After my visit to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, I didn’t spend much money or go anywhere on a strict timetable for the rest of my vacation. Most of my time was spent rehabilitating my body in various ways. For instance, I met with several people in person so that I could get more practice speaking. I also ratcheted up my physical fitness regimen.
I had really wanted to be farther along on the road to recovery. It wasn’t that I expected my body to be 100% healed, but I had hoped to have access to more of my muscle groups. These muscles would be extremely weakened, but all it would take was willpower and sustained drive to strengthen them again. One thing I knew I could do was to go to the gym again and again. I had often put in two-hour workouts before and after the stroke, and it wasn’t as though I had a work schedule to interfere with my recovery plan. The prospect of returning to Minnesota without better body control or a stable housing situation was cause for concern.
Throughout my vacation, I had been calling my Hennepin County housing representative. Although she had been tasked with finding me a place to live, the only thing that she could consistently report was that it would probably take up to six months. I ultimately told her that this was a crisis situation; I would be returning in two days without a place to stay. At this point, she said that she would call homeless shelters exclusively, if that was what I wanted. I told her that, although this wasn’t ideal, my other alternative was living beneath a bridge during the heart of a Minnesota winter.
It had been my intention to get a month ahead of schedule with my blog while I was in Mississippi so that if I needed to store my laptop for safekeeping, I would already have four weeks’ worth of posts ready to publish on my smartphone. As I got increasingly ahead of deadline, writing was becoming easy. Where I had struggled to think of what to write in September, now I could look at a series of photos and spin a narrative from memory. The anxiety I had known before had evaporated, because having visual cues effectively made writer’s block a thing of the past.
I decided that my last blog post for the month of January would be the story of how I had started collecting Lego sets the month after my mother died and how I had gone back to them in order to assist with occupational therapy. At that time my left hand was virtually useless; the muscles of my right hand had atrophied; I had double vision. Holding and assembling the toys helped me to focus the movements of my hands and eyes. Legos were a link to my mother. So was the ambition to be an author. I knew there was a way I could combine the two ideas into one narrative.
Since it was my last week in Mississippi, I asked Dad to let me see the family photo albums so I could copy some for the blog post. Mama died in 1983, so any photos of her would be from more than thirty years ago. The images were faded, but they were very inspiring. I could tell when I looked at them that they would not be difficult at all to write about. Making copies of copies of life took a very still hand, because the images would blur with the slightest movement. I had to photograph each photo several times, but after an hour, I had collected more than enough images for the blog post.
Thursday afternoon came, and I boarded the Greyhound bus for the evening trip to Dallas-Fort Worth airport, so I could fly back to Minneapolis. I was still trying to figure out where I would be able to live in Minneapolis. Realistically, I couldn’t afford to pay between $700 and $900 a month for rent, but it was the going rate for a low-cost studio apartment. I had stopped looking in the Star-Tribune and begun looking exclusively for short-term rentals on Craigslist. The ads I was looking at were for shared living spaces. This situation was far from ideal, but it gave me options for under $700. If I could afford to do this for three to six months, it would give me time to figure out a more permanent situation. This was not the most secure plan, but it was a plan.
I had tried contacting several ads, and a few had responded. I had tentative plans to meet two of the people, but I still needed an immediate place to stay. As I had just received my disability payment, I had enough cash to afford two weeks in a motel. That would get me halfway through January, and perhaps I could borrow money from Dad to get me through the month. I wasn’t ready to commit to two weeks at over $350/ week, but at least I would have a place to stay immediately after I got off the plane.
My real conundrum was that I wanted to live by myself, but I didn’t know how realistic that was. I could dress myself, but I couldn’t tie my own shoes or zip a winter coat. I couldn’t walk Mary with my left arm, and I still walked with a cane. Even if I could swing it financially, there was no guarantee that I was able enough to live without roommates. I wanted a scenario that would be best for Mary.
I checked my suitcase and climbed aboard the bus. I sat down and stared out the window. The bus started and wound its way through the city. Soon we were speeding up the on-ramp and onto the interstate. Full of uncertainty and resignation, I rested my head against the window and let out a sigh. My skull bounced in imperceptibly small vibrations against the air-conditioned glass. How was my life going to resolve itself?
By 10:00 am, we were pulling into Shreveport. This was a mandatory stop, so I had to get off. This presented me with my first dilemma: what to do with my backpack? I could move around the station much faster if I didn’t have to carry it. However, it had my laptop in it. Could I really just trust that nothing would happen to it? In the end, I realized that it was too great a risk to hope that the backpack would not be stolen. I took it with me.
I went in to get a couple of soft drinks, then I got right into a re-boarding line. There were only three other people in the line. Presumably, we all wanted to reclaim our seats. I had hoped that we would only be out on the bus platform for ten or fifteen minutes. However, we ended up waiting for about half an hour. My lower back and my thighs began getting stiff, so I placed my backpack on the ground and began stretching and shifting my feet a lot. When it seemed like I could stand no more, the driver finally appeared and began letting people back onto the bus.
For the next few hours, I tried to sleep, but couldn’t. The bus jarred to a halt constantly as we stopped at every small town in east Texas. Ultimately, it did not really matter. I would have several hours in the airport and on the plane to sleep, as my plane would not be taking off from Dallas until after 7:00 am. The bus came to a stop at the Dallas terminal around 1:00 am. I got off and claimed my suitcase. With no one there to help me, I found a way to drag it into the door. I was aghast that there was no one assigned to assist disabled customers. I couldn’t have been the first person there who needed assistance. After almost falling a couple of times, I was able to sit safely with my bags.
Once I was safely inside the station, I decided to call for a Lyft to the airport. My cellphone battery was getting low, so I decided to stay off the phone until I checked my bag. Transportation arrived, and I had the driver to stop at the McDonald’s across the street before taking me to my destination. I reasoned that after I arrived at the airport, I could check my luggage, charge the phone, and eat at my leisure.
When the driver dropped me off at the airport, it was largely abandoned. I was crestfallen. It was a good thing that I had only brought one large piece of luggage, because there was no one to help me with it. Instead, I had to push it and drag it over to a row of seats. When I sat down, I began searching for a plug so I could charge my phone. There was none anywhere around me, so I tried searching the entire section. When that was unsuccessful, I gave up looking altogether.
A few minutes later, I started having an urge to go to the restroom. It had taken so much effort to get the suitcase to my seat that I knew I couldn’t get it to the men’s room and back. Despite my serious security concerns, I asked a traveling student to watch my bag for me. I had no doubt that there were cameras everywhere, and that security was not far away, but it was still difficult to yield so much control. I slowly hobbled off to the restroom with visions of someone scurrying off with my bag.
I quickly used the urinal and washed my hands. When I came out of the men’s room, I looked over and saw the student and my bag still seated exactly where they had been. While this was the logical outcome of the situation, having a body that was still recovering from a stroke often made me feel weak and incompetent. It was perhaps eighty feet back to my seat. I walked those eighty feet as quickly as I could without tripping over.
Once I was seated again, I checked the battery life on my cellphone. It was at 20%. I knew that I had to get more of a charge. I frantically searched for an outlet again. Finally, I saw that there was one almost 100 feet away. As badly as I needed a charge, this was just too far away. Then I remembered that there was one near the restroom. I could charge my cellphone while simultaneously watching my bag. As a precaution, I asked the same student to watch my bag.
My phone finished charging about an hour before the terminal opened for business. Less than half an hour before the ticketing agents arrived, flyers started lining up. I wasn’t able to stand and pull a bag behind me, so another traveler told me that she would get a representative to help me with the bag. With his assistance, I was soon checked in and ready for early boarding.
My flight was set to take off before 8:00 am. I was wheeled down the jetway to the plane, after which I was able to walk to my seat. Once there, I strapped myself in and looked out the window. The sky outside was still pitch black. It had been a long night filled with countless uncertainties, but by the time we climbed into the heavens, the light would return.