So my book is nearing completion, even as my health bounces in new directions and adds different wrinkles. And I’m cataloging things that happened as part of the narrative. The first time I tried to stand without a leg. The first time a doctor told me what would happen. The first time painkillers wore off. The first time I hit the button for pain medication and didn’t need it. The first time I realized I wanted pain medication for reasons other than pain. My first steps. My first pull-up. My first support group. My first time leading a support group. My first conversation about God being a construct. My first moment of peace at the thoughts of ending my own life. My first decision to live. My first realization that anger at God means belief in God. My first return to church
My first time defining despair.
My first time receiving The Look.
it was January 30. I’d been in rehab a few days. A nurse came in to check my vitals. It was six AM, the end of a long night for both of us. She didn’t know me well and didn’t know my history; she was normally on the other side of the floor and was filling in, this one time. My phone was on the small table in my room, about five feet from my bed, where I was sitting on the edge with my back to it, my leg and its absent partner sweatpantleg dangling off the side of the bed.
I asked the nurse to hand me my phone. She blinked at me. There was annoyance in her voice:
“Can’t you do it?”
And in that moment a narrative unspooled. I looked like a privileged white boy, asking a black nurse to hand me a gadget. The way I was sitting, she couldn’t see my legs. Lots of people come to physical rehab for various reasons; I was sitting up and looking mostly healthy. I could hear the weariness and personal invective towards me in her voice.
I stammered. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t.”
She made a noise like a locomotive releasing steam, and scooped up my phone. She came around the bed to hand it to me and she saw the bottom of my left pantleg and everything clicked. I never want to make anyone make that face again.
She put her hand on my shoulder and apologized and I realized I’d been crying. Or maybe I’d just started. But my face was soaked and I just could stop. And she stood there for a few minutes with her body in contact with mine, sorry for the exchange, trying to provide comfort as I went into full shutdown.
I’m still in that moment. I’m still recognizing how people I love look at me now, a mix of pity and privilege, like all they can see is a combination of the loss and what I should be doing and expectations of how badly I’m screwing this up and how I should be magically okay.
or maybe that’s just me. But it’s despair. I count that as the first moment it set in, that my worth had become altered and I wasn’t going to get who I was back, from first impressions right on through the first fistful of dirt dumped on my casket.
All that was left was this, a tightrope of perception of how I’m expected to behave based on whether or not people know what’s missing.
I’m feeling it hard tonight, after a day of illness and emotional and intellectual punches. I’m lonesome and not handling it well. And I’m lying to myself that it’ll all be okay.
I’m more worried frankly, about what happens when I get more objective about the truth of this. But that’s not a problem for tonight.