Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"It's been a funny old year..."

When I was growing up my family used to watch a sit-com called 'Open All Hours'. At the end of each episode the main character, Arkwright, reflected upon the events of the day while clearing away his shop front. "It's been a fer-funny old day," he'd say, "And that's a lot of sky to be a shopkeeper under." The comedy documented the minutiae of life in a world where very little happened: the occasional eccentric customer, a cash register which always trapped people's fingers, the passionate unrequited love Arkwright held for Nurse Gladys.

I've got a touch of the Arkwright's this evening.

On May 25th 2014 I turned 41. I was living in an apartment in Cambridge, MA, just up the road from Harvard; I rode everywhere on my big orange cargo bike and worked on my second novel for at least 3 hours a day as well as producing a regular column for Spare Change News, the local homeless newspaper. Back then, I was nearly 5'9".

Now I'm only just 5'7", I drive everywhere in an SUV, and my drafts of novels gather dust in a corner of my study because I no longer have the endurance to parent my two girls and my foster son and to sit down and write books. I live on the side of a mountain in Vermont, a long way from colleges and cycle paths and coffee shops and the person I used to be.

I love Vermont and I am happy to be here. I love watching the mountain change her colors through the course of each day; I love the evening chorus of barred owls and blue jays and the constant two-note calling of the chickadees; I love the smells of the pine forest and the meadows and the metallic spring rush of the river. This past year I have been more aware of seasonal changes than ever before: the flourish of autumn, the colors of fresh snowfall, the skid and slip of spring mud on dirt roads, the sudden explosion of plants and weeds, the promise of fireflies and blueberries in July.

I've also been more aware of time passing because of the accident. It's 11 months since I broke my neck, 10 months since I re-learnt to walk, 9 months since two of my dearest friends provoked me, with laughter and art and endless camp fires, out of the dark place which had begun to surround me. The bouts of rage and hopelessness associated with my traumatic brain injury began to abate around 8 months ago and for several months my recovery rocketed along. And then it seemed to stop. This isn't unique to me - anyone with a major injury notices colossal improvements to begin with, if they are lucky, but then things plateau as any improvement become so minuscule as to be almost impossible to notice.

I can live with being 2 inches shorter than I used to be. It's unfortunate my head now topples forward slightly like a little old lady, but it gives me a good view of my feet and that's useful because I don't have many nerve-endings down there now. I can live with the low level of pain which accompanies me through each day and I've been working hard to regain the strength I used to have (I've started training with my daughter's taekwondo class and I've hired a personal trainer to try and remind me what my shoulders used to feel like.) The thing I don't like living with is the loss of my "cycle-ability". I've tried (every month I try!) but I can't ride my bikes. After a few hundred yards, I feel as though someone is drilling into the base of my skull (which, given the amount of metalwork I now have in there, is probably a reasonable sensation). I've blogged about this before and generally I don't like to complain, but I went to see a new doctor a month ago. We'd not met before. In the US, people have annual medical examinations and my new doctor eyeballed the notes from my 2014 annual examination - how were my shin splints, she asked?  Had I followed the doctor's advice and cut down on my running? How were my eyes? Did I have any new medical concerns?

When I talked about the things which had happened in the past year she was flabbergasted, and when I told her about my despair about not being able to ride my bike she started to cry. I started to apologize for sounding ungrateful, but she was already on the phone. Vermont is a small state, her friend is the Director of Occupational Therapy, a friend of her friend is a man called Eric - he's a physiatrist who is also a keen cyclist. He likes a challenge.

This evening, Arkwright-like, I have been tidying away my daughters' bikes from the front lawn and reflecting on things. In the shed are the bikes I used to ride, the bikes Nathan rides, the tandem which Nathan's grandmother bought us for our wedding, the bike neighbors generously gave us so that our foster son would also have something to ride. Eric is working on a bike solution for a newly-42 year old woman who lives on the side of a mountain with a broken neck. He's hopeful and his solution will be a birthday present to myself.

"It's been a fer-funny old year and that's a whole lot of sky to be a Zoe under."