Having squandered the day on trivia, at two in the afternoon I roll my wheelchair to a warm and favorable spot in between cars, hit the tilt control and recline into the sun. After all there is now a pleasant little heat trap between Jane’s car and mine. Why not take advantage of it? And so I do, the October sky rotating above me until the branches of the tree in my backyard come into view. There is a scraggly quality to the leaves and bark. I don’t know what sort of tree it is. And I’ve only seen the thing in its entirety perhaps once, maybe twice. In fact, I have never known that I had a backyard. Until I called it that, the inaccessible wasteland at one corner of my fourplex. There is, or was, a clothesline there. I have no idea if it remains. There is a step between me and the footpath leading to the disused ground behind the building. And I haven’t bothered to take that step in God knows how long. And ‘bothered’ is the right word. There is nothing impossible about getting down from one level to another, then crutching all of 10 meters, at the max, to a point where I can see what’s happening. It is after all mine, this land. Time to take ownership.
Instead, I take a nap, or try to, tilted into this view of the stark autumnal branches. The autumn of my life, I am thinking. And realizing that this is not in the least pessimistic, this view. But practical, an entirely true appraisal of time marching on. And getting a little tired near the end of the march. Or maybe just having no marching orders. I am somewhat at loose ends.
Which justify the means, those ends, if you give them half a chance. Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile, I swear. Which is why in this deeply October moment I have this shallow thought. That although I complained bitterly of wasting time on trivia, that it may not be trivia after all. Just life, I am thinking. And I’m thinking about this very day. Up and about and dealing with mail…which accumulates in drifts around this apartment, much like sand…and making the most of Lorna’s help to throw it out. Filing a few things I just might need. And not worrying whether this filing is unnecessary. For my files are an embarrassment. Only yesterday discovering, for example, that a file folder for Property Taxes did not contain the latest appraisal. That being in a file titled, you guessed it, Appraisals. It took Lorna to spot this one. Could I have done the same?
Oh, I suppose so, but at a higher cost. My upper body flexibility isn’t what it was, and my attitudinal flexibility worsens daily, so bending over a cabinet of file folders…well, I am most grateful to have help. Not that there’s any help when it comes to dealing with exercise. The actual doing of the exercise, that involves all kinds of help. But, no, it’s not human assistance with getting on the rowing machine or crutching my way, arm-in-someone’s-arm, in front of the apartments. No, it’s the actual will to do it.
On this very day, once my feet were strapped to the pedals the whole thing felt preposterous…the notion of 45 minutes of activity that was tiring me out within 45 seconds. And yet I do it. And that’s something. And this must be one of those Secrets of Highly Successful People, that you give yourself a little pat on the tush just for voluntarily getting so aerobic and cardiovascular at 8:30 in the morning. What a Good Boy Am I, you say. Except you don’t. You simply get off the machine relieved that there is enough of you left to pull off this muscular feat. And then you go shopping for dog food.
There’s always a challenge, that is the thing. The first challenge involves remembrance of dog foods past…not confusing those with cat foods present…and getting the big picture clear in one’s mind. Because, let us be frank, despite the fact that Jane had prominently displayed an empty bag of the very stuff she wanted, damned if I wasn’t muttering to Lorna about buying cat food. Which was not the thing, was it? The howling, bounding, sometimes prancing canines upstairs do not go about on little cat feet. No, they go about on some sort of yellow bag of stuff that describes itself as potatoes and duck.
This is what you get in the high-end suburbs, dogs that eat canard à l’orange. Okay, I made up the orange part. Anyway, this was my task. Jane wanted a bigger bag of the stuff, not any wimpy five pound version. A 10 pound bag. I wanted some flowers, the weekly replacement. A couple of quarts of milk. Some wine. All of which sounds routine – unless you’re trying to maneuver all of this on a wheelchair.
So, the immediate puzzle: whether to go first to Trader Joe’s or to The Pet Place. Actually, the Trader’s made sense, except that I would have to maneuver my way into the pet shop with an already bulging bag, a spray of flowers hanging off one side. As opposed to arriving at Joe’s with a massive sack of dog food on my lap. I opted for the former, and as half anticipated, the pet shop owner opened the door. No flowers damaged. Also, no 10-pound bags of dog food. Only 15, thank you very much.
And so it came to pass after much worrying over me in the pet shop, the owner even offering to drive the dog food to my home after hours…that I got myself loaded with a 15-pound sack of waste products from the potato and duck industries. Then with the shop proprietor loading the rest, almost breaking the wine bottle in her enthusiasm, I set off, 20 or 25 pounds of goods balancing on my battery-powered lap.
This erased memories of what happened just last night on my way to chorus practice. In crossing a street, a busy one, I dropped my music folder. Yes, the plastic binder went sliding off my lap and onto a bit of well-traveled pavement, cars queuing to wait out a passing train. And, of course, retrieving the music was essential. So I parked, the only word, and began struggling to lean over the side of my high wheelchair and extract my music from the ground.
Which isn’t happening now. No, I am skillfully balancing my load, down one curb, across a street, then up another curb. All the way home, until I gently push open the front door of my apartment, left skillfully ajar for this very purpose. Even inside, sliding wine into its place, managing to deposit 15 pounds of dog food right side up against the kitchen wall.
And later, realizing that this isn’t some grand project or high purpose that occupies me these days. It’s a lot of little things. And if a severely disabled person is going to lead a severely normal life, it’s all these little things that count.