That used to be me, I thought. It was as though I was speaking of some time of my life long since gone, like childhood, not the “me” that I was up until late last year. The jogger passed me and continued down the avenue, probably headed towards the park at the bottom of the hill, which is where I myself used to go jogging. When this injury was still new, that thought would have stung me with regret, but after so many trips through my mind since, the edges of it have been worn down, and now it comes and goes without leaving a mark.
I had the same thought when one of my girlfriends, who had accompanied me to the local big box store to help me purchase (or rather, carry) kitty litter, easily hefted the 25-pound boxes into my car one-handed. I used to do that. How interesting. I might as well have been speaking of another species, a particular strain of human capable of using her upper body to lift herself and anything else she might need off of the ground, or the table or shelf, while my breed struggles to maintain the proper conformation while pulling a pitcher of water out of the fridge. I’m not that other species any more. That other species does all sorts of things that have been segmented away from me.
I have a physical therapy exercise where I place my hands on a counter in front of me and then rock side to side, transferring my weight (or some of it, anyway) from one hand to the other. I can do about ten of those in a row before the shoulder gives way. It’s a far cry from my former capabilities, like swimming and rowing and rock-climbing. Or push-ups. Real push-ups, not the easy ones with your knees on the floor.
I used to help people push their cars when they were stuck in the snow. (Speaking of, I used to shovel snow.) I used to lift 65-pound dogs on to the examination tables at veterinary clinics. I loved impressing people with my strength; I was first to arrive to help someone move, bringing coffee, slapping on some gloves and going to work. I used to think nothing of moving a piece of furniture in my own condo to get something out from underneath it. In fact, I used to rearrange my furniture whenever I wanted, an ability I will sorely miss when I myself move in a couple of months, and will be stuck with whatever furniture arrangement I designate when the movers carry the stuff inside.
This will be the first time in my adult life that I’ve had to rely so heavily on assistance from other people to move. I’m going to have to let them pack up virtually all of my things, in addition to lifting and carrying them, and I have no idea how I’m going to keep from fussing and micromanaging. In an effort to streamline the process, I’ve been combing my current place for items to get rid of, which has resulted in several bags of trash and even more bags of donations to the local community center. My friends will have enough to do packing my necessary crap; they shouldn’t have to deal with my unnecessary crap as well.
The last time I moved was eight years ago. I remember how excited I was to finally have a place of my own. I found exactly what I wanted, a condo just outside the city, and had fallen in love with the neighborhood, with its liberal, colorful avenues, nearby creek and trail, small-town friendliness, and prevalence of locally-owned businesses rather than chains. I will miss those things, but they, too, have been relegated to the category of useless crap, just like the stuff I’ve been donating by the metric ton.
I don’t need to be close to a park; I need to be close to a gym I can visit that’s safe to be in no matter what the time of day or night. I don’t need to be a five minute walk from a bead store and a vintage guitar shop; I need to be a five minute drive from the drug store, and the grocery store, and a gas station, post office, bank, dry cleaners, and anywhere else I need to go.
Once I move, I’ll be farther from the city, and the subway, which my condition has made it virtually impossible to ride, but closer to the highway, so friends (and my parents) who come to help me don’t have to wend through a half-dozen pretty neighborhoods to get to my place. I’ll also be relinquishing home maintenance tasks for the foreseeable future. Because honestly, I just can’t do them any more. I’m not even certain if I’m up to working and being a graduate student at the same time. Concessions must be made.
There was a life I thought I wanted, that followed a particular trajectory that now seems as distant as my formerly physically capable self. I thought I was walking a path that would take me to marriage and possibly children, and work with animals in some capacity. I imagined living much farther away from the city than I do now, perhaps in the mountains, and being able to look out my window every morning at beautiful scenery instead of neighbors and a busy street.
Never say never, but none of those things are on the horizon any more. I am not in a relationship and am no longer physically capable of working with animals, nor is it wise for me to be so far removed from the services and conveniences that a certain population density entails. I used to idealize what it would be like to be truly self-sufficient, not needing other people for much of anything other than company, and now that goal is truly out of my reach.
Do other people feel their fences as keenly as I do right now? Are they aware of the narrowness of their own trajectories, of the lack of choices that inevitably result? Or do they simply follow the path in front of them because all of their friends are there, never bothering to look side to side to see if there are other roads, or to wonder where they lead? If only. I can’t remember the last time I was on the same road as a bunch of other people; I certainly am not now. I’m in the uniquely lonely position of needing an entire passel of other humans just to help me function while having little in common with any of them.
Every day I’m faced with some opportunity or another to discover that I’m alone on this path; that in fact, there is no path, and I’m hacking my way through unexplored brush in hopes of cutting through to the only goals that remain possible; finish school, cobble together a writing career, try not to let my injury
ruin control the entire rest of my life.
It’s a journey that doesn’t come with guides and maps, or people a generation above mine to help point out hazards and pitfalls, or pull me back upright when I stumble, or nudge me back to the road when I’ve wandered off and lost my way. Being taken so low by my condition this past couple of weeks, I am newly troubled by the sense that I don’t know where I’m going, nor if I have any business trying to get there.
There isn’t a whole pack of animals out here doing the same thing; I’m all alone. So I have no idea what a creature like me should do to try to function in modern society. This pushing, this trying to find a living situation to accommodate my disability, to manage my class schedule so I can still go to school, to keep grasping for a career of some sort… I don’t know if this is what I’m supposed to be doing or not. I’m all too wary of having the carpet yanked out from under me again, as it has been so many times over this last year. I wish I knew if I was supposed to be expending all of this effort or if I’m just wasting my energy, deluding myself into thinking that there will ever be a point where I’ll be able to assert a routine out of all of this.
Because I don’t know or see anyone else that has done it as I am doing it. Is that just because it’s rare, or is it because it’s impossible? Is there any way to tell the difference? How many more failures do I need to accumulate? How do I know when I’ve tried hard enough? I’m not certain of anything any more.
Actually, that’s not true. I’m certain of a whole bunch of things I can’t do and shouldn’t try. What I don’t know is what I can do, or should do, or how much more to try. And I suppose there’s only one way to find out; the hard way. As usual.
Well, at least I can be certain of that.
You know I don’t think you are the only human in your situation. I do think that the majority are stuck in their homes or living with parents, siblings, friends, hating the cage of pain that robs them of even a modicum of independence. I think most are scared to even try doing anything like what you are doing. I also think that there are some who do keep trying and failing and failing and failing and then succeeding only to start the process all over again as have you. We don’t see many of them because they are spread all over and are likely going after completely different career paths or working from their homes. Hmmm … how to connect all of you so that you all know that you are not alone and so that you can discuss what works and what doesn’t?