The Moment

The 4:30 AM day is somehow ablaze, even though it is technically dark. Jane and I have been awakened by screeching mammals. She swears we have heard cats. I suspect raccoons. Either way, I remain awake, thoughts racing. Until the slightly more civilized hour of 6 AM, when I give up and we get up. Summertime, and the livin’ is hot. This day, like its predecessor, is too warm too early. And in some predictable way, on hot days I fall asleep with fan-driven air wafting about the bedroom, then wake up in the wee hours, crazed and confused.

It fits right in, this experience does, with the general fabric of things. Languid nights, plummeting to sleep like a lead fishing weight. Then bursting to consciousness in what should be prime sleep time…summer air pleasantly cooled. Jane is by my side. And if I had more sense, I would sit up on the edge of the bed, tune in to my churning emotions…but I opt to lie around as though this is a usual morning. Until it hits me, in the shower for some reason, a wave of panic…’about’ nothing. Showers do not strike terror in my heart…at least, not usually. But this is my first solitary moment of the day, and there it is, pure primal fear. And it must be said that while Jane is helping with the post-shower toweling I do confess to the experience. Momentary terror. Sure, she says, it’s a time of change.

I gave a public reading from my book Dance Without Steps just yesterday. A benefit for the Menlo Park Library. And of great benefit to me, in terms of performance experience, preceded by performance anxiety, followed by book sales, signings – and exhaustion. That’s it, the essential experience. Good. I enjoyed reading. People enjoyed hearing me read. And now what? The truth is that I am bursting with ideas. Which I want to present publicly. To almost – and I stress almost – anyone who will listen. Medical groups. Disabled people you name it. I am interested.

Are people interested? Oh, I don’t know, but the point is that this matters less and less. Late in life, I am beginning to handle rejection with a more blasé response. Some will want me, some won’t, and the beat goes on. But not without active intervention, that is the thing. I’m speaking, in my mind, at conferences, gatherings, events of all kinds. Which, I know, requires making contact, giving some sort of pitch. Which in turn requires…a lot of hard work, that is the thing. And what could be terrifying me in the morning shower? Rejection? As I say, that is happening anyway, and it seems survivable. So, what? So why not head for the garden?

Fried lettuce has not reached most menus as of this writing, but the raised beds are doing their best. They are cool weather crops, the green leafy vegetables. The day’s blazing sun is the absolutely last thing my delicate lettuce plants need. Still, one can accomplish a lot with a good spray. Which is why I unhook the curlicue hose from its resting place and begin my program of artificial rain. I am so glad that I bought this. First, there is the nozzle. It has a vertical, rather than horizontal, handle. This is perfect for anyone with a grip problem. Second, the spiraling hose. It extends like a spring, its coil loosening as one drags the nozzle further and further from the faucet. Upon return, it retracts. All of which is splendid when one considers that there is no need to wind this hose, that it essentially winds itself. And never loses its coiled shape…until you lose your mind.

Which is happening now, moments later, for remember, everything is one-handed. I am controlling the wheelchair joystick, holding the watering nozzle, occasionally backing, then turning, to align the artificial rain with the rows of very natural lettuce. Yes, occasionally running over the hose, but it’s a tough hose, isn’t it? Which is neither here nor there, yet that is the problem regarding the hose position, for in one of my180 ° turns thinking the hose must have been there, it was actually here…and now the thing has coiled itself around one of my tires. Silly me. Easily undone, of course. One just has to roll forward. No, roll backward. No, probably roll forward and reach down with my paralyzed hand to knock the coil out from under the plastic wheel guard. No, not that either. Forward, no, back, no, forward….

The problem being that this is the hottest day of the year in Menlo Park. I am tired, the fatigue of the introvert who has just extroverted to an appreciative audience. Happily tired, or so I was a moment ago. Not this moment. This is a bad moment. The spinal-cord-injured sweat glands have been out of action for decades, and I can get dangerously hot dangerously fast. This is the most extreme point in the afternoon, and in space there is no one to hear you scream…and there are some horrible possibilities dancing through my brain. Breaking the hose being one. Not the wisest thing because the valve is open, very much ‘on.’ I can see the jet of uncontrolled water spewing like a broken main…and there is that other thing, great uncertainty about how far this wheelchair can roll with a garden hose wound around a wheel. Which means that a certain forward and backward and desperate mindless action might as well be tried before…the thing disentangles itself. Which it has. How I don’t know. I roll to my relatively cool apartment.

Okay, it wasn’t quite 40 years ago, but close enough. Probably 38. And I was in my mid-20s with the official title of graduate student. Mostly I was in my mid-20s, lonely and horny and filled with shame. And trying to date. And there I am visiting a girl. The official title being young woman, but these days I am too old for that term. I have lost track of the events. It seems to me that dinner at her place had turned into dinner at her place with a friend. Two girls, one boy. The function of the friend was to help explain things. The girl was having a hard time letting me know that she did not want to be a lover, and somehow she had sought assistance. Presumably we had dinner, then a fairly blunt talk. Maybe the girl I liked brought it up first. I want to be your friend, not a girlfriend. And I can only remember the feeling, being stunned and overwhelmed and, once again, shamed. My essential inadequacy revealed. Unlovable. Not desirable. And the whole thing magnified by hearing this from two women at once.

Still, let us give everyone credit. The girl’s friend kept trying to get me to reveal my feelings. I think you’re angry, she said. Or perhaps she said she thought I was hurt and angry. True, she was in the target area. An unconventional approach, the whole evening, but the girl and her friend seemed to think this was the way to handle matters. And what I realize now is that the girl cared about me enough to bother with all this. No perfunctory friends-not-lovers request. But a psychological-emotional Full Monty.

All I can really remember was my discomfort. Feeling trapped, ganged up on. One soldiered through. I probably admitted to the anger or the hurt or some combination or portion. They were both trying…. All I recall was the grueling nature of the experience. Three of us seated at a kitchen table in some San Francisco student apartment, me being probed. It seemed to go on and on. And in the end, there was no girlfriend. And I felt much the same about myself. And yet the memory of the evening lingers. For it can still be hard to connect with my own feelings, particularly in the moment.

And this next moment involves the new espresso maker. I don’t buy stuff. I buy trips. I buy meals. I buy theater tickets. Stuff, forget it. Still, the inventory does need updating. And I’d had my eye on a small Italian espresso maker for some time. And now was the time. That is to say, after several months had passed, the carton with the new appliance had sat in my apartment for a week. And now here t was, the moment of truth. Jane had liberated the appliance from its packing, plugged it in – and I was trying to plug in, or screw in, the small load of tamped espresso coffee.

The stainless steel holder, coffee in one end, plastic handle on the other…well, it needs to be lifted and snapped into place. And now I am in that moment. And what I feel is a rising ire. That I have to do these things at all. The up motion being an unfamiliar one in my neuromuscular world, coupled with the turning-screwing-locking mechanism of the espresso holder. And why do I have to do this? And why isn’t this very simple thing easy? Why can’t Jane just do it for me? Because, of course, we have chosen this for its very do-it-yourself virtues. But I don’t give a fuck. In this moment, learning something slightly new, slightly different, seems an outrage. Rage period, hot and savage, for 40 years of having to do things like this. A flash unscrewing me in one direction as I screw in the espresso holder in the other.

And yet it’s in, locked and loaded, and Jane and I are reading the Italian pictograph instructions, all human hands and arrows, a sort of sunburst around the lighted ‘on.’ We are on, Jane and I. She is enthused about this, and, for once, I am too. For this is the essential truth of things, that without the lows, there are no highs. And they come in quick succession. And that they come at all, for this we must be grateful. So grateful, that I have a second espresso. After all, I normally order a double. But this is an authentic Italian machine, made in authentic Italy. Accordingly, a double version of this espresso blows the top of my head right off…leaving me in a hyper-caffeinated state. Never mind. Spirit.

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