On wakening today I had a flash of sitting in court on a recent day, another Tuesday, when heat had overtaken me en route from the street to the building. I sat within myself, breathing, feeling the strain, willing myself to control the shudders and the pounding of my heart.
A lawyer lowered his bulk onto the bench next to me and said, How’s it going, and answered himself by explaining that he’d recently had knee replacement. I watched as he stretched out his leg and moaned, Damn thing aches like hell, and then he turned to me and asked how I was.
Fine, I replied, my heart still beating madly in my chest. I thought, Still got that extra five pounds, Corley; that’s why you can’t breathe, even though I know it’s much more than that. The extra five pounds, the asthma, the SVT, the spasticity, the vertigo.
The guy next to me stood and did that little dance that means someone’s working kinks out of their muscles. Gotta play tennis this weekend, he explained, or maybe he said golf. I thought a minute and asked when the surgery had been. Last week, he told me, and my muses howled.
When I had my knee replacement in 2002, I spent seven weeks in the hospital. Pneumonia followed by my spastic leg’s stubborn refusal to adapt to the new joint kept me in therapy, on machines, crying. I smiled at the man who planned to play tennis or maybe golf ten days after his knee replacement, and held my tongue.
Then he seemed to realize he’d said something wrong, and heaped the line on my head that everybody uses: Oh but I don’t have it near as bad as you. He left unsaid the follow-up: Thank God. Nobody thinks they have it as bad as me, and they all seem to suggest that I brought this on myself. Or deserve it. Or that they occupy a place in a special class of people, ones who don’t have it as bad as the rest of us, Thank God.
I shrugged off the whisper of complaint at his smug attitude. I told myself that while lots of people have shown a condescending air, I had no idea whether this guy felt superior or not. Perhaps he genuinely understood his good fortune and thanked the Universe and all things holy for sparing him.
This Tuesday, this morning, that lawyer’s face drifted through my mind as I pushed myself a minute or two past my last stopping point on the stepper. At breakfast I had half as much bread and left it dry, spreading only a layer of soft scrambled eggs across its surface. I climbed the stairs to check my calendar and do a few yoga moves. I told myself, And there’s lots of folks you’ve got it better than, and laughed. It’s not a competition, I know. But if it were, some Tuesdays, I’d be winning. And some, not so much.
It’s the twenty-sixth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining. Life continues.