A wonderful thing when the disabled access improves as a trip progresses. While I haven’t concerned myself much with this dimension of wheelchair travel, it has been there. And now in the Jury’s Inn, Exeter, wheelchair access is at its peak. A beautiful roll-in shower. Even a separate wheelchair toilet in the lobby/restaurant. The latter sending me to such levels of ecstasy that I confused the sign ‘nappy waste’ for ‘happy waste.’ Happy to be in Britain, I am.
Eddy has died. I got word this morning in an e-mail from my friend Pat. She did not comment…which can only mean that commenting is hard. They were lifelong friends, Pat and Eddy. Edress Finney was her original name, somehow I recall. An Irish name, it now seems obvious, but at the time this fact never occurred to me. And I did not know her well. I recall was that she was beautiful and had an uncanny social poise…from what I now realize was an early age. That and the last time I saw her.
Bob Harding, another college friend, had quite a crush on Eddy. I remember that much. I even remember telling her this in some drunken moment at a dance or party. And all I can remember was her beautiful face, pert and unfazed. Clearly my news did not impress her. Other fleeting recollections, and many reports from over the years. But mostly the last supper, as it were, 1968 and somewhere in Los Angeles.
I had been hospitalized for only a few months. My shooting near the Berkeley campus occurred in early June, and my guess is that this was September. Pat and Eddy took me out to dinner. That is to say, they drove to this most remote and obscure part of Los Angeles and somehow got me in a car. How? I had neither working legs nor arms. But the physiotherapists had been showing me how to use a sliding board. The latter was a very smooth piece of wood, a thin plank, tapered at both ends. And the trick was to put one end on the car seat, the other on the edge of the wheelchair cushion…and slide one’s butt along it. A crude and slow and arduous way for a disabled person to transfer into an automobile.
I recall, or almost recall, doing this. More, I can still feel the shame of it. Here I was, reduced to this. And here were these women, already in couples, eminently successful in their love lives. Going out with someone who wasn’t, for whatever reason. And putting up with this. Pathetic immobility, childish helplessness, and an awful lot of work. But what was there to do but pretend this was a visit like any other? Go to work, that was the only course of action. Try to make things go as smoothly as possible. Even when it was so glaringly obvious that the evening was going to be a sort of nightmare.
Italian. I recall Italian. Who knows where we drove? Chianti bottles with candles in them. Something for dinner that required little cutting and could be manipulated with one damaged hand. Conversation. Surely we had some. I can’t recall a word. In fact, I could not even remember precisely who was there, but for a fairly recent conversation with Pat during a San Francisco visit. I only recalled Eddy because of something she said. At some point in the dinner, she leaned over the table and said to me ‘Paul, you haven’t smiled all evening.’
I took this as further evidence of failure. My inability to even seem happy, to maintain a gracious front. Her words stung. A beautiful, socially accomplished young woman was reminding me of what a drag I was. The words echoed over time, more than 40 years, in fact. So, yes, I recalled Eddy.
How hard it was for me to have any sense of well-being, establish rapport with people. We were young, 21 or 22, and despite my imaginings about women, none of us had any great human communication skills at that point. And it took quite a degree of understanding and experience with tragedy and connection to handle such an evening. Eddy was expressing her concern, of course. Inexpertly, but with some ensuing dialogue, her words could have been an opener. How was I doing?
I don’t recall my words, the ones I offered in response. I may have said that this was a time of adjustment. Or even admitted that it was a difficult stage. What I remember was staring at the table. Feeling crushed, shamed and cornered by two accomplished and beautiful women, I simply wanted to issue my response. And probably to get the evening over. I seem to have either looked neither in the eye. I couldn’t connect, couldn’t connect with anyone. And besides, it was impossible to believe that people cared about me. Especially now that I had been brought so low. Somehow the two girls got me home to my hospital ward. Still humiliating to slide my butt across a board leaving the car. But I was probably relieved to be back in my institutional world.
I knew nothing about the details of Eddy’s life, except that she had married Lou, whom I vaguely recall from university, had kids, lived in the Sierra foothills. I did not know that she had done social work in South-Central Los Angeles at a truly horrible time. I really did not know her at all. But she had tried to reach out to me. And I recall that much. And I am grateful that I still know Pat and she reminded me of this night in the Italian restaurant. Remarkable how we touch each other, even when we miss each other, miss each other’s signals. Misconstrue intensions. And most incredible, how somehow despite everything, find ourselves.