On three legs in the evening.
May 3, 2012 § 22 Comments
Answer: Man. Four legs in the morning (a crawling baby). Two legs in the afternoon (an adult). Three legs in the evening (an old person on a cane).
I am paying an early visit to the evening of life during which unsteady humanity walks three-legged. Actually, having broken my pelvis in a car accident, I’m not steady enough to manage a cane and so the doctor prescribed a walker.
With three breaks on my right side, I’ve been instructed to put no more than 20% of my weight on my right leg. That means that with each right step 80% of my weight is carried by my shoulders and arms (I see a foxy strapless dress in my future).
My triceps are looking good, but what is lost is the ability to carry almost anything. For a short distance a book can be clenched under my arm. lightweight objects can be carried in my teeth. A shirt or towel can be hung over the front of the walker. But carrying a cup of coffee or a frying pan? Only in my dreams.
Our evolutionary edge in becoming bipedal is that it freed our hands. It is those freed hands that make us human. Mine are still available if I’m sitting, but like any quadruped on the move, I need all four limbs to get around–not that I’m good at it.
Like an inexperienced house painter I paint myself into corners. If I let the refrigerator door swing open all the way I have to jump down a step to retrieve and close it. In the tight quarters of the bathroom I have to lift the walker over my head and pivot on my left foot. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to walk into the bathroom and turn on the faucet without bracing my elbows on the cool enamel edge of the bowl.
I’m getting better at this new way of moving. My logistical dances are becoming stylized, but with one sloppy move I am suddenly teetering. Balance regained, I stand, heart pounding, imagining the fall I almost took.
After a near-topple I settle into my wheelchair, which is safer, but unwieldy and tank-like. In preparation for a safe sit I hop around on the walker, or on one foot, gathering the things I’ll need: a cup of coffee, a piece of toast, eyeglasses, book. I stage them carefully in wheelchair-accessible spots.
Everything balanced on my knees, I grab the rings of the wheels and propel myself to wherever I need to go.
The chair clears our door frames with an inch to spare. Backing out of the kitchen I don’t always gauge it correctly. Wheelchair travel is fraught with sudden banging stops.
When whole, I am a determined walker. At the moment I’m a walker on a walker. I have mastered the forward leap to get down two small front steps. And the lift-stride-lift, to traverse the pine straw path to the road. Then begins the long push to the corner, a walk I never thought about at all when it was a tiny segment of a route walked three or four times a day.
I still sing as I push along. Being odd and anomalous was a comfortable state for me even before the walker and the external bar that holds me together and stands three inches proud of my hips.
Pushing along I tire quickly. I stop and stare into the sky. A Mississippi kite is being chased by a Mockingbird. The mockingbird is tiny but swift as a dart and so full of chutzpah!
My mother once spent a day doing everything blindfolded. She was writing a book with a character who had become blind. She said that socks gave her the most trouble–a broken pelvis makes socks hard too.
Every writer leans on imagination and empathy, and brief visits to other lives like my mother’s experiment in blindness. But lived experience is the best teacher. I know, in minute detail, how to get around when I have to think about every move in the dance. The highs and lows I must engineer into a plot as a writer come to this story without effort.
Waking up tired and sore from lying in the same position all night I sometimes feel sorry for myself. Struggling through a day, my exhaustion growing, can threaten to overwhelm my native optimism. When I can’t resist it anymore I allow defeat to wash over me—sometimes being plucky is just too big a dose of fooling myself, even for me.
But most of the time I ride the air, albeit carefully and deliberately.
Most of the time I am the mockingbird.
Note: The riddle cited is “the riddle of the sphinx” from Greek mythology. The sphinx sat outside of Thebes asking this riddle of travelers. If they got it wrong they were killed–the universal outcome until Oedipus solved the riddle and the sphinx destroyed herself.