No longer having to get up and go to therapy and doctor’s appointments meant that I could spend more of my time with Mary. My rides had typically been coming at 9:00 or 800 in the morning. When they did, Mary would give me a baleful look. I promised her that it would only be for a short time. Now that my schedule had changed, I could make it so my rides would not come until 10:00. That way I could take my meds at 7:00, take Mary out, feed us both, take a shower, and still spend a couple of hours snuggling with her on the couch.
This also gave me more time to spend with Mary in the backyard. It was still a relatively warm November. It was fun watching her root around for new scents, seeing her ears prick up, and allowing her to run around. She had broken the retractable leash a few weeks earlier. Our neighbor Rob had repaired it, but it was a few feet shorter. So she literally was on a shorter leash. We made the best of it.
Rob was walking Mary to the park everyday now. I tried to go with them every other day. I had been worried about whether I could provide enough exercise for Mary, since I could not take her to play with other dogs. When she went on her daily walks to the park, I could tell she was healthy and energetic. She seemed to be smiling when we walked her. As much as my body still had its limitations, I was so happy that I could give her the life she deserved. Just wanting to be able to do more for her was enough of an incentive to keep me pushing myself.
Whenever Mary would see another dog she would whine and pull on her leash, but the other dog owners in the building wouldn’t let me introduce her to their dogs. People were always walking their dogs around the park. Several of them did allow their dogs to meet Mary. This excited her greatly. But there was no enclosure, so she wasn’t able to play with them. Before long, I vowed, I would be able to afford an off-leash license and trips to the dog parks. My legs would also be strong enough to walk around the uneven terrain, too.
The positive interactions with other dogs and people were one of the reasons I had adopted Mary in Mississippi. I had anticipated that she would be treated very well in Minnesota. She became well adjusted and never lost her trust in humans. Even people who don’t like dogs remark about how gentle and affectionate she is.These things were important to me, because I wanted to bring as much to Mary’s life as she brought to mine.
While I was making slow and steady progress with my physical rehabilitation, one situation that wasn’t being resolved was my economic one. I was working with vocational rehab, but I was learning that it was a very slow process. I’d assumed they would work from a list of employers looking to hire people with special needs. What they actually did was to help people conduct more traditional job searches by assisting with resumes, identifying employment opportunities, filling out job applications, and keeping an employment search journal. They were a typical government unemployment office in that my job search was very self-directed. I could not expect a secondary source of income to arrive very quickly or without a lot of effort.
The one solution I kept arriving at was selling my car. I wasn’t yet able to drive it. I didn’t have a place where I could store it on-site. It was actively costing me money in insurance payments and license plate renewal fees. And if it were ever ticketed, towed, or in an accident, that would mean paying more money. Selling the car would also allow me to live through the winter before it became vital that I found another job that paid several hundred dollars a month. While I really loved having the car, it made no sense to own it, particularly when I would get less money for it each year I waited to sell it.
It took about three months to find a buyer, but I found one by October. He gave me a down payment by early November. The first thing I did was replace Mary’s retractable leash. The new one was sturdier and had a 26-foot cord. I took her outside and let her run around. In addition to Mary having more range, the new leash made it easier for me to keep her outside longer, since I could sit on the patio without restricting her access to the yard. When I got up and walked out onto the grass, it didn’t take many paces before she made it all the way to the bushes against the sound wall, where she could engage in her favorite hobby – spooking rabbits.
Early November meant that election day was coming. Since I had moved to a different neighborhood and updated my address, this would be my first time voting at my new polling place. Because I had to enter my ride with Metro Mobility in advance and could not change it the day of the trip, I felt I had one chance to get it right. I checked the address several times before I called to schedule my trip.
Election day fell on a rainy Tuesday. Knowing that we were anticipating a larger than average turnout, I scheduled myself to be there for two hours, in case there were lines. I wasn’t worried about the weather. What I was leery of was having to stand for too long. I had gained a lot of strength and endurance in my legs, but I had never put that endurance to the test. I didn’t know if I would need to sit down after thirty minutes of standing in line. Minneapolis was good for finding accommodations for people with special needs, so I knew that they would find seating for me while preserving my place in line. But I would feel a little embarrassed if I needed special accommodation. I wanted to endure anything the other voters had to. I wanted to feel like I was doing my part.
When we got close to the polling location, I began seeing yard signs, so I knew I had given the correct address to Metro Mobility. There was no line, so I breathed another sigh of relief. The bus could not come into the parking lot, so I had to walk quite a way to the front door in the light rain. I didn’t even pull my hood over my face. I let the rain pelt my face and stretched my legs. It felt wonderful to be just another citizen walking to the polls.
Having arrived at 10:00 am, I had avoided the pre-work and lunchtime rushes. The staffers provided a table where I could sit and fill out my ballot. After I filled out the ballot, there was only one person ahead of me at the voting machine. When my turn came, I was still convinced that something might go wrong. I nervously fed my ballot into the machine. It took it with no problem. Now I still had over two hours to kill, but I didn’t care. The most important part of my day was done. Since I had so much time available, I took a selfie and updated my Facebook political groups:
When Metro Mobility picked me up, my next destination was Planet Fitness. I had recently finished another round of physical therapy and rededicated myself to hard work in the gym. I had worked so hard on squats the previous Friday that my thighs were still a little sore, but it was the good kid of soreness.
I had spent over a year just getting myself to the point where I felt able to work out again. Now I concentrated on lessening the rest intervals between working sets. In physical therapy, they had always told me to keep my heart rate up while doing cardiovascular exercise. Now I transferred that to weight training as well. I made sure that my breathing never slowed to normal during the entire session. This made my workouts more efficient and exciting. It also gave me a great deal more energy throughout the day.
A few days later I was at L. A. Fitness doing lying leg press. One of the trainers stopped and asked if I wouldn’t mind a pointer. He advised me to elevate my leg more.
“I understand proper form; I just can’t lift my leg all the way up since my stroke.”
“I don’t want to see you hurt your knee or anything. Do you mind if I help you?”
“Nah. Go ahead.”
He helped me elevate my foot until it was squarely on the pad. Now every time I drove the sled upward, I could feel it in my glutes and hamstring. I was so thrilled, because I knew proper technique would only help me to lift my foot higher when I walked.
After he had helped me with two sets, the trainer asked me if I would like help with strengthening my hip flexors. I was curious as to whether he was about to ask me to sign up for personal training. But I figured that at worst, I could memorize each exercise he taught me then teach my ILS worker how to help me in the gym. We exchanged names (his name is Drew) and agreed to meet in another area of the gym in a few minutes. I placed my foot back on the leg press pad for one more set. This time I didn’t need help to elevate it. I banged out fifteen more reps as though it was nothing.
For the hip exercise, Drew had me sit with my right leg on a bench and my left foot on the floor. He then instructed me to raise my left leg as high as I could, while leaving my right leg planted on the bench. This was unimaginably difficult I constantly had to fight the urge to lean back for leverage. My foot was barely coming off the floor. It was more strenuous than any exercise I had done in a while. After eight reps, I stopped to rest. I didn’t feel tired so much as frustrated.
I didn’t rest too long before I began again. Every exercise had begun with me barely lifting anything. Before I learned to walk again, just getting to the edge of the bed and putting my feet one the floor had been thoroughly draining. This was just one more struggle I was made for.