A slow burn, they call it, referring to an evenly maintained anger. And although this goes against my conditioned grain, there’s much to be said for it. A little bit of anger, constantly simmering, maybe what’s needed to keep the wheels turning, the life humming.
Take my brother’s stairway. I was taking it, that is the thing, and taking it badly. I saw no reason not to go up the down staircase. After all, I have done this plenty of times. But during Thanksgiving at my brother’s house in Seattle, they are particularly distinct. Years of practice have taught me that the hardwood stairs with the solid railing on the left, the same side as my one working arm, facilitate ascent. On the downside, take the other stairs. Their rail is on the left heading to the ground floor. And descending, there’s not much of anything except a low wall on the other side, but with ample carpeting to cushion the gravitational thud of your feet.
And so if you’ve got one of those impetuous, devil may care quadriplegic moments going, and you insist on ascending the down staircase…the carpeted one with the rail on the wrong side…well, the devil take you. And, thing is, he will.
My brother’s den or lounge or television room…call it what you will…happens to be directly above the down staircase. So it seemed a natural thing for me to do what I’ve done in the past, to grab the rail to my right with the working hand to my left. Yes, there is considerable torso torsion involved in this, but so what? A little twisting never hurt anyone. This despite protests from my brother, for wouldn’t it be easier using the other staircase? I assured him that, yes, it would, but what the hell. There I was, there was the TV just above me, and there I would be, upstairs, in a matter of minutes.
Hard to say why the whole ascent became so arduous. But my simple answer for such things as always the same. Age. Time’s winged chariot, driven by the Grim Reaper, moving us right along. And with each advance, a small retreat. It took forever to even haul one foot onto one step. And so it went, all of it, up the staircase. Jane, my brother, my nephew followed. With me grabbing, leaning, tilting, somehow enormous energy required for each rung of the ladder. I was exhausted at the top. And more than that, I was dispirited. How and why had thus become so hard? The answer of age satisfies nothing. No one else I know is this ‘old.’ Why me?
Which is a perfectly sane question…and life is leading me there…but not yet.
For now, I make it to the top of the stairs and watch a bit of television. A bit of television is about all I can take. Which is unfortunate, because there is good stuff on the little screen. But mostly not for me. HBO. All sorts of worthwhile things on PBS. Nevermind. I would rather read. Which also puts me out of touch with much of what’s happening in the modern world, so I welcome this in many ways. Watching Jerry Seinfeld interview Don Rickles. It’s okay. Rickles, it turns out, is a very sweet man. Never mind his nightclub persona.
Me, I am pretty much the opposite. And as soon as I get in bed, this reality bursts to the fore. I have obsessive thoughts of executions, physically overcoming my opponents…and who are they these opponents? Who can say? There are so many. But principally the ones who shot me. My anger at them burning, but finding this indirect outlet. For it has hit me, just how disabled I really am. And how more disabled I am becoming. Yes, despite rowing machines, physical therapy and whatever else…there is no turning back life’s clock. The stairs are getting harder. Both stairs, if I’m honest. The carpeted ones challenging my general strength and flexibility in particular ways. But both are hard.
Why me? I can only think of Leslie Bar, who must have been in his 60s when I knew him in London decades ago, a Polish Jew with bad survivor guilt. Anyway, I recall him musing…’the Chosen People – I wish they’d chosen someone else.’
Jane is very good at reminding me of what I’ve learned along the way. Which is splendid. Which doesn’t mean that at the end of the day I’m not angry. I didn’t ask for this. I don’t like it. I wish it would go away.
Which it never does…unless one takes a partial view. After all, in the morning, I descend the down staircase. It is extremely easy. Jane and I are even laughing. Which, by the way, is no small gift, being married to someone who can laugh…frequently and at the right things. Like the human comedy. Which we share, last time I looked. Thing is I don’t look very often. One of many reasons why it’s nice to have a partner.