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She wasn’t sure when it began exactly; she wishes she could remember the complete feeling and freedom of movement. Looking back, she can place certain times when things began to pause and shift. In particular, she can recall one time and place when she first lost her balance quite unexpectedly. It was when she was walking from the front door to the car in the driveway, and her heel did not place down on the ground correctly. It seemed as if she was pulled off of the front porch without any warning, and with the cement walkway now below her, she writhed like a snake wedged between rocks. She tried to piece together where she was standing just seconds ago and now where she lay. Her mind seemed to be in a different place than her body would allow, and this led to no clear answers and no definite claims. The family chalked the accident up to her not paying attention. Or maybe she was simply trying to walk too fast to get the groceries now warming in the backseat of the dark blue car. But somewhere deep down in her bones, she knew that something just didn’t feel quite right.

There would be many days later when one hand and then the next would not open up and her fingers’ joints seemed locked into place, curling around the inside palms of her hands as if they wanted to nest the rest of their days there.  Now long bandages were glued from her elbow to her wrists in order to keep muscles from going limp and so her fingers still might one day have the strength to pick up a spoon. These were not the hardest things to adjust to. It was her limitations of letter-writing which troubled her the most. The once beautiful pieces of correspondence made of loopy cursive letters with fat J’s and S’s made by a controlled hand were now reduced to fonts made by poking at letters on her keyboard with her now calloused knuckles. Even she could not believe how strange letters looked on paper or the sounds of polite apologies about her limitations: a handshake undone, a heavy bowl she could not maneuver from the high shelf. She never quite got used to the idea of holding what seemed to be small fists at her sides. 

Then, came the legs and feet. Just eight years ago, she was able to walk with her daughter early in the summer mornings before it became too hot to go outside. But the walks became shorter and seemed longer to finish. A brace was fitted to her leg to help her with her balance and then came the shoes that could accommodate the toes curling in on themselves.  Only one store in town sold the special sturdy shoes that could be especially made to handle the extra bulk of the brace around her ankle. One white pair and one black pair would replace flats, flip flops, sandals, and cat heels. She would have to get used to the sneaker look, but at least now, she thought, she could walk with some balance. 

Even those days just a few years ago seemed to be decades in the past. Now, her family suggested that she buy a lightweight wheel chair to use when going to baseball games or other public events. Wouldn’t it be easier for her? Wouldn’t she feel more comfortable or even more at ease knowing that she could see more and do more in a chair than sit at an assigned seat or row where she was locked into place? Besides, having someone else do the walking would be less strain and wear on her aching feet, right?  

This year, with her new wheelie, she felt more confident asking if someone in her family could push her through the gardens of the Lavender Festival. Her son-in-law, daughter, and husband took turns as they negotiated a dirt pathway or a curb that was too high to climb up. They were new to this sort of thing too and their feet ignorantly made decisions that every able-bodied person would make, and that a chair with two wheels could not possibly foresee. Her family now found that they were looking for the smoothest path and the prettiest scenery for her to enjoy from her vantage point. They took turns scanning the festival for any ramps available for them to use so that they could gain all access to informational booths or lavender ice-cream making demonstrations. 

Unfortunately, at this event it was harder for older lavender enthusiasts to take it all in. The fields of purple flowers filled with bees, beetles, and butterflies required sturdy shoes and feet to navigate narrow paths and uneven surfaces. Only the young and fashionable festival-goers showing off their complimentary bags filled with dried flowers and samples looked their best while gracefully walking on narrow, bumpy pathways. They wore four-inch wedges and slip-on shoes built for strong toes that could grip fake leather and feel for the flattest surfaces with which to walk. They could navigate the rough terrain in uncomfortable shoes that provided an awkward balance only some dared to familiarize themselves with.  But no one could possibly know how dangerous and how rugged those paths were unless you looked beyond the walkways to the shade of a tree where a woman sat in her wheelchair watching as an onlooker. She wished to join all those moving festival goers as they danced around flowers with all the pollinators. 

How confusing these last five years had been. Why, last year at this same festival, had she not walked the gardens and the fields with little to no help? How had it become so unmanageable?  How could there be no diagnosis after all of these years? No name for a nerve disease that plagued her from the inside out? How could doctors scratch their heads and call on other doctors for help in matters they supposedly specialized in? It just wasn’t fair that she’d been served steroids and pills and had been treated in chemo centers to treat cancer as if she were a big test or trial for a journal article. She did not have cancer. She was losing muscle. She had very little left of the veins by which medicines could be pumped. This was not just. It was not fair.  Her life was determined by professionals with no answers. Only questions after questions surfaced in her mind. When did all this happen? How?

This was her body how, but within it, a younger version of herself lived. It was free of all doubts about how weight balanced from one foot to the other or how little motions of fingers carried out tasks without the strain and effort of exercises or stretches. In her mind, she moved without thinking to move. She could propel herself in all directions as if each of her limbs spoke to one another in a synchronous conversation. In her fibers that made up the very bones of her frame, there were answers, but who could decipher the secret codes of cells, the history of the past buried deep and imprinted with a forgotten language?

She regularly turned pages of albums with the knuckle of her forefinger and the rough edge of her thumb. Maybe this was the way to find the answer. By looking at the military bases where her father was stationed, could there have been some exposure to a toxin that made its way inside of her and slept all of these years until deciding it was time now to claim her? Or maybe it was the contaminated air from that factory they lived near once that had pushed its waste in the canals that ran behind their house. Maybe the story of loss was etched centuries ago in the blood on her mother’s or her father’s side. The pictures didn’t really provide answers, just more questions. It would be nice, she thought, to even out the questions with answers sometime.

She often looked deep into the eyes of her parents’ wedding photo. There was so much life there, she thought. In her mind, she went back, way back, to when she rode on the back of her father’s motorcycle, clutching his waist and laughing at the wind. She thought of her mother standing in a dirty apron begging her to hurry up and clean so she could get ready for the girls to come over for their weekly Girl Scout meeting in the dining room, or the sewing room, or the backyard, depending on the meeting topic. There was a time that movement flowed all around her and she was part of that world. She participated in one moment and another and in places where there were no seams really to stop the events that molded and shaped her.

From the hill of the Lavender Festival where bees freely flew from one lavender flower to the next, she noticed photographers taking pictures, freezing time, catching the perfect beat of wings hovering over purple and green. She imagined herself walking on the paths that curved and bent between the large purple mounds of strong smells. As her daughter spooned crushed ice from a lemonade slush into her mouth, she felt the movement of the little cubes melt and slide around in her mouth. It was then that she felt a part of a moving world and wished for it again.  

May 23, 2020 02:51

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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