Lorna, prime member of Team Filipina, is uncharacteristically determined when she asks me about my historical shoulder pain. How long did I have it, and how did I get over it? I sing the praises of physiotherapy. Lorna is fishing for information. She tells me that she doesn’t like sitting around, doing nothing…being even slightly incapacitated. Which is what she fears, shoulder pain becoming shoulder trouble, becoming incapacity…and she’s barely 60 years old. I listen attentively, nod affirmatively and give her the name of my physiotherapist. I am not alone, it seems. For me, always the most important message. Team Filipina. Today I am a member.
These days present themselves a week or two at a time, a series of fearful hurdles in each. Last week, I faced the monthly live report to the Caltrain Board of Directors. I roll before them, lower the microphone to wheelchair height and harangue the assembled multitudes for something approaching 45 seconds. I really cannot believe that most of the time the train board wants to know much more. But, I also cannot believe that they want to hear from me at all…or more precisely, that say ‘too much,’ burdening them with excessive detail, taking up too much time. Need to watch this one.
Soon I will be taking up too much space in the world in the form of my book. A talk here. Another one there. The first thing you know, you’re actually demanding people’s attention. The risks one takes. Not to mention the others.
The real hurdle, the big, vast, looming one, has involved the drive to Oakland for my cousin’s Seder. The 20th, maybe the 25th I have attended? And this night is not different from all others when one considers all the people there I know, mostly love, and usually regret not seeing the rest of the year. But Oakland is just that far away. At least there is the annual gathering. Which with Jane gathering her Episcopal forces for Easter, Seder night being Good Friday, left me driving on my own. Which I was determined to do. A couple of preparatory automotive visits to get the van serviced, then adjust the disabled controls, and not only was my vehicle prepared, but the sheer driving involved…to the nether purlieus of Sunnyvale at one point, a good 15 miles…well, it got me back in road shape. I simply haven’t been driving much, the van sitting idle, battery draining, for weeks at a time.
The way I would explain it…disabled driving is a strain. Concentration extreme, the body poised to throw the one working leg into major action on break or accelerator, torso holding itself as steady as possible, as the route curves, the van swerves, driver unnerves. Anxiety. Enough to make one take the train whenever possible. And yet, when all is said and done, there I was, on the brink of Passover 2012, on the great road of life, also known as Interstate 880…jerking slowly northward while thousands of non-Seder-oriented drivers did the same in pursuit of that evening’s baseball game, featuring the Oakland A’s and doubtless another team. Ours is not to reason why.
Ours is to fearfully hit the turn signal on the steering column, instead of the disabled control activated by my right elbow…because? Don’t really know. But somewhere along the line, the lifeline, I lost the power to control the right signal with my ever weakening elbow. And somehow in the process of driving less and less, didn’t attend to this matter. Which is the good part of all this. Coming to grips with time and driving and aging and physical decline. So many of my daily activities are right on the edge of doable that it does not take much to put me out of action. Yes, it must be said that it’s time to have my disabled driving controls reevaluated, reassessed and, perhaps, replaced. Might take the strain off.
Because not only do I live in constant fear that my neurology is slip sliding away…I can’t always separate groundless anxiety from the legitimate variety. Leaving things like my turn signal in a sort of limbo. And, as I slow for the curving ramp that leads from Highway 238 to 580, the centrifugal force temporarily throws my torso way out of the vertical…or threatens to do so…reminding me of another fact. In the 16 years since these controls and supports were designed, I have grown weaker, older, and it’s time for a change. Time to reevaluate the strap that holds my torso in place, the one that isn’t working. I am working, that is the point right now, working and driving north.
And now even making it off the freeway and through the hilly byways of Montclair to my cousin’s house. Where a neighbor yells at me as I try to park the van, insisting that I am breaking the branches of her tree. Terribly sorry, I say with utter insincerity. She is my cousin’s neighbor, and she is a nut, but not one I am going to crack. Ruth, my cousin’s wife, comes out and with the help of another neighbor, the vast boat that is my white van, gets anchored. And I get myself in the wheelchair, out into the street, and even up the stairs.
It is always the dangers we don’t anticipate, the supposedly lesser ones, that get us. I know this is the way of the universe. But I am tired, or that is my excuse, for what happens on the way to the Seder table. I pull into the downstairs toilet, or try to, making my way with one hand on my crutch and the other arm linked through that of Valerie, my cousin Gregg’s daughter. Somehow, despite all this assistance, I miss the turn, one might say. I slip out of the gravitational and fall, with a loud smack, on the wooden floor.
I am lying down. On my back. And I check to see that everything is still moving…legs, arms, all as neurologically intact as they were before. A commotion has, of course, broken out all around me. I do my best to ignore it. Once I’m up again, nothing really aching, what is there to do but sit down? Up and off the floor, up and out of Egypt, it’s all the same. And like the bread interrupted in mid-rising, I rise halfway through things and make my exit.
I even make that other exit, the last one, off the Dumbarton Bridge and into Menlo Park. It is dodgy, this last bit. For it is night. The sort of thing that happens at this sort of hour, almost 11 PM. There has been work on the bridge, lanes narrowed, headlights coming right at me…not to mention my permanently-set-on-high beams coming at drivers. But I’m not even thinking about the latter, more about my declining night vision. Which doubtless is not declining any worse than normal. But my overall circumstances are not normal. This is how things are, driving having always been a challenge. Driving and aging at the same time being, well, quite a bit. At times a bit much. At times okay. For the thing about disability is that the challenge never seems to go away. Remembering that my body is broken, but I am not. That decline isn’t failure. And that I have the right to take up space on the road, headlights too high, head too high. And when the stuffing gets knocked out of me, like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, the only solution: restuff.