It rolls around every year about this time, the annual men’s conference I attend in the upper Midwest, and the only real difference is this sort of preview, lunch with one of the likely attendees currently in town with his wife. I should have known that on this August day the San Francisco skies would be dark, fog swirling…in a normal city giving every indication of rain. But of course, not here. The only danger comes from the parking brigade sweeping the streets around South Park, uncomfortably close to the Giants game about to get underway. Move your car, I urge my friend, the parking vultures are swarming. Oddly, one of the realities I escape by my penchant for wheelchairs and mass transit. Fortunately, the packed café in South Park is emptying as the nearby Giants Stadium fills. I go for a gallette, dark brown and suggesting a high buckwheat content. It tastes fine. I am not really here for the food, but for the company.
My friend has doubts about this year’s conference, though. His concerns seem misplaced. But concern itself is never misplaced, it occurs to me, as I bite into a shrimp. Thing is, concern kind of wanders around like a horse in a paddock. There seem to be moments when you can harness the thing and let concern drag you in a useful direction. Other times when it just needs to wander around, munching hay. All you can do is stay alert and grab the thing when it moves. Acknowledging that concern, or what one cares about, can be good or bad, but is mostly indifferent.
My friend has a point. It’s hard to say what will happen at this conference. Some years are good. Some less good. I listen to his concerns about this year’s and decide to err on the side of optimism. Much of what dominates the news tips me toward despair and helplessness…so it is salutary to hold onto the hope that something good can be gained from a conference devoted to…this year’s theme…veterans. After all, historically, I can be said to be part of the problem. The latter being vast and bipartisan and way beyond politics, in any case. And yet not. I hated them, the proudly patriotic young men of my generation going off to fight the Commies in Vietnam. They seemed morally superior, duped, instruments of the empire. And they hated me, and I hated them, and now all that’s left is some ruined lives, mostly theirs, and it must be admitted, partly mine. My disability providing an accidental link to another experience of, well, disability. My real challenge of a conference being to say something like this. To stand up in front of a group…and I generally do stand at such moments…and expose myself, say what I have to say, vulnerable and flawed. The latter seems to be an enduring challenge. This is something worth anticipating. The challenge of speaking up, speaking out. That’s my concern as I polish off the last of the spinach salad. And why not? One of those moments when concern is well and wisely put to use.
As for the rest of the time…do I dare to eat a peach? What about the peaches Jane just bought, what if I forget to eat one of them…and it goes rotten? How rotten will I be? How much self-recrimination will accompany this event? What about my fear of walking around the apartment? Is it really that dangerous? Which, I am happy to report, even as we speak…or as we write…translates into standing up and crutching to and from the bedroom. Not a vast distance, but enough to make an orthopedic difference. Without even calling Jane. Certainly an option, but on this occasion, no. Up and at ’em, as it were.
For this is the thing, the walls can close in, things becoming impossible when they are only difficult. With a disability, it is as though one becomes elderly in an instant. The loss of movement, freedom, self-image all feel so catastrophic that the inevitable extra layer of senescence seems an utter outrage. Worse, it seems a mistake. After all, exercise and general willpower have pushed the mobility envelope in the past…and surely this trick can be repeated forever. Surely.
The fear of falling. Of falling and not being able to get up. Or reach a telephone. Yes, this has been plaguing me for years, and not without some reason. But only some. One has to take a chance. One even has to fall. Off the rowing machine, for example, only a couple of weeks ago. It’s not the falling but the fear of falling, of course, that can put a distinctive crimp in one’s style.
There are other fears of falling. Such as falling into a rage. Okay, maybe a quiet version, but on your average introvert, the effects are less visible, but just as dire. Take dinner. And rather a healthy one, if I do say so myself. Involving as it did, hummus and tomatoes. And damned if opening the silly cellophane package from Trader Joe’s, one plump and beautifully spherical hydroponic tomato didn’t bound to the linoleum. Where it rolled. Straight across the kitchen floor, and only a matter of inches, to a spot under the deeply recessed wooden island next to the stove. Lodging in the most inaccessible spot one could imagine. And one could imagine forgetting the whole thing, but tomatoes have a way of remembering. Remembering that they are part of the general mortal coil, and move inexorably from ripe to more ripe and on to rotten. A progression that was bound to happen should the tomato go untended. Which was simply not viable. Yes, someone else might have reached under the overhanging baseboard to retrieve the little fucker, but this would only occur if I remembered. Which in view of my advancing age, is not very likely. So, it was now or never. And now was most fraught.
Mentally I went through various options. Nothing had a handle long enough except a broom. And I didn’t see how I could control such an implement in such a tight space. So what was there but the giant tongs? Hard to say what they are actually for, but they sit next to the cooker, nestling with other kitchen gear. I slid them once under the cabinet, failed. Backed away to get a better perspective on the tomato, its dark outline barely visible. Then I had another go. This time, sliding the open tongs with my foot, trying to knock the metal jaws into place…until the little Dutch fucker rolled into a more visible spot. From there, it was back and forth, back and forth, until I finally got it within grabbing range.
Quadriplegia is full of this sort of thing. Which presents a constant challenge. If I am in a state of robust mental health, my anger gets directed at something external and safe. Pounding on the cushioned sofa, might be more or less optimal. If I am anywhere south of well balanced, my exasperation heads inward. Why do I do these things? A familiar lament. Closely related to…why do these things happen to me? Which, after all the nasty neuropeptides settle down, if I am very lucky, culminates in…how resourceful one can be? Particularly when there is no choice. Tongs. Forceps. I could probably deliver a baby one-handed, if push came to shove. It hasn’t. But almost everything else in my life has, so stay tuned.