Long Trip Home

I had a wonderful week with my family. The food was amazing, the smiles were authentic, and the love was so real it was almost tangible. I was flying out that afternoon. Still in the mode where I tried to get to the airport more than two hours early, I got dressed and ready to travel before 11:00. I packed my bag as best I could, but I had to wait for someone to place everything in the correct compartment.

Jonathan got up around noon, helped me with the bag, and placed it by the front door. He told me that Candice would be up shortly to cook breakfast. Since I wanted to leave by 1:00, this was enough time for a leisurely meal. There were two World Cup matches on that day. I placed my phone on the charger and settled in to watch England v. Sweden – the only one I felt compelled to watch.

Candice came in after 12:00 and started breakfast. Even before my stroke, the pace of life in the Midwest had made it a lot more difficult to move at the pace of Southerners. Before the stroke, I would often walk so quickly that I would have to be alerted to stop every few minutes so the rest of my party could catch up to me. I didn’t need to be in a hurry to get anywhere; instincts would just take over. I had to constantly remind myself that, even if I didn’t get out the door by 1:00, I still would have almost three hours before takeoff.

After Candice brought the food to the table, I was happy I had calmed myself. This was the last Southern breakfast I would get to enjoy for at least half a year. Tomorrow’s breakfast would be served in a transitional care facility by virtual strangers. I made sure to enjoy the light conversation and the glow of Parker’s smile one last time.

Once I had finished eating, Jonathan asked what time I wanted them to take me to the airport.

“Don’t worry about that. I can take Lyft.”

“That might be about thirty bucks, man.”

“Y’all paid for everything while I was down here; I haven’t even touched my travel budget. As long as I don’t spend eighty bucks today, I’m fine.”

“Alright. You know what you’re doin’.”

My ride pulled up in a few minutes. I walked down the shallow steps and the long front walk. Although I was very cautious, I couldn’t believe how much easier walking was becoming. We hugged our good-byes and Jonathan told the Lyft driver to take extra special care of me. I climbed into the backseat and closed the door. As the air conditioned air overcame the heat outside, I watched my Texas adventure disappearing in the rearview mirror.

The driver was a friendly grandmother in her sixties. We talked about politics, her family, and how much she enjoyed being back in the South. Originally from Arkansas, she had lived most of her adult life in Michigan. She had moved to the Dallas suburbs after retirement. The community where she lived had been a little remote when she moved there. Now sprawl had brought people and traffic. Increased urbanization is a good thing for me because I rely heavily on public transportation. The more commuters an area has, the more affordable options it offers.

It was just after 2:00 when we arrived at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. The agent at curbside check-in was not able to find my passenger info, so he tried looking me up several ways before announcing, “Your flight is from Love Field! See this says–”

I felt very silly. Because I had flown into DFW, I had just assumed that I would be using the same airport for my return flight. I asked the driver if she would be willing to now drive me to Love Field.

“I can do that. Just book another ride through the app.”

I sat down in the passenger’s seat and booked my ride. She picked it up and we drove off.

I was nervous and asked her how long it would take us to get to Love Field.

“We’ll get there before 3:00, easy.”

Trying to relax, I decided to tell her my story. I told her how I hadn’t been able to walk or talk; how it had taken a year of rehab before I could move back to Minnesota. Now I had been lifting weights again for over a year. Now, things like cross country travel were an afterthought. Although it seems like a terrible cliché, opportunities like this vacation are why you struggle through the pain and lonely hours.

Our conversation was interrupted by my phone ringing. The call was from New England, so I ignored it and kept talking to the driver. A few minutes later, I received another call from the same number. This time I picked up to find that it was the driver who’d actually picked up my ride on the Lyft app. I was in the wrong car, and the correct passenger was stranded back at DFW. Each driver had to call customer service to have the transactions voided.

Now I to figure out how to book my ride. If I booked another from DFW to Love Field, a driver in the vicinity of DFW would pick it up. Finally I came up with an idea.

“How much would you make from this ride if I booked it through the app?”

“About fifteen dollars.”

“How ’bout we find an ATM on the way, and I give you a twenty?”

“That’ll work.”

We pulled up to Love Field around 2:55. This was the smallest airport I’d been to in years. I whipped through security and made it to my gate with over thirty minutes to spare. I finally relaxed. In the past, I would not have been able to think through all of these problems. But having so much more control over my body now allowed my mind to focus on details again.

My flight touched down in Atlanta around 8:00 local time. I had a layover of just over an hour. Since I wouldn’t be getting home until after 11:00, I decided to have dinner there. I had a wheelchair agent push me over to the food court where I bought a hamburger meal. Then I had her push me to my gate. I switched to a regular chair and ate my fries and drank my soft drink.

Almost as soon as I finished my fries and drink, I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker. My flight had been moved to a different gate. Under normal circumstances, I would have just trusted that a gate agent would have just made sure that I was moved. However, after ten minutes, no one came to get me. So I got up and went over to the counter. The agent assured me that someone would make sure that I made it to my gate on time. I walked back over and sat down.

I tried to find something to do to busy myself, but I could not shake the fear that I might miss my flight. After about half an hour, no one had come to get me. Rather than wait, I decided to get up and start walking. By my estimation, I needed to travel about six gates down. After I had traveled about two gates, I started feeling like I might not make it. I stopped here and approached the counter. I explained my predicament, and a pilot standing there volunteered to push me to my gate via wheelchair. I was relieved. This was the last part of my trip that caused me any stress. If the flight switched gates again, I would stay right beside the counter. That way, the airline would be responsible if I wasn’t moved.

The flight was delayed another hour, giving me time to finish my food. Now it would be midnight when we landed in Minneapolis. It would’ve been hard to find food at that hour anyway. Now I could go home and straight to bed. Today had been an adventure. But it was an adventure I was ready for.

I spent the following week trying to get information about my move. Since I had already paid my rent check, I was going to my banking app several times each day, trying to see if it had been cashed. It had been a long road to securing permanent housing, and I just wanted an official transaction to show that the deal was done. I was flat broke, so I did not mind staying put at Chateau until payday. I just wanted official notification that the apartment was mine.

Before the check had gone through, my county housing worker contacted me to go to the apartment in order to pick up keys. We went to the office of the building manager. The building manager couldn’t find my paperwork, so she had to call a different department. I began to get nervous, dreading that something would go wrong. There was no answer, so she dialed the number again.

Now I was terrified that I would have to go back to Chateau without keys. Granted it was only the second week of July, but I just wanted the quest for housing to be over. I was tired of relying on the kindness of friends for a place for Mary and me to stay. I was tired of trying to figure out how I could afford living on my own. I just needed a place to sleep, eat, and blog. If I just had this as a foundation, I could begin moving forward in the world again.

No one answered the phone. The county worker, Kim then asked me if I remembered the check number and amount. Because the building manager knew Kim, she did give us the keys. I now began sweating with excitement. We thanked the building manager profusely and I had Kim place the keys on my lanyard. It had been over three years since I was the sole possessor of apartment keys.

I turned to go out to the parking lot, then I remembered that I hadn’t checked to see whether the keys worked. “Kim,” I asked, “Do we have time to go up and see the apartment?”

“Of course we do!”

My apartment door was directly across from the elevator. As I opened the door, I was reminded of how it would have been too large for me to walk around had I moved in last January. I was elated that I would not have to share refrigerator space with anyone; that would make it easier to budget for food. The shower could accommodate a shower bench and a wheelchair simultaneously.

I had lived in other people’s houses for two years. I had lived in a safe medical facility for half a year. But now I was moving home.

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