My anxiety rose as I awkwardly sat, legs akimbo, knees a mosaic of blue. While sucking a painful gulp of air I convinced myself I fell for a reason. I would get back up with something more than what I had when I fell, and it wouldn't only be the dirt on my pant legs.
I grasped for a melody of bravery, yet no lyric I could remember seemed appropriate for this moment. Then it occurred to me that the reason no words fit was they had not been written yet.
I gracelessly shuffled to my feet. A topsy turvy toddler in his father's shoes would have had more finesse and poise than I; however, there was never a competition (and if there was I would distract the kid with finger paint - just too easy).
The sound of my clunky orthotic boots on the pavement provided a tempo for the words, and so they came.
"This path is long and hard and I don’t have the steps to walk.
Obsessed with time itself and I don’t have a working clock.
Relentlessly, a second-hand ties me to this place -
broken steps, tick-tock, tick-tock,
a convoluted race.
The ground has never been so hard; the wind has sliced my step.
A chime just once and once behind-
a horns alarming pep.
I clamber to the shoulder, never bolder, I waltz on--
Broken steps, tick-tock tick-tock,
my convoluted song.
Why walk? Why try? Why do this now?
I ask myself with road-rashed knees.
Are you there? I need your help.
Somebody help me please.
From the ground, I referee the battle in my head
“Get back up, no don’t, no do, you’ll fall again instead”
And with an awkward twist I put contortionists to shame,
My broken steps, tick-tock, tick-tock, continue down the lane."
A gust of wind behind me stirred the fallen pine needles; sometimes I visualized the thoughts in my head as a similar mess. Since the brain injury my memories have been intertwined in a dusty heap. My mobility has changed too, but the abstract mess of my mind defines every challenge.
"Pick up your toes," I said to my feet avoiding a jagged branch. The neurological damage to my legs affected every movement and voluntary muscle contraction; I imagined my brain like a circuit board that had an extra large mug of coffee spilled all over it - now it was spitting with sparks (the coffee was probably piping hot and full of Irish Cream - to exaggerate the inaccuracy and lack of stability of my circuit board brain).
I was almost home now. How much of my life do I spend almost where I want to be - almost home? I'm always on the way to somewhere, yet never quite content where I am.
When I was in a wheelchair I thought the world would be mine if only I could walk. The world belongs to me as much as it ever did then.
All throughout rehab I had this vision in my head of walking easily, naturally, but the reality of it was everything I knew was gone. It was a total reset. I remembered the day I learned to get up on my own, which was in fact not that many months ago, but I knew for a fact it's what had given me the courage to do it again. I went back to that day in my mind.
“Ahhhh,” I yelled. I could not believe I’d let such a noise escape my lips, nor could anyone else. There’s nothing as scary as falling when you’re not sure where your limbs are or how they will land. I had fallen – again – no big deal right? Oh, but it is when you can’t get up by yourself. I pressed my call button for help, and hoped a front-line worker would come searching for me. None of the other residents could help in any way; most of them had balance/strength issues or debilitating injuries themselves. As I sat I realized what a coward I was, not because I yelled, but because I had such little faith that I’d ever be able to get up again.
I’m twenty, just twenty; I should not be experiencing such a geriatric problem. Aha! What a thought – I know what I’ll be for Halloween – a grandmother: I would be complete with a four-wheeled walker. It’s wonderful that these days’ people don’t make fun of disabilities, but I can make fun of my own right? If only I could get up on my own.
I saw the physiotherapist later that day; he’d heard about the shrill screaming spectacle I’d made of myself. He wandered in the room with a powerful air; “okay, I would like you to lift that foot up without moving your hips. Now walk to that doorway.” “I can’t,” I said with deliberation. “Just do it," he said authoritatively. Like clockwork I fell again, so I waited for him to come to my side, but when he didn’t I slowly tried to get up.
I’d made it to my knees when I yelled (as if it meant anything at all to him), “I can’t get that foot out from under me!” Coward, you coward, I repeated in my head. I awkwardly set my right foot forward for attempt number two – and fell again. I tried again and again; the floor is my friend – Namaste - deep breath. This isn’t that bad; I haven’t even bruised a knee. Why have I been so afraid throughout my entire recovery? I know the physiotherapist would have jumped in if I was about to roll an ankle; I had no reason to be afraid. After all, it was carpet not concrete.
I put my left foot forward and with an awkward twist I put contortionists to shame. Like a computer buffering – 60%, 65%, 71%, 78%, 79%, 85%, 90%: I’m up! “Ahhhh,” I yelled. The front-line worker came running (this time ha!) only to see me standing there. At that moment it occurred to me that as soon as I wasn’t afraid to fall anymore: I could get up – how ironic.