Inverness Walls

And then the sun decides to come out, as though it has the right to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. As though I don’t matter. And in the matter of this sun emergence, why am I always the last to know? As a consumer, one can only feel a great and consistent disappointment in the solar performance of Inverness, California. And it has gotten worse, that is the thing. Despite the investment of several decades of summers, not to mention autumns and even the occasional winter, the sun has underperformed for two consistent August holidays. Climate change. Bad luck. Call it what you will, the result is the same.
Fortunately, the experience is also the same. Renewal, in one way or other, to one degree or another. That, weighed against the passage of time. In this particular year, well, it must have been about that, or at least 10 months, since I last undertook such a drive. I do recall the September opera trip, with my sister, that included a drive to San Francisco. But this is not only the City, but well beyond, perhaps twice as far in time elapsed. And this is the trade off. Not driving makes driving harder. As I saw coming through the Marin County town of Fairfax, more or less three quarters into the trip. Jane and I were driving in convoy, for we both needed cars. She would have to return to work periodically in Menlo Park. I would need my own wheelchair van for transportation. And there we were, she following me through the last of the Marin County suburbs. Rush-hour traffic clogging narrow streets designed for sleepy towns on the edge of what was the country 80 years ago. Through traffic, said markings in the pavement. Of course, in the way of highwayese, the painted white lettering actually said THRU TRAFFIC accompanied by arrows. The trick here, and if one drives consistently there is no trick to it, is to understand that although this verbiage was painted into the right lane, the arrows actually pointed slightly left. This is the local traffic engineers’ way of telling one to get the fuck out of this lane. But, running on a bad night’s sleep, having not seen such a road marking in more than a year, and desperate to avoid the crush of cars, damned if I didn’t get in the wrong lane. Which forced me to turn right into some silly neighborhood. Which, after I reversed and headed back to the main road, thrusting me right up against a left-turn-only reality…sending me back in the general direction of Menlo Park until I could turn around again. My brain having turned around several times in the process. Jane pulling up behind me briefly to inquire as to what was happening…occasioning a brief explosion of ill temper, me pointing straight ahead, then craning my neck to look behind, then reversing this process, pointing backwards while staring ahead, accompanied by a narrative that suggests I wanted to go this way but deliberately turned that way while feeling proud that I had lost ground while I intended to gain it. Maddeningly, Jane smiles, blows me a kiss and assures me of her undying love. We resume our convoy.
At the end of which, is what I had been fearing for weeks. The Inverness house on the hill. The one rented sight unseen from a realtor’s website. Halfway up the redwood slopes above the sleepy little town, hills falling off into unobstructed forest with views of Tomales Bay in the distance. In short, the sort of thing one comes here for. Although the more urgent matter involved parking. Naturally, there was no space big enough for my van. I waited while Jane parked, then wandered up and down the street, eyeballing the pavement. Finally, I drew the van off the road and into what seemed the wider, wiser spot. I paused for a moment, bracing myself for the next imagined ordeal. 
Already it seemed clear. No way my wheelchair was going to make it anywhere close to the house. Which was why I had brought a second wheelchair, collapsible and battery driven, my solution to The Inverness House Problem. But these matters still lay in the future. For now, I was sitting reassuringly behind the wheel of the giant white Ford. The engine was clicking as it cooled. I was cooling too. The tension and adrenal flush of the long drive were behind me. I needed just this moment to brace myself before…well, who knew? Would there be a solution? And the problem? Well, the one that has followed me like a stalker…or I have stalked myself…these 43 years, how to do anything without a body?
Nothing to do but roll the wheelchair onto the lift, lower the thing to the pavement and roll off into the Inverness week. Off and bang. The wheelchair dropped several inches off the incompletely lowered lift, raised itself in the air and almost tipped over backward onto the street. Why? Oh, that matter came later. For now, what was there to be but badly shaken, a cocktail of neuropeptides fizzing about my brain. Trying to catch my breath. And, by the way, the pavement is not only steeper than I had realized, but cambered in a way that makes it hard to fold down the wheelchair lift. 
Okay. Nothing has happened. And Jane and I are advancing to the 14 steps. Which is actually good news. At first, the only steps visible were crude earthen ones leading down from the house sign, ‘Wildwood.’ No railing. No hope. These side steps actually represent salvation. They have railings. All I have to do is hang on and take one step at a time. Jane has assembled the folding wheelchair on the terrace, and within moments I am sitting in it. I advance down the terrace and…halt. The thing comes to a sudden and complete stop. Not to worry, for this has happened before, a connection in the recently assembled chair probably lose. I wait a few minutes. Annoyed, helpless, at the mercy of people and mechanisms. And yet at least there are people. Jane gets the connection together again. We are together again, the long drive over. And now there is the house.
More of a lodge, really. Redwood shingled, six bedrooms, possibly dating from the 1920s. A quick run around the premises has me running into everything. Furniture, door frames. For this is my folding power wheelchair, less maneuverable, unfamiliar, harder to control. In a physical environment that was never designed for this. Also unfamiliar, and control? Well there is none of that, is there? I chose this place. Rented it voluntarily. Wanted lots of room, for reasons that currently elude me.
No, they don’t. Not really. This is an extraordinary chance to see people I have either utterly lost touch with, cannot see under other circumstances or barely know. So, I have invited an 89-year-old distant in law, an 88-year-old former professor, a couple I don’t know well from my congregation and another couple from Sausalito whom we also don’t know well but enjoy. A chance to bond. A good chance for epoxy grade bonding without driving. Just being here. Inviting people to either spend the night. Or perch on the deck.
Like the war in Iraq, the justification for this house has shifted. Initially, I hoped that Marlou’s parents and others from her extended family would join me here. Meet Jane or get to know her better. Again, people from far away who I have difficulty visiting. And Dick and Joan recall pleasant stays here with their daughter and son-in-law. The whole experience softened or expanded by my sister and her husband, my brother and his family. Somehow, I thought we might all make the shift to a new reality in an old and familiar location, in a new and untested house. Time and age and circumstance defeated this idea, but the new purpose is also good. My cousin and his family are making it out here at various points. The Sausalito friends are just coming for lunch. What the hell.
Meanwhile, there is the reality of this vast redwood lodge in the woods. Where I lodge complaints now almost by the minute. in the darkened, redwood-shadowed hallway I plow repeatedly into a chest of drawers.
To get around this gratuitous piece of furniture…all of its drawers locked…I maneuver a sort of slalom in the hallway. This involves slamming into the wall on one side, then slamming back into the chest of drawers, reversing and slamming into the wall from a different angle. I curse myself. I denounce the day I was born. In the bedroom, my front wheelchair tires roll back the carpet. I learn to hit the floor rug from a certain angle, the only way to get around. In fact, as time progresses, I learn an entire set of such skills. Such as the way, the only way, to emerge from the bathroom, backing along the side of the claw-footed tub, swiveling the wheelchair hard to my right, then in mid doorway, swiveling hard to the left.
Showering. Ha. It borders on the ludicrous. It borders on madness, as well, with more perils than you can shake a stick at. Not that one’s quadriplegic leg isn’t shaking enough, such are the combined effects of exertion, spasticity and fear. A high shower seat normally designed for sitting under the spray serves, in this bathroom, to get me into the tub. This involves sitting on the thing, the seat tilting back ominously while Jane lifts one leg, then the other, until I stand and, for safety, grab at…air. For there is nothing to grab. The shower curtain which extends 360° around the tub does conceals a wall, against which I could lean in case of emergency, not that this would not also involve sliding, plastic being what it is. There is one pipe leading from tub to old-fashioned showerhead. But this proves to be more of a tube, thin and of soft metal. Not graspable, I conclude. Never mind, for the shower is under way. I lean this way and that, Jane soaping this bit, me the other. 
I have taken to moaning to both indicate, and satirize, my distress. It is one of those jokes that is both funny and unfunny. Either way, it is an outlet. It is my way of acknowledging my own fear. Jane tells me not to whinge. And so it goes, both of us with an outlet. Until the whole thing is over, the shower that is, until the next thing, followed by the thing after that, and then at the end of each day, climbing into an absurdly too high bed. I stare at the thing in incessant disbelief. This must be someone’s idea of high-fashion. A bad pun, really. But the only way of understanding it, adding unnecessary altitude to an otherwise conventional bed. The designer look, I have concluded, involves making the bed loom, doubtless attractively in someone’s mind. It is amazing that I even think about such a thing. The look and possible design intent of, well, almost anything. I do not notice so much around me. But here, where from a quadriplegic’s perspective life is much like camping, I do notice.
I notice that I am getting older and having great difficulty accepting the fact. The toilet seat extension Jane brought along I have refused to use. Don’t need it, I insisted after getting up from the toilet myself on the first morning. Assuming that this difficult maneuver would get easier. Actually, it has gotten harder. Until this final bout with standing up from the thing, this very morning. There was just a bit too much wrenching, the toilet seat itself twisting under me, the ancient porcelain groaning as I tried to lever myself against it in various ways, from different angles. Until, yes, I did wedge myself up and vertical, after about ten minutes of struggle, but now standing very awkwardly in this tiny space between toilet and wall. Not only that, but leaning, shifting my weight along the top of the toilet tank, reconsidering at every moment whether this was going to work at all, the thought of just sitting back down on the toilet beginning to make more and more sense. All of this such unknown territory, a maneuver truly never attempted before, shoving myself off balance inch by inch until that not-yet-reached center of gravity. But not there, yet. The solution requiring something like a brave kick and balance-threatening shove until…well, I was now safely vertical but truly wedged into the un-maneuverable fewa inches between toilet and wall. And what to do now? One leg being completely paralyzed, spastic and rigid with adrenaline. And yes, even in this foolish moment of extremis, I had to be grateful. For without the rigidity of that leg, none of this would be possible. The paralytic’s gift of spasm. The spasm itself strengthened into something truly weight-bearing from hours of exercycle use. Uncontrollable, yes, but there. Just like so much about this house, this week, this life.

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