"Well, well, well, if it isn't the infamous Josie," Rhonda beamed. "Look at you! Walking without even a cane! How nice of you to come back to visit."
"It's been far too long. I missed you all so much! Not only are you the best rehabilitators around, but the residents are my favourite poker pals,"
I said as I straightened the staff photo on the mantel.
After my car accident, I'd spent nearly 2 years in the facility gaining my strength and retraining my Gumby-like limbs after the brain injury had upset every nerve impulse. When I visit, now and then, I remember the halls and every awkwardly unnatural footstep and stride taken there.
In the able bodied world when you walk with a limp everyone stares and often they ask if you're okay or you need help. In rehab, when you're finally walking - they say - incredible! How did you get out of that wheelchair? I say - face first.
Often when I walk down these familiar halls I'm greeted by old friends still working towards functionality. I'm always so happy to see these people who hold me in such high esteem - I couldn't let them down -they are on the same journey of recovery I know so well.
There was an unfamiliar face.
"Josie, this is Roy, one of our newest residents," Rhonda tilted her clipboard in his direction."Hey." I said plainly as I gave him a look once over. He was a nice looking guy, but I tried not to notice. He smiled like an old friend.
"Hey... how's it living out in the real world?" He asked casually as he gave me a once over look too. "It's not much different than being here: life is a challenge - I just ask when I need help."
" Look at you - a seasoned pro - a veteran," Roy said with a sweet laugh. "Meh - they kicked me out cause I was mouthy," I winked. He smirked.
"What's the hardest thing about not living in rehab?" Roy interviewed me. "Being alone," I said sincerely. Not having the constant company of at least 6 other people daily (for years) was a big adjustment.
Roy invited me into the den for a game of cards.
"What do you miss most about being in the REAL world?" I inquired while shuffling the deck.
"I don't know, it's been so long," Roy said plainly without emotion. I couldn't imagine being away from home as long as Roy had. He'd been in more intense rehab for years before arriving at this mostly independent last step facility.
"Well, I'll gather information, and get insider tips on independent living, and report back to you. How does that sound?"
"I'd love nothing more," he said so sincerely.
He adjusted his heavy framed glasses that contrasted his baby blues.
He seemed so much younger than he was, and yet he seemed so much older, empathetic, intuitive. He made me feel safe. Like life would be okay.
"Would you like a cup of coffee?" He asked politely. "Always...that was my biggest comfort through rehab: my morning friend, my afternoon enthusiasm," I recited like a ritual. He smiled symmetrically.
"How do you take it?" He asked half way to the kitchen.
"Black like my soul," I said in a deep growl.
He burst out laughing - probably because I'm the antithesis of anything morose - I wear a smile like a name-tag.
"Well, you're sweet enough already....and definitely white enough too." He smirked.
Oh - he got me.
"What do you want to do once you're out?"
I asked but then remembered how often I had gotten that question and how much I had hated it. He didn't look phased by it. "I'll just keep on keeping on," he said with a half- joking half-serious inflection.
"How do you not worry about what's coming next?" I wondered.
"Que sera sera - whatever will be - will be."
Roy said and the air around him calmed. Something about his manner brought out the best in me. "It's difficult to live like that - never worrying about what happens almost feels like one shouldn't even bother trying." I said as I sipped my coffee.
"Just the opposite - do all you can do in the best ways you know how - and don't spend your time worrying about the outcome. Just be happy to be." He smiled with his eyes.
Wow. Roy had such a simple yet deep life philosophy that I wanted to permanently adopt.
"What makes you happy?" I interviewed him again. "Right now - you do - other times, the usual stuff puppies, kittens, balloons," He said with wide eyes and a big goofy grin, "what makes you happy Josie?"
I took longer than I should have to answer such a simple question. I tried not to overthink it - and therein lies the paradox - I thought about not thinking too much.
"Knowing the way makes me happy," I finally said after too much deliberation. I wondered if any of us ever knew the way. Life is a constant construction zone of detours, repaving, and poor signage.
"You will ALWAYS find your way," He calmly and contently leaned back on the couch. I suddenly imagined him with long hair, a tye dye shirt, and hemp necklaces galore. He just gave off that hippy dippy (without the politics) vibe.
"You should be a spiritual leader," I chuckled - half facetiously, half factually.
"Maybe that's my calling!" He said with a 'Eureka' intonation. "I would be a devout follower. If you grow your hair just a little longer I can braid it," I casually suggested. "No way! too constricting! Maybe I'll let you put a feather in it, or a small seashell or a piece of string," he said with a smile that lit up the room. "Stop it! You're giving me ideas guru master Roy," I laughed. We laughed - until we couldn't stop.
Another resident rounded the corner with his wheelchair to investigate why we were laughing like school kids who'd emptied their buckets of halloween candy. "Oh hey Nick! Josie and I are just discussing enlightenment," Roy made it to the last syllable before a laugh pushed it's way out. "Is that a euphemism?" Nick said dryly. Roy and I burst out laughing again, stopping, then looking at each other and erupting in laughter again. After a few moments Roy finally replied, "no - we were talking about finding your way."
"Where are you guys trying to go?" Nick raised an eyebrow. "That's a VERY good question. let's go in the forward direction. Together." Guru master Roy raised his arm like he was throwing a football. "Onward!" I waved an invitation to Nick, and Roy lead us straight to the coffee pot for a refill.