often. So frequently this is a night on my own. Which is absolutely no big deal, except that the event has curiously blossomed into an anxious one. Anxious about what? Well, everything.
First there is the ride home. It is late, and I am moving about city streets on my own. Which, at least on one occasion, proved to be rather fraught. That was 45 years ago, one must acknowledge. And no, I have not been shot since. So there is a strong argument in favor of lightening up. But this isn’t happening. On the contrary, I am heavying up. It seems vaguely dangerous, this late-night wheelchair ride of approximately a quarter mile through some of the safest suburban streets anywhere. The whole experience takes less than 10 minutes. Swift and familiar.
I roll across the library parking lot, knowing that at the late hour cars are not in abundance, but smooth asphalt is. The footpath beside the civic duck pond tends to have breaks and seams, tilting the sections just enough to bounce and slow my wheelchair. So it’s a smooth seamless run across the black expanse, a safe and uninterrupted burst of battery power propelling me through the known, although largely unseen, pavement. I abandon the car park at the extreme end, giving up my quest for smooth riding in favor of about fifty meters of bouncy, sectioned concrete. At the end of which there is a dip. Here at the corner a wheelchair ramp leads me to the street. Or misleads me. Built too steeply, if I descend in a straightforward manner, my footrests will scrape on the pavement. So I angle. The wheelchair heads slightly to the left while rolling down, so that the right tire hits the asphalt before the metal footplate. Often I see a car approaching. The headlights usually obscure whoever is driving, but there is a good chance that this person has just left chorus practice, like me. So I wave.
Why not? Ours is truly a community chorus. The ‘community’ part evident in the general good spirits, the snacks, the sheer attendance. It’s not easy to get 30 middle-aged adults pried away from their obsessions of an evening, gathering together anywhere, particularly to sing. And yet it is quite infectious, the whole experience. And recently the choral nights have been eased, their burdensome nature replaced by another thing, the joy of song, perhaps. I denounce myself less for my inability to read music, enjoying what I can read, the up or down progress of tones, for example. Now and then I even hit the right note, aiming neither low nor high. For music can be particularly liberating in my case. No instrument or finger dexterity being required, all I have to do is breathe. But beyond the technicalities there is just the good spirit of a good evening spent singing. Repeating some spiritual line about golden slippers in a heavenly home. Not quite the right words, but never mind. That is the chorus experience. Some words right, some wrong, and it doesn’t matter.
What matters now is that I have waved, crossed the street and ascended the opposite wheelchair ramp, also turning at an angle to compensate for the poor design of this, our cityscape. Slowing down for the railway tracks. Would be very bad for my wheelchair or its batteries to die at this particular juncture. What would I do? This question does come to mind as my rubber wheels work their way over the steel rails. It soon becomes moot as I roll past the hissing lawn of the local stock brokerage. The sprinklers come on at this hour. Rain or shine, of course. Water flows along the footpath. There is something reassuring about all this. The care, albeit automated, the regularity, the secret glimpse of suburban life.
The film hasn’t changed at Menlo Park’s single-screen movie theater. One of the last cinemas of its kind anywhere in this country. Not that I think about this at the moment. For it seems indomitable and fragile at the same time. Hard to say how the hamburger restaurant closes so quickly and utterly. The doors shut at nine. By 9:05 the place is dark and sealed, no evidence of cleaning, stocking or even locking.
The rain, which I have been ignoring, asserts itself once the El Camino Real traffic light brings all forward progress to a halt. The brilliance of the sodium lights at this juncture make me feel exposed and vulnerable, exposed and safe. The low dark wheelchair crossing the six-lane thoroughfare is relatively hard to miss. If I’m going to get hit, I’m going to get hit. This general frame of mind sets me up well for what remains. A dark bouncy run up Roble Avenue, a turn down my cracked drive. I am fairly wet by now. True, the rain is light, but without a jacket the wet is beginning to penetrate. I roll up the wheelchair ramp, get under the overhang and fumble for my keys. This would be a good place to mug me, if someone wanted to mug me. And doubtless someone does. But not tonight. I am inside, safe, snug. And alone.
I had to be alone to appreciate all this. To absorb and savor the night as it is. ‘Alone’ does not mean abandoned or failed, as something in me seems hard-wired to believe. And anxiety? It has its place too. I turn on the heat. My apartment roars to life. It is my life. At this moment I am alone in it. And this moment is fine.