The Psychologist I Happen to Bump into on Mondays put it this way. For me, lying sleepless in bed has a particular quality of physical helplessness. An individual oddity of my disabled state, the physical merging with the psychoemotional in a way that is all mine. Raising interesting questions about why on a recent night, having awakened at 2:40 in the morning and some gnawing anxiety vibrating on and on…that I go on and on supine in the bed. For there is a known antidote, discussed before, which is to sit up. Either perch on the edge of the bed, or actually get up and sit in the wheelchair, not to mention even roll about the apartment. Yes, the psychologist has a point, that change of physical posture can make a big difference under such circumstances. I regain a sense of physical, and thereby emotional, control. Empowered, one could say. Subtle, but sometimes that’s all it takes. Especially, all it takes to get back to sleep.
Except that I don’t do this. Instead, I stare at the ceiling and its patterns of light and dark, shifting and not shifting, the green glow from the Apple wireless connection to my stereo blinks occasionally. I blink constantly. Time passes. I do not pass out of consciousness. I do not want to sit up, for it takes too much effort. Including the effort to acknowledge my panicky, sleepless state. Although, with an hour down the great drain of time, there seems no other option. Besides, Jane can give me a shove in the lower back region, which makes all the difference in terms of middle-of-the-night abdominal effort. Which happens now, she pushing, me keeping my balance, until there I am. Seated at bed’s edge. My legs dangling over the great cliff of life, viewing the expanse in the distance, all three feet of it from mattress to wall, wheelchair charger still glowing. The latter is the excuse I now use. No sense in unplugging the charger and rolling about the apartment with the wheelchair batteries still low. So, what is there to do but sit and stare and wait?
Well, of course, there is another thread…and it stretches across my shoulders more like a rope. It needs to be flung off, but this proves difficult. For it is the force of…well, I would call it Jane’s presence beside me on the bed…but this isn’t quite right. Initially, I tell myself that there is no sense in disturbing her. Except that she is rather dead to the world. Then, in a more refined version of the same thought, I tell myself that I don’t want to give her the impression that she isn’t comforting, or the impression that I am abandoning her, don’t need her…all of which we have articulated. This is old, this discussion. And Jane has made it clear, if I need to get up, then get up. No prob. Leading me where? Well, with better luck, it would lead me up and into my wheelchair, unplugging the silly charger and rolling into the sitting room for a change of nocturnal scene. There to think and reflect and perhaps remember that life is good, and sleep is good, and tomorrow and tomorrow, even they are good.
Unfortunately, this does not happen. Instead, I convince myself that the wheelchair is best left charging, that a few minutes of perching here has restored my equilibrium or personal sense of control. When actually, the path to control means getting up, muttering a warm and reassuring word or two to Jane, then motoring into the front room, staring at the street light coming through the Venetian blinds…and separating. For I can see it now, and could almost see it then, and hard as it is to admit, there are some benefits to age and, dare one say it, maturity. For there is some emotional truth, puzzling but graspable, about being on one’s own at certain moments. That Jane is enormously supportive, the essence of security…and yet there are times when I need to reassure myself that…this is my life, this is me, and here I am, and everything isn’t dangerous. Even on my own, everything isn’t dangerous. Not that I am precisely on my own, Jane being reassuringly only a few meters away.
Instead, I do eventually fall back into a couple of hours of fitful sleep. Jane goes to her work, leaving me to mine, the hard sweaty labor, repetitive and futile, that is my exercycle. I am listening to Radio 4 accounts of the London riots or disturbances or, as my cousin Caroline puts it, ‘shopping with violence.’ I am listening to my heart rate, if such a thing is possible. I am wondering why this activity has become so monstrously difficult, as though I am truly pedaling up the greatest hill on the Peninsula. On and on it goes, and this can’t be possible, except that fatigue can do this sort of thing to a human body.
Not that Perry, my physiotherapy assistant, cannot do even worse things. My hips are tight, he says, once I am supine on the massage table. And this time I actually am helpless. Hamstrings are tight, he tells me. Quadriceps also need stretching. On and on this goes. Like the exercycle that precedes it, this is a familiar experience, now rendered unimaginably more difficult by…I don’t know. Tiredness, it seems. Unfortunately, for I have many miles to go before I…use my computer again. My laptop, that is, and it will be an essential companion on my week in Inverness, shortly to begin. Better get the sucker repaired.
And because I am running on automatic, and the computer is barely running at all, I get my van running. That is to say, Perry starts the thing for me, then I ascend in the lift. Normally, this works the other way around, but this day is not normal. More to the point, the van and its driving are not normal. Long periods of time go by without turning the ignition. For example, 10 days. I don’t know why. Volunteer Paul and I drove the thing to the Salvation Army recently, dropping off years of junk that had been sitting in the back. But that was…more than a week ago. And I have a history of trying to start the van and encountering a dead battery. So, better to get the engine running first. And now I am off and heading for Redwood City, regional computer repair capital, not to mention county seat. The day seems excessively bright. I am excessively dull. Best to keep one’s eyes on the traffic. Lest an unfortunate automotive interaction further compress what’s left of my spinal cord. I know Redwood City. Know it like the back of my hand. Not that I know my own hand very well these days, skin wrinkling, veins varicosing. Where was I?
Parking in the only spot I can think of, the Redwood City Caltrain station. For isn’t the computer repair place just across the street? No, apparently it is another street away, and I just rang the repair guy to say I would be there before noon. And I have barely get myself here before noon. And now I am rattling my way, belatedly, towards his shop. And now I am missing the traffic light, though not quite missing, more fearing. Fearing to barge out into traffic with the pedestrian walk signal only flashing. Not that this is really a bad thing, a small note of caution never amiss when a quadriplegic is rolling about the landscape.
And sure enough, the shop is locked. I ring the number just in case, and the repair man answers, telling me that, yes, he can hear the bell ringing, and he is on another call, and would I mind terribly…. Fuck him, I tell myself. He unlocks the door, and we transact business on the sidewalk. Naturally, his shop is inaccessible. And something about this situation leaves me feeling overpowered…and if I had the time and psychological wherewithal, I could probably connect the
dots between this feeling and the one I had in the middle of the night. Instead, I simply roll away. Everything is difficult, slow and heavy. Fear is everywhere. I feel fragile. I also feel achy, Perry having shredded several major muscle groups in his effort to restore my joints’ range of motion. My range of emotion having narrowed into the dark and helpless end of the spectrum.
Lunch. It is time for lunch, and there’s this place near the station, which I recall warmly. And warm recollections smack of comfort food. Not that food is really ever a comfort. Comfort is a comfort. But right now, at this moment, I will take anything I can get. And I take chicken flautas, but mostly I take the hostess. She is warm, motherly, and I take her in, as well as her food. I am the sole customer in Restaurant La Fiesta. It is the lunch hour, in the center of Redwood City, across from a rather busy commuter railway station. It’s me and the proprietor and the flautas. Fortunately the latter are quite good. I remember now. These things are handmade, clearly fashioned for the lone customer. I do need to pee, however. The toilet in this place is known to be wildly inaccessible. Good thing there is a Peet’s by the railway station, and by the way, a small cappuccino wouldn’t go amiss.
Still, my soul is heavy, the anxiety pervasive. And at Peet’s as I am about to roll out the door, cappuccino behind me, the barista asks me if I would like the wheelchair-accessible table. I thank her profusely. Truly, it is the thought that counts. We are not alone. Although one wouldn’t know it from my last-minute call to the computer guy. I just have to ask him if the problem is apparent. Actually, no, he tells me, and he’s on another call…. And I am on my way. Home. And not only home, but into the local Shell station. When did I last fuel this van? Definitely since the Bush Administration. The second one, that is. The Egyptian guy who served me the last time…whenever the last time was…does a magnificent job of serving me again. I wave at him through the plate glass of the station’s office, he wanders out and, no, there’s no need to move the van. Just stay where I am. He can reach me with the hose. This is good. Today, somehow, movement is proving very difficult.