What can one say of a life that is reduced to news of the right foot? That it is a disabled life, of course, ‘my left foot’ providing title and focus for some of the best writing about disability. So don’t apologize, I tell myself, and keep your eye on the arch.
BBC Radio 3 has been broadcasting talks from its November symposium on, more or less, The Future of Everything. Jane and I were listening just the other day to the quite courageous and remarkable Anglican official who refused to kick the Occupy protesters out of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Whose talk begins with a consideration of grounded life. He doesn’t use those words. But I do. His ‘ground’ is religious tradition. Having essentially no tradition, this experience is foreign to me, but with a stretch I can appreciate it. What grounds me is, more or less, my right foot and other neuromuscular anomalies. And there is more. I keep reminding myself of this, trying to pay attention. Which brings us to the flower guy.
Menlo Park’s Sunday open-air market is a year-round affair, which says something good in itself. Neither rain nor sleet nor snow nor the absence of anything but roots and olive oil shall keep this…and so on. So I like it when this guy who grows paper whites and other fragrant flowers year-round in Carmel Valley welcomes me warmly when I approach his market stand. The guy in the wheelchair is a regular customer, the man mutters to his assistant as he wraps up my bunch. Being known, this is what amounts to stability and relative permanence in a transient high-tech suburb. And, it must be noted, unpleasant reminders of one’s failures. The parents I still run into from the local high school, for example. Where my PR work petered out, at best. That is part of it. Baggage.
The idea being that these are the constraints, the earthly confines that keep us from floating too lightly through existence. Mine is a tiny world, circumscribed increasingly, ever diminishing. And yet it all gets better, that is the odd thing. Somehow, there is less possibility yet more of me. And the boundaries, being uncertain, continually need to be probed.
There’s this thing that happens to one’s ability to walk if one doesn’t choose to walk. No, the muscles can thrive, if that is the word, under force of exercycle and rowing machine. But it is proprioception and balance that quickly wane. Which explains why I was up on my feet this very afternoon, schlepping carefully about my apartment. Jane was on her way, a break in Sunday church activities. Which had me up and moving.
My course is a small one. What makes it seem big are the unknowns. First, the level of danger. I seem to be wavering, my balance treacherous, but how serious a matter is this? I err very much on the side of caution, always trying to keep something to my right. For that is the dangerous direction. With the right side of my body paralyzed, should I topple that way, no limb could break the fall. I would go over like a 2 x 4 post. To be avoided. So I start off in the bedroom, the mattress to my right. Then there is a gap. Here, in this dangerous open space, my gait becomes mincing. I sort of shuffle, feeling this is safer. The big neurologically enhanced steps my physiotherapist has encouraged me to take…well, they are just destabilizing enough to make me proceed very slowly. Until I hit the hallway wall when I can lurch with relative abandon. But for all of four or five paces. For then I run out of hallway and find myself in the perilously open bedroom.
To add exercise distance I move around the periphery, the open closet to my right, here telling myself that I will fall against a wire cabinet. Then turning, an IKEA file, then a desk, back to the hallway, and along the entranceway wall. Then another turning and along some desks, the end of the sofa, the back of a chair, bookcases, a table, then Marlou’s glass breakfront. A hutch, some would call it. Whatever. This utterly foreign piece of furniture with its glass windows…one could term it a vitrine…is both substantial and insubstantial. To slam against it would mean broken glass and sliced skin, more blood than I wish to imagine. Bleeding to death on the living room carpet not being beyond imagination. At least mine.
And yet being up and about, seeing my own home, for once, from the vertical…well, it’s essential. In such moments I note that I still have all this stuff from Marlou, memorabilia, knickknacks, favorite objects of hers. And all this needs a home. Not mine, by the way, for Hummel figures and so on, they’re just not me. And Marlou wouldn’t want this here, all these beloved porcelain figures, tiny teacups and saucers, miniature ceramic boxes…these should be somewhere else. Destination still unknown, but problem noted. Otherwise, the case of figurines would vanish into the background of my life. In fact, were it not for these occasional walks I take about the apartment, the photos on the wall in the hallway would still be there. Marlou’s grandmother, her brother’s wedding, a great-grandmother, a high school graduation portrait…all stuff from another person. Another time. Not this time. Debbie, my sister-in-law, took them down and put the photos in a desk drawer just a few weeks ago.
The BBC’s speaker, the church official from St. Paul’s, spoke not only of having home ground, as it were, but of defending it. His students, he had observed, were much better at critiquing positions then defending their own. To this I would add an important nuance. Defending without being defensive in tone. Confidently sticking up for something. Which I am inadvertently doing now. A lot goes on in a small and confined area. That this is my life, and it has made me, and here I am. That my ‘small’ adventures are as big as any, the challenges of getting about with a half-paralyzed body are more than sufficient in scale. And that the opposite is to have no ground at all. Which makes life much easier in some senses. But quite oppressive in others.
I think the main person who needs to hear the defense of my apartment is me. In America it is a badge of something or other to own a house. At times, my apartment life has seemed very much a failure. Of course, this is where so much of everything has occurred. This is where I married happily, became a widower sadly, and found another love. It is where I found myself in many ways. That I keep finding more of myself is a sort of miracle. It all happened here. Two bedrooms. One bath. One life. And that there is more of the latter, in any amount, that is the other astonishing, yes, miraculous thing.