Before there were video games, but only just, in that transition period between the corporeal and the pixel, there was pinball. At least, this is my impression. Surely I must have played pinball. In fact, I can see the steel ball bearing shot from a spring-loaded lever, hurtling and caroming, ricocheting and bouncing, but generally dropping, through a series of artificial obstacles. A controlled environment, not exactly an open shot on an open range. And one of the mysterious options being ’tilt.’ Did people actually lean the pinball maze this way and that? Did ’tilt’ become illuminated as an instruction on the game’s electric headboard? Why do I think about this now when I tilt? My wheelchair leaning pleasantly backwards, my head slipping onto the rest provided for it…rest being essential just now. And yes it is one of my achievements this tilt mechanism, actually the social or interpersonal variety. Somehow in my weekly discussions with Paul, the volunteer who turns up from a local Catholic charity every Tuesday, I have broached the topic of the morning nap. Actually, I now refer to it as my HSP moment. This refers to the book The Highly Sensitive Person, which lends credence, provides cover and offers justification for the introvert’s foible of overdosing on human interaction. God only knows if there is even the slightest truth to this HSP business. Which could be a trendy notion that will be gone in a few years. I may be gone in a few years myself, that is the point, and meanwhile I get awfully burned out at certain moments. Like this one. Where was I?
Café Borrone, to be exact. Paul and I were there for reasons that now seem unclear. But at the time had something to do with breakfast. We both opted for lunch instead. On such occasions I try to draw Paul out, encourage him to express himself, then offer advice and counsel. After all, I am more than twice his age. Least I can do in exchange for all his help about the place. Yet what tends to happen is that Paul draws me out. I tell him what is happening on the post-terror front, dealing with the aftermath of my shooting 43 years on. Which, symptomatically, can be described as not sleeping. Well, not sleeping enough.
I tell Paul that I am getting used to this notion that we don’t get over such experiences. There is no ‘over’ to get. Nor do we get past or beyond or even by. We get up, if we are lucky. Dragging behind various bits of baggage. And when we get up at 4 AM, having woken into some nameless terror, we are particularly wise. For it has been my habit to just lie in bed at such insomniac moments, overwhelmed by the sense of wrongness, sleep being far from a luxury, but something physiologically mandated, healthy, essential. Yet elusive at such moments. But with help and sound advice, I am normalizing my early-morning wakefulness.
My life trails wisps of terror. It is likely to keep trailing them. At 4 AM I am trying on this notion, facing the large windows of my apartment, peering into the night, paralyzed foot elevated on the sofa. Long day’s journey. Deep breathing, the passage of time, consideration of the possibility that I am actually safe, that no one is particularly after me except the Republicans, and they are after everyone else, so why worry? I go to bed. I dream not unpleasantly.
Getting up, making tea, and another day. Marked by several such HSP reclinings. Which have the quality of giving way, letting myself be overwhelmed. Which when one thinks about it, is the essence of being gunned down in the streets. How to respond to an overwhelming force? Give way and give in, I say, and at least get a rest. With Paul’s arrival, I have help getting on my socks, not to mention my shoes, which takes an enormous burden off the morning. I am attired and rolling in no time at all, even stuffing Schwab statements in the appropriate folder. All sorts of things lie buried on my desk. Articles from friends. DVDs. Announcements of cultural events. A recipe for sweet potato fries. The model names and serial numbers of my television and DVD player. Projects half-started, half forgotten, and many ready to be discarded. I am getting on with the day, that is the thing.
Outside, Paul helps with the garden. Not that there is much to do at this point in the season. I stare dumbfounded at the brussels sprouts. They do the same. They wonder why they are still living, and so do I. The mystery of ‘how’ does occur to me, though I quickly discard the matter. At some point, some point soon, I will simply cut these stupid things down and eat what is left. Still, I can’t help it. I ask Paul to peer among the leaves and see what is eating them. The holes are rather large and not caused by aphids, the summerlong blight on these plants. Cabbage loopers, the common lepidopteran wiggly vermin? No. Paul retrieves five small snails from among the few leaves at the very tip of the brussels sprouts, a good four feet from the roots. How these vile things climbed all this way…or knew to climb all this way, sliming their pseudopods over one brussels sprout after the next, until paydirt, the very top leaves where photosynthesis and essential growth activity occurs…gosh, it beggars the imagination. But such is the life force.
Even snails have a life. It is just that in the natural order of things, the wild order, that life should be occurring in France. These escaped escargot, an invasive species, need to do their thing elsewhere. Paul has thrown them on the ground. When he isn’t looking, I roll over them with my wheelchair tires. The least I can do for the California environment. Paul has this St. Francis of Assisi thing going, which I do respect as much as possible. After all, I am simply rolling my wheelchair about quite innocently, which I do all the time. Bye-bye snails.
So, as the day advances, life pounds me into the occasional nap. I pound back. Pound for pound. Getting a rest, but also getting some exercise. A good half hour on the rowing machine. Moving and resting, I progress.