Boxing Day. A Shadow Boxing Day, with me pitted against my own wretched excess. Jake, my cousin’s son, helped me do up my trousers this morning. An event accompanied with much self recrimination, personal denunciation…and a general forswearing off wretched food excess. Followed by lunch, comprised of a sumptuous turkey sandwich fashioned by Alexandra, Jake’s sister…a somewhat unconventional combination including not only cranberry jelly but actual stuffing. Which delivered a message. Stuff no more. I only ate half, donating the other to Jacob. Afterwards I felt really good about myself, my life’s course, the future of trouser fastening. Followed only thirty minutes later by a brief dip into a large box of Lindt chocolates. I hit the hazelnut. Oh, well.
By nightfall I will swear off everything else, including being here. Why? Well, first because Jane isn’t here. Second, things are challenging. Just being away from my familiar world of adaptations, wheelchair accessible this and disabled compatible that. Being hyper social. Christmas dinner, just yesterday, featured a cast of thousands. Friends and family of both Alastair and Caroline, not to mention assorted neighbors from their Gloucestershire village. And caught up in the general good spirits, damned if I didn’t get snared by every traditional English course of food. There was an hour’s pause before the coup de grace. Christmas pudding. Which wasn’t long enough.
We gathered before the hearth, a real one, all 20 of us, and had a go at a very English Christmas quiz, various verbal free associations linked to an occasional fact. Everyone talked to each other. The hordes departed, followed by 90 minutes of an old American comedy film.
Such coziness. My discontent settles in at night. Where is Jane?
It doesn’t pay to go outside. One thing, my tires pick up enough Gloucestershire mud to lay down an earthen floor. Which happens, in a manner of speaking, as the outdoors appears indoors. The caked mud gradually falls off my wheels, dries and breaks apart as an inperceptible layer of sand upon the sandstone floor. I am generally mortified at what my wheelchair does to this house. Alexandra and Jake laugh at my American obsession. Cleanliness having an entirely different meaning in a country house. I accept this invitation to go native. Within days, I really don’t notice and don’t care.
Even my body settles in. The first few days it horrified me, how my musculature seemed to have fallen apart. Standing in the shower, I found it difficult to turn around. Familiar movements, bending to wash this or leaning to wash that, had become impossible. Stiffness, I assumed…which quickly morphed, as these ruminations do, into general fears about my overall decline. Until I settle in, or settle down. And achieve a certain level of clarity. By the fourth day, for example, I realize that certain kinds of bending and turning are made easier by leaning the backs of my legs against the wheelchair cushion. Hard to do while showering, but not impossible. A plastic bag over the wheelchair joystick helps prevent a catastrophic short-circuit. A towel over the cushion absorbs some of the spray. And, yes, something supporting the back of the calves…well, who knows what it does? Somehow the body is reassured. The psyche is soothed. And showering begins to become easy, normal, fears of falling greatly reduced. What was I worried about?
I do need help. But I always need help. Am I burdening people? This always nags at me. Here it shouldn’t, but it does. The good news is that I weather these doubts just like the others. It’s all part of being reminded, at age 66, that I can still have an independent life. That I can miss Jane without missing the point. This is my life, my own, and I can do what needs to be done on my own.
This currently involves ramps. A Roll-a-Ramp, to be precise, shipped from Hertfordshire, manufactured in North Dakota, my contribution to the world economy. A very clever device, in one dimension it rolls up, and in the other it flattens out. Alastair keeps running from one end of his house to the other to place thw thing at the dining room, then the sitting room…and eventually back in his van so that I may make my way to Stratford. We have a couple of Royal Shakespeare Company productions in the offing. Stay tuned.