As I sit at the pull-out desk in my inherited antique secretary, a pile of sundry paperwork flanks my computer. A plastic pouch of computer cords teeters on the heap. The dish drainer overflows with wooden spoons, pans, and mismatched crockery. Grease spans the top of the world’s stupidest stove and the prefab butcher block. The door to the world’s most useless cabinet hangs on its channel. A box meant for the packing of a present to ship gathers dust in the sitting room.
My hips scream in protest this morning. A thought crept into my consciousness: Have I reached the hip-replacement stage? My last joint job kept me hospitalized for seven weeks. Lily-white spastic legs resist modifications, even ostensibly helpful ones. I realize that medicine has evolved in twenty years, but I have not. I shudder and cram the demented genie back into its cracked bottle.
I woke at five. I’ve broken my fast, watched this week’s anti-climactic episode of Top Chef on YouTube, and let the last of three cups of coffee cool on the counter. My Friday To-Do list holds more tasks than I could accomplish sun-up to sun-down even if I were able-bodied. I’m vaguely aware that I can’t recall where I put my paycheck. I’m hoping it’s on the car seat; and that I locked the car when I staggered into the house from an exhausting day.
Exhausting, but gratifying: I spent three hours reading documents outloud to a blind woman. Periodically, she or her husband made a small face which signified lack of comprehension. I stopped to give what explanation I felt that I could without a California law license. The witness sat to my right, and had a few questions of his own. All of the queries made sense; some challenged my own understanding of the subject. The husband kept refilling my water glass as my asthmatic voice rasped ever on. He served store-bought oatmeal and cranberry cookies. When we got to the signing, he gently aligned his wife’s hand atop a heavy piece of cardboard near the line on every execution page. She scrupulously inscribed her full name, including middle initial, multiple times with lovelier penmanship than mine. We sang her praise as she released a long anxious sigh.
I sat in the evening traffic thinking about disabling conditions and how they define our lives. I met my second husband in 1997 in a Yahoo chat room. I asked him to describe himself before he sent a picture. He said he was a twelve-foot giant. When the picture came, he captioned it, “Don’t be put off by this, please.” I studied the image, a photo taken on a sunny day at a seafood shop on a Maine boardwalk. His apprehension puzzled me until a friend glanced at the computer screen and observed, “Who’s the guy in the wheelchair?”
I hadn’t even noticed.
If I had to describe myself to someone who wanted to guess how I looked, I’d mention my wild gypsy hair, my crooked teeth, the spattering of freckles across the bridge of my nose, and the extra ten pounds currently clinging to my belly. I’d pause, trying to decide if I should mention that I walk with a staggering gait. Nah, I’d think. They’ll notice that. If they shrink away in horror, I’ll have my answer to whether we can be friends.
Last weekend’s encounter with an MRI technician who asked me if my “aide” had come to the appointment with me has left an impact. When I sit in the driver’s seat of my car, I forget that my “walking issue” has worsened. I feel twenty, or forty-two, but sixty-five and failing never occurs to me. Then I step onto the pavement and lurch around the front of the car, hoping my balance will claim itself by the time I emerge curbside. But I promised my son that I would live to be 103, and I’ve got 37 years to go. So I’ll haul myself from this chair, find a morning stretch video in the Heart & Bone online studio, and rewarm that cup of coffee. I’m going to need it.
It’s the twenty-fifth day of the ninetieth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.