Not Saying Goodbye

As May came to an end, it was time for more transitions. For one, my friend Manny was finally moving back to Indiana. On the last Thursday of the month, my ILS worker and I had a 3:00 – 5:00 trip to the gym scheduled. He encountered a family emergency and had to cancel at the last minute, leaving me free for the afternoon. A few minutes later, I received a text from Manny saying, “Pick you up at 5:15?” I had completely forgotten that his Nerds of Color group was getting together one last time for dinner and a movies. Canceling the trip to the gym had left me enough time for a late lunch and shower.

Manny’s dad, Felix was in town to help him move. He came along for the movie. His name is Felix. From the time they pulled up to my building, he was trying to hold doors and help me get in and out of the car. I assured him that I didn’t need help, but he tried every time we went anywhere. It was really kind of him and it made it obvious why Manny is the compassionate person he is.

We had dinner before the movie at an authentic Mexican place. I wanted to pay for Manny and his dad, but Manny assured me that his dad would never allow it. I tried to stand behind them both and pay, but his dad didn’t let me. He pretended not to hear me, and paid for himself and the two teenagers with us. As we sat down, several other guests had already shown up. Many of them had brought Manny creative gifts tailored to his personality. I think my favorite was an Infinity Gauntlet piňata. It said “Chicano” and “scifi nerd.”

The movie we saw was Godzilla. I had no desire to see it in the first place, so I wasn’t really expecting much. I think when most people go to see movies about giant monsters, they are just waiting to see monster fights. This movie seemed to focus a lot on the science of its own world, which didn’t make sense. It also tried tell a compelling family narrative, in order to give the movie more emotional weight. This also fell flat to me. It seemed like the movie was trying to be too sophisticated for its own good. There are people who want intellect and drama in their movies; there are people who want blockbuster action scenes. In trying so hard to deliver both, I think the movie failed to satisfy both audiences.

When the movie was over, we gathered to take a couple of group photos. It was bittersweet, potentially the last Nerds of Color outing organized by Manny. Even if it wasn’t, it would be the last one attended for a long time. It was a very positive, warm experience. There was a genuine feeling of love whenever Manny brought people together, and he was the ingredient that made the flavors of the salsa work.

The following week I knew I’d have to go out and buy food for Mary. Normally I have someone else take me to the pet shop because the food bags are too heavy for me to place in the cart by myself. It had been a few months since I had last needed to buy food for Mary. During that time I had gained so much strength in my upper body that I wanted to see whether I could do it by myself. And if I couldn’t, I could always ask a store clerk for assistance.

I also needed to go grocery shopping for myself. However, I had a Meals on Wheels shipment coming soon. To make my food at home last, I decided to go to the sandwich shop near the pet shop. Both businesses were in the same strip mall. In the past, just walking this amount of space outdoors would have felt like a huge task. In those days, I would have my roommate drive me from one store to the other. This time, not only would I be walking from one business to the other, but I would also be doing it alone. I had to rely on myself for safety and security.

On the day of the trip, I scheduled myself to be there for an hour and a half. That way, even if there were long lines at both stores and if it took me longer than expected to walk between them, I would have more than enough time. I easily found the dog food aisle. My product was about ten dollars less than I had budgeted for. It was surprisingly easier to handle than I thought it would be. I slid it off the shelf and into my shopping cart. When I got to the register, the clerk told me that he could hold it while I went to the sandwich shop.

When I got outside, I saw that the sky was getting dark. Although I had been very excited about walking between businesses, I now became concerned that I might get caught in the rain. Knowing I would get caught for sure if I hesitated for too long, I just decided to start walking. I was in such a hurry that I almost tripped a couple of times. I had to remind myself to take my time.

There was no line at the sandwich shop, so I got my food quickly. I had barely eaten that day and sat down to eat a few bites. The sky was continuing to darken, so I packed up my food and headed back to the pet shop. Ten feet away from the sandwich shop, I felt rain. Rather than panic, I told myself to just walk calmly. Even if I got a little wet, the important thing was not to fall down. I would be indoors shortly, and I could take a hot shower when I got home. I made it to the pet shop before it really started raining. The clerk gave me a chair to sit until my ride arrived. I sat and ate my sandwich as I watched the rain stream down.

I was really enjoying things as simple as not being afraid to handle my own money, walking and not getting exhausted, or running errands on my own. But I was also going to so many international restaurants and spending time with amazing people. These are the types of things that I had dreamed of during the year I was struggling to rehab well Mississippi. During those lonely days, I would often dream about being back in Minneapolis, engaging with people from different cultures.

My first time living in Minneapolis, I had enjoyed myself. But as I spent more time in the city, the novelty wore off. Life became a mundane experience. Since surviving the stroke and coma, I’d fought every day to be strong enough to move back. Now that I was back, I was loving my life. But I was still lifting weights or going to physical therapy almost every day. Not only was I on a quest to keep getting better, but I wanted to make sure that I never took my second life in Minnesota for granted. Life should always be lived as a magical experience if possible.

Life presented me with new challenges to overcome every day. For instance, I had moved into my building last July. Mary and I spent a lot of time in the backyard. The more hours we spent back there, the more I wanted to be able to conquer that landscape. On the far end, there was a high hill that led to an upper patio ten feet above the lower one. I had never been up there because the hill was so steep. There were steps leading up there, but there was only a handrail on one side. I could go up the steps with no problem, but I had no way to descend safely.

One Saturday my friend Maggie came over to take me grocery shopping. After we got home, we took Mary out to the backyard. Whenever someone comes over to visit Mary, I ask them to walk Mary around the yard. I like to see her cover more terrain and walk faster than she could do if I had to walk her. After they had walked around for a few minutes, I told Maggie that I wanted to try walking up the hill.

The lower part of the slope wasn’t as steep, so I began walking up, About a third of the way up, the grade became steeper. I spread my feet and leaned forward even more. I took smaller steps and climbed even slower. The going was more arduous now, but I was determined to keep going. As I neared the top of the hill, it became even steeper. Now I had to hold onto Maggie’s arm, so I could complete the climb.

Once I made it to the top, I was so tired that I immediately went over and sat down at one of the tables. The day was so hot that I had already been sweating profusely before I’d ever started climbing. Now that my body had been working, the sweat wouldn’t stop.

At this height, I could catch the breeze coming over the sound wall. The heat didn’t feel nearly so oppressive. I could see a wonderful view of the skyline. It was breathtaking. I asked Maggie to hand Mary’s leash to me, and I let it out so I could watch her prance back and forth in and out of the shadows. She played until she was tired. Then she just stretched out and relaxed on the grass.

After about half an hour, it was time to go back down the hill. I was in a quandary, because it was a steep decline and falling forward would be more dangerous on the way down. The handrail on the steps was on my left side. Maggie pointed out that I had gotten much better at going backwards downstairs. I looked at the handrail. It looked sturdy, so I asked Maggie to take Mary so I could come down safely.

I walked to the top step, turned around, and grasped the rail with my right hand. I held onto it firmly as I began walking backwards. The steps were short and wide, which took some adjustment because I was used to steps that were much steeper. It took me longer than normal to descend, but I felt a lot safer than I had on others. I finally felt safe enough that I began turning my head a little, so I could see where I was going.

Before long, I was back on the ground. I was so proud of having been able to work so hard and adapt. I had made a plan, stuck to it, and mastered the obstacle. I admired the picture I took of Mary in front of the skyline. This was the type of enchantment I wanted to savor now that I was back. As long as I was courageous enough to climb, the magic was right in my backyard.

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