Ordering at Peet’s, I change my mind at the last minute, opting for an espresso con panna to go. Oh, I do hang about long enough to get a quick sense of the nation’s decline, wondering how Paul Krugman can stand to write about this stuff day after day. Then I am off, or back, to be more precise. Back home, back to work, back against the wall. For truth to tell, I have been in some state of fear. Better than in the state of Texas, I must admit, where the prayer-mongering governor is gathering in the campaign dollars for one nation under Christ…but never mind, for I am already tired of the news, even after two minutes of it. Which is doubtless the intended effect.
Never mind, for I am already rolling homework. And against obvious and better judgment, rolling right over some dead shrubbery branch right in the middle of the footpath. Which, based on abundant experience, gets caught up in my Swedish wheels. I am now proceeding east on Live Oak Avenue, the woody rasp of branches crackling under my tires, happily scraping over the asphalt, each little twig zinging like a tuning fork. At which point I stop, flare into a moment of self denunciation, then begin backing up. This maneuver is guaranteed to dislodge almost anything that wedges itself between wheel and plastic fender. Well, not quite guaranteed, but tending in the correct direction. Which isn’t true either, when one considers that traffic on this side of the street is heading in one direction, east, whereas I am backing west. Worse, I am backing with no mirror to provide a rear view. And while this is indicative of my exasperation, as well as expressive, it is also mildly suicidal. Which does occur to me. And in this I see progress. For fear has me in its grip these days. And in this moment of foolish street backing, driven by the most minor of matters…a twig against a tire…I can see how undermining anxiety can be. I roll my wheelchair closer to the curb, knock the sticks lose, and carry on, wondering at the next focus of my worry.
This generalized fear has been with me for days. Its source is unclear and elusive. But one thing about a pervasive shakiness of the emotional foundations – everything is up for grabs. True, nothing seems quite as it was. As it should be? Well, that is up for grabs too. Take Henry IV, Part One, where everyone was converging on Shrewsbury as recently as Thursday evening, the Santa Cruz Coast in the distance…and me in this fearful and distracted state as I have been for some days. Not that I couldn’t manage to project myself into the action. Yes, Hotspur is a sort of Tea Party warrior, egomaniacal and out of touch with the big picture. But would I want to kill him? And more to the point, would I want to do battle with the rebels? Would I see the point, let alone have the courage? No, I keep looking around the stage, wondering how I would hide.
And because there is a pervasive sense of…well, everything…I realize something obvious. It’s a general feeling, one I had earlier, during dinner on a steep slope at the University of California campus where Santa Cruz’ summer Shakespeare fest takes place. The folding chair was slipping and sliding in the uneven terrain, with Jane occasionally grabbing the thing. I was less concerned, but then I seem to have bigger anxiety fish to fry. But it is, and was, tenuous to be half-paralyzed and wandering about unknown hillsides in a wheelchair borrowed from repair people. Pervasive is the word.
The thing about Henry IV, Part One is that it sets the stage for Medicare, Parts A, B, C and so on. Why does one need to set the stage? Don’t ask. You know. This is what happens to people who cling to this earthly coil for a sufficient period of time. And because all assessments are up for grabs, it is occurring to me, really it is, that this matter of survival is actually a sort of achievement. And also that I really do think Hotspur is an asshole. Not that Hal himself isn’t insufferable. But I digress. Never mind. The point is that if I found myself half-paralyzed and in and around the Battle of Shrewsbury, it would indeed be wise, perhaps even courageous, to hide in the nearest culvert. Or whatever preceded culverts. There simply would not be that many opportunities for stationary, one-handed quadriplegic derring-do on that battleground or any other. Fantasies notwithstanding.
And that is the thing about life with a severe disability. Everything has to get redefined, reevaluated and reinterpreted. Courage in battle? The quadriplegic’s battles are everywhere and mundane and invisible to passersby. The sum total of surviving, not losing nerve, just keeping at what physiotherapists term ADL, activities of daily living. It’s a very different battleground. It has its own interwoven narrative, Medicare IV, Part Henry A & B. And with the end of my own personal play getting nearer every day, it seems important to credit oneself with small heroics. Leave the big ones for the stage.
And there is a certain perspective, a narrative one might say, that seems wholly born of disability or loss or both. Actually, early injury mixed with a few years in Britain. Our nation’s sense of its own power needs to shift. We need to let go of claiming to be first and best and biggest. We aren’t anymore, in so many ways, and it’s okay, it really is. We can be strong in ways that matter, share our strength, cooperate. All of which seems obvious to me on a personal level. In my saner, older moments, I understand that scoring a major success in the career world…which eluded me…well, fuck it. Just being in the career world took an awful lot. Too much, at times. It wasn’t a matter of scoring goals. Being in the game at all, that was an achievement. Humanity could be defined, in part, as acknowledging how far we have come. A quality that like so many others, begins at home.