Get Out There
I got home from the hospital to a hauntingly empty apartment. Every corner held memories and I needed to decide if I could live with the kaleidoscope of movies playing inside my head. The first of many ‘get out there’ steppingstones I had to cross, was defying the doctors and not ending up in a nursing home. I had to do it as a fresh widow. Alone.
Jim was a hoarder, and I would have to clean out the collections of stuff he refused to throw away before I made a decision. Three broken air conditioners, an electric organ which barely wiggled in through the door. Half a dozen guitars, and two saxophones which yearned for new owners. I stared at them and heard the bass riffs and his pure baritone singing me love songs. All the power tools he’d collected to make hand turned wooden pens. That’s one collection I’ve kept, although some of them went to friends and family who wanted a remembrance.
The dozen watches of different vintages were still in the jewelry box and stared up at me with their dials ticking away time I wished I could recover. Instead I would try to retrieve some of the dollars we couldn’t afford to spend on them. I couldn’t say no to him. In spite of my own dire health conditions, his had been worse. His was a death sentence. His heart was failing, and he was not a candidate for transplant. The anatomy of his heart and the vessels that fed it, were not compatible.
His depression overwhelmed everything except the joy of collecting a few more things and talking of what he’d do with them when he felt better. His anger at being trapped by exhaustion colored everything he did with vitriol he spewed at me regularly. His smile and rare laughter were to be treasured and coaxed from him at any cost. I would deal with the fallout after. Except after was not supposed to be now.
And then there was our bed. The one he had died in, and I would need to sleep in. The narrow passages between boxes of stuff were trip hazards for my new reality. Newly amputated on one side, and no hip joint on the other, I should have been in a wheelchair, but I surprised everyone but myself by managing to get around with the help of a pair of crutches. And all of this was still not as overwhelming as the biggest hindrance to my independence.
I had to get out there and drive again. I hadn’t driven anything in over five years as my genetic condition gave way to infections and loss of sensation in my legs and feet. I had no idea if I could even control an accelerator or brake pedal. I’d been informed I would have to pass a road test to keep my driver’s license. After a 32 year career as a professional driver, I’d been reduced to all the fears and tribulations of being a teenager on the cusp of adventure once more.
“Get out there and drive.” I heard it from my mother, my friends, my foster daughter. “It’s like riding a bicycle, you don’t forget how.”
Under it all I had a goal. I wanted to make the 300+ kilometer drive to a very special place to scatter some of Jim’s ashes. There were half a dozen places he wanted to be placed, and I promised I’d do it. Mom was my cheerleader, but only until I told her I would make that trip solo. I needed to prove to myself I could still do it.
I can’t tell you how scared I was when I started my car for the first time, with a false leg below the knee on the left leg, and a hip with no joint on the right. The last vehicle I’d driven with any consistency was a forty foot long city transit bus. My husband had done all the driving when we went anywhere else. It was my way of letting him feel useful and it was one of the few things he could do without losing his breath.
My mother had become used to using my Jeep. She picked me up from the hospital to come home in it. Now she wanted me to be able to drive and get groceries and see friends, but not for any road trips. She wasn’t even sure I should live at home, and turned up to check on me. I’d made the mistake of giving her a key, and she’d make use of it without notice. Taking them back was another form of getting out there.
With my husband gone, she was the one who made the arrangements for someone to take our bird. She was the one who cleaned everything up after the unspeakable happened. She moved right back in to taking care of me like I was a child again. Mom was all for continuing the routine she’d developed while I was recuperating.
So I started driving again. With mom in the car, and then when I figured out I had no problem dealing with the mechanics of driving, by myself. I took that drivers test and passed it without even a glitch. Except the examiner wasn’t happy with me for not pulling the emergency brake after doing a hill park. Hmmm, isn’t the whole point to prove the car won’t roll if the brakes fail?
And then I got out there. Out to have coffee with friends. Out to enjoy the incredible scenery west of our city. Out there to make trips that infuriated my mother because I could have gotten stuck with no way to call for help. I used my Jeep on back country roads marked with ominous signs. You know the ones, use at your own risk: four wheel drive recommended.
“You can’t even walk without crutches,” she moaned. For someone who wanted me to get out there, it seems she was torn about what it meant. Her opinion certainly didn’t match mine. I guess I have to make allowances though, she was close to eighty when this all happened. She didn’t trust herself to drive anymore, and I should follow her personal restrictions too.
Now, almost ten years later, I’m ready to hang up the keys. My body is more beaten up than ever and I’ll have to give up the long road trips which I love so much. I’ll get out there via other ways. By writing stories, essays and memories when prompted by a question or challenge, I’ll make my voice heard. It’s my new way of having fun and loving the reaction of others.
By the way, my mother never thought I would be able to do this either.