Above the Clouds

The weekend finally arrived for me to fly. As I have explained before, the stroke left me with a profound sense of life being beyond my control. This was exacerbated whenever I had to fly somewhere. It didn’t express itself as anxiety about plane crashes; since I had almost died of a stroke, dying in a plane crash had become the least of my worries. I was in constant fear of logistical errors, like arriving at the airport too late, forgetting to pack something, or running out of money while out of town. These were the only miscalculations ā€“ I felt ā€“ that could throw my vacation into chaos. So I arranged for Metro Mobility to have me arrive at the airport for a noon flight.

I had my friend Laurie pick up Mary at 9:00 Thursday night, and I packed my suitcase on Wednesday, so all I had to do on Friday was take my luggage downstairs and await my ride to the airport. The bus arrived just before noon and dropped me off at the scheduled time. However, rather than dropping me off at the door to ticketing, the driver informed me that he would have to drop me off across the street. I would then have to take an elevator down one level and cross by tunnel. This was distressing news to me. I told the driver that was too much walking, so we found the only airline ticketing agent in the area and she radioed some from my airline to come and get me.

As I sat there waiting for a wheelchair agent, my impulse was to panic. What if I missed my flight? What if someone stole one of my bags? No, I reminded myself. You are in the most secure location in the area. There are cameras everywhere. And this is why you gave yourself so much time: you are right near ticketing, and you still have over two hours until takeoff.

The wheelchair agent helped me to move quickly through ticketing and security. I didn’t have to remove my shoes or brace. That expedited the process. The only article of clothing I needed to remove was my jacket. So all I really required was time to empty my pockets. After a quick trip through security, I got coffee and was at my gate with 90 minutes to spare. I spent the time relaxing by watching videos and staring out the window, daydreaming about family.

This was the most enjoyable flight I’d had since my stroke because I now had much more control over my body. For instance, I had once required being in a wheelchair the duration of my time in airports whenever I traveled. Now I had the balance to get out of wheelchairs when I arrived at the terminal and sit in the more comfortable regular seats. During layovers, I would pick up food in the terminal and dine once I was seated at my gate. I particularly enjoyed myself when the local cuisine was known for something special.

When I landed in Saint Louis, my brother Ivory picked me up from the airport. When he offered to help me with my luggage, I proudly declined the offer. I wanted to show him that I could load my bags in the trunk by myself. This was a basic task for most people, but it showed how much I had regained in strength and coordination.

Ivory drove me back to his house, where his wife, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s wife were already hanging out. This was the first time we had all been together since we had all gone to LSU’s Tiger Stadium together. My brothers relived what they had gone through when I was in my coma. Jonathan told me how when he’d asked about my condition, a nurse had advised him to begin planning my funeral. Ivory told me that my father was so distraught that Ivory had never heard his voice sound so soft. It gave me a sort of morbid pride to know how dire everyone had thought my situation was, and to have surprised them all by beating the odds.

A couple of hours later, Dad finally arrived with Ivory’s daughter Briana and her young son. Two of Ivory’s kids were also there, and so were two of his wife’s. They had planned a belated Xmas celebration for the following day. It felt like everyone in the house was truly part of the same family.

We had a few hours of family time that night before Dad and I retired to our hotel. It wasn’t far from Ivory’s house. But when we checked in, I realized that our room was as far as it could from the front door. In the past, this would have been cause for distress. But like so many things I had discovered on this trip, it was no longer anything I even had to think about.

I woke up the next day around 4:15 am. After about an hour, I went back to sleep. Some time after 7:00, I woke up again. Still a little sleepy, I allowed myself to go back to sleep. I finally got out of bed around 9:00 am. I felt great. It was the first time in months that I hadn’t had any compelling reason to get out of bed before I was ready. Responsibility was probably why I had not been getting enough sleep. Even when I wanted to sleep in, my mind felt obligated to get me out of bed.

Dad planned to drive over to Ivory’s at 11:00, so we went to the front of the hotel for the complimentary breakfast. Dad and I always talk national, Mississippi, and Jackson politics when we’re together. From there, our conversations deviate to topics as varied as religion, society, and popular culture. But they are always laced together by humor and intellectualism.

I was really eager to get to Ivory’s house. People often ask me whether my family is close. I always wonder how I should answer. We are not close geographically, nor do we talk on the phone a lot. But we know one another thoroughly, and we always have great time together. I often contrast this with families who spend a great deal of time together but are often argumentative or resentful toward each other. It isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, but this amount of direct interaction and independence just seems to work for us.

I decided not to use my cane indoors for the majority of the trip. This would give me a real chance to learn how to balance while walking in the new brace. It would also help me to decide if my new shoes were the optimal size before I bought another pair. Walking safely with the new shoes would solidify my plans to be aggressive with my 2019 workout plans.

One thing I noticed was how much I tended to lean to the right when I walked. This surprised me because it only happened when I stepped with my left. I wondered whether I was starting to rotate my hips again to gain foot clearance from the floor. That should be unnecessary, since the new brace lifted my toes for me every time I lifted my foot. It took me almost a day of analyzing why I was doing this before I realized that I was instinctively compensating to counterbalance the weight that walking Mary added to my left side. This was a reminder that it would be necessary to exercise my legs in as many different ways as possible in order for my body to walk naturally under varying conditions.

When Dad, Briana, and I arrived at the house, it was buzzing with activity. I went to the living room and sat down on the couch. Briana’s brother, Donavyn, was helping her son, Trystan, to build a tower out of blocks. It was several feet tall and very thin. They had to rebuild it a few times, as the slightest vibration would send it toppling. This would upset Trystan, but Donavyn would quickly redirect him by enlisting his help to rebuild the tower. After it fell a couple of times, Donavyn suggested that they build it against the wall. This was simple child’s play, but my mind was already in the mode where it tends to notice any display of problem-solving skills at work.

Ivory and Sharon had managed to keep their Xmas tree up for over a month. Now they piled all the presents under the tree and corralled all the kids. Of course everything was oohs and ahs, as the children opened a multitude of presents. They played a little with each thing before Sharon handed a gift to my one-year-old niece, Parker, and directed her to bring it to my dad.

Candace and Jonathan gave Dad a blanket containing all the names of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Sharon and Ivory gave me a Lego Star Wars set. I hadn’t expected to receive anything. I had not been more than lukewarm about coming in the first place. Now an overwhelming feeling of warmth came over me. The room was awash in love. I sat there feeling as though I had stumbled into the most positive home in the city. The sky outside was dark, and the wind was howling. The world inside was bursting with magic.

After we were finished opening presents, I asked Candice to bring Parker to me, so I could hold her. When she was born, my left arm had been so immobile that I could only look on as everyone else held her. I had just begun lifting weights at the time, so I only had rudimentary control of my stroke affected arm. Then I’d dedicated myself to hard work in the gym. I had seen her again last summer, my arm had become strong enough to help me balance, but I had to hold her with my right hand. Iā€™d rededicated myself to new, more strenuous upper body exercises. Now that I held Parker again, I was able to do so with the arm I had been told that I might never be able to use again.

We stayed at Ivory’s house until after midnight. When we got back to the hotel, I fell asleep immediately. It was such a wonderful weekend that I hadn’t even been aware of how much my body was working. I slept a long, untroubled sleep, and woke around 9:00. I was feeling so refreshed that I got dressed and went over to the desk. In the glow of the morning, I sat down to start writing about my amazing weekend.

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