“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” -Louisa May Alcott
Since my accident and subsequent return to the United States, I’ve been doing all I can to avoid slipping into a catatonic stupor or mindless depression induced by bed rest and boredom. The pile of books that I’d been meaning to read for years is growing shorter as I consume them one after another. I’ve learned to solve the first two layers of a Rubix Cube and am working on mastering the third and final level. I’m writing stories and poems and sketching poor approximations of my family because I know they have to pretend to like them. My little sister gave me an old film SLR camera and a friend sent me french lessons on disc. My project is to learn both. The charcoal smudges on my fingers and newly discovered songs in my head are small reminders that even in the most trying times, it is a fresh and fantastic mystery, this thing we call being alive.
Doctor’s visits, iv antibiotic treatments, wound care, and taking pills still occupy a large slice of each day. In a moment of melancholy, I told a friend I feel as though the world is trying to teach me a lesson–and only when I admit defeat will I be allowed to recover. I don’t want to deny the feelings of pride I had the first time I road my bike down the dirt road in Dar and didn’t stall it, or the pure bliss that filled every chamber of my heart when I flew down the highway near the coast, or the jokes I shared with Rita that the bike was my boyfriend. Even more, I don’t want to fear taking chances or feel the weight of regret. I don’t want to break down. But maybe, I said, that’s what this experience is supposed to do: reduce me to nothing. “Yes,” my friend told me, “there is probably some ‘teaching’ going on here. But much more ‘testing.’ Remember that.” I felt my will return like fire. A lesson I have been glad to learn is that my family has a staggeringly infinite ability to love me and forgive me for asking so much of them. Friends are impressed when I’m in good spirits, as if unaware that it is they who sustain me. I’ve watched the trajectory of my life veer sharply from the impressive path I had planned for myself–felt it physically, like a twig snapping inside of my chest–and come to a delicate peace with that change. I’m learning to distinguish between pain, which is a physical sensation, and suffering, a symptom of the heart.
To date, multiple orthopaedic and trauma surgeons, a dermatologist, an infectious disease specialist, a wound care doctor, a naturopath consultant, and a dozen or so registered nurses have treated me. Each time, I get more bad news that I’m relieved to hear because it means the problem is now known instead of festering secretly within my body. The estimated date of my ‘final’ recovery has been pushed from three months from the date of the accident to a hazy unknown that could be up to two years from now. The need for one surgery has turned into the necessity for multiple more, as well as bone and muscle grafts, and other dire possibilities I don’t want to entertain or write down, lest that make them true. But I will survive it all. And this is more than enough.
A few days ago I went to lunch at an amazing Soul Food restaurant near downtown Athens, Georgia with a dear friend and my younger sister Catherine. The slight bitterness of the turnips, the black-eyed peas, the macaroni and cheese with hot sauce, the crumbling corn bread, and of course, the sweet tea, reminded me I was home. As we got up to leave, my sister stood in front of me to give me the crutches. I reached out my hands and placed them on her pregnant belly. “Hello, little babies!” I said to her stomach, leaning my head forward and speaking to my future twin nephews. I can’t wait for you to see this beautiful world, I thought. The women at the table next to us laughed and grinned. I smiled at them, got up, and crutched out of the open door.