I recall it all with remarkable clarity and, let us note, cringing embarrassment. There is really no call for the latter, yet it is somehow part of the story. Which, incidentally, isn’t even much of a story. All by way of turning off the reader, which I seem to be attempting. Where was I?
On the 88 bus, of course. London Transport was my home in those days, even after I had lost my little job. And, yes, it was a job. Without it, I was slightly lost. Though, it must be noted, I had another. My daily trips into the West End to see a psychoanalyst. Which was not a little job. It just wasn’t a paying one. Nor was it rich with social life. Which meant that three years into my London stay, I really had too much time on my hands.
Or on my one hand. All sorts of expressions had begun to pale in this, my still new disabled life. In retrospect, my transit rides around London amounted to another job, a perfectly legitimate one in the mind of any sensible person. Unfortunately, I was not sensible, and at age 25, still becoming a person. This constant moving about town, finding things to do in my non-analysis hours, could easily have been classed as rehabilitation. Trust me, I didn’t see it that way.
I’m not sure how I saw it or how I saw myself. I was young. Things were still possible. Clearly not all things, but who was counting? Anyway, on the 88 bus, and heading down the Bayswater Road, nearing home. Somehow I got have to talking to this attractive woman. Not only attractive, but American. The very sort of person who needed a bit of tourist advice, of which, by now, I had plenty. The bus was fairly empty. I had just enough time to present myself and describe my illustrious life.
I was very busy. I took pains to make this clear. What was I busy at? Well, I had scratched out little jobs of editing this and writing that. I am sure that in my self-promotional narrative, it was all go. In reality, I had small, short assignments for an encyclopedia publisher, my task, the Americanization of certain passages. News reader? Fuck that, you British guys, everyone knows the term is ‘news anchor.’ That’s what I did, one laborious paragraph after the next. And not that often. Which explains what I was doing on the 88 bus, more or less. I might have been to a museum or met someone for lunch. All go.
The woman, it developed, had a husband. I took down her phone number and suggested we all get together. Good to meet people. When the 88 bus pulled up to a stop on Holland Park Avenue near my room on Norland Square, I poured on the neuromuscular steam. After all, I had been seated until that point. Now I was conscious of standing up and revealing the entire musculoskeletal disaster. No, not conscious, unconsciously aware. And that was the whole thing. I was supposedly just a guy on a bus who was very busy with his life in publishing. Disabled? Absolutely not. Just watch me make my lithe exit from this bus. To the discerning observer, there was about 5% truth to this self image. I had mastered the buses, hooking my crutch in the crook of my bad arm and grabbing the vertical pole on the outside platform of double-decker buses…as I stepped to the ground.
What I recall, though, is my absolute refusal to acknowledge in the slightest way that I was even, let us say, challenged. Remember, I was half paralyzed. Even seated, my right hand sat noticeably lifeless on my lap. Once on my feet and swinging like a quadriplegic Tarzan off the bus…who knows what this woman thought? I was probably into my fifth year of disability. It was time to get used to things. Still, there hadn’t been time enough.