My life seemed to really be taking o ff now. After years of going to therapy and rehabbing independently in the gym, I was now participating more in life. I was going to several places around town – restaurants, museums, World Cup parties. Every week my life in Minneapolis resembled a little more what it had been before the stroke. Amid all of these life-affirming experiences, my father called to tell me that he and my brothers had decided to have a family get together at my younger brother’s home in Dallas. It was set for Independence Day. Although it sounded like something that would be financially Herculean, I told Dad I would be there.
Since I still had money in my bank account from my May disability payment, I purchased a ticket on Expedia. That way I would be able to devote all of the disposable income from my late June payment to travel. Before the stroke, I had often traveled with twenty dollars or less in my pocket, figuring that as long as my bags and I both made it to our destination, everything would work out. Now it was hard not to worry about every aspect of life. One of the fears this included was “What if I ended up stranded somewhere with no money?” As such, I always tried to travel with a minimum of a hundred dollars at my disposal.
I dedicated the next few weeks to doing things that would make it easier to transition into independent life after I returned home. For one thing, the housing application I had placed with Minneapolis Public Housing had finally gone through. I had been awarded an apartment in the building I had been so excited about. That was the next day. The housing representative drove me over to sign on Friday, June 29th, and I asked what the rental amount would be. The leasing agent assured me that payment would not be due until the 10th, but I insisted on writing the check that day. Why run the risk of anything going wrong?
Back at Chateau, I was stretching my shoulder every day. I would sit on the couch and lift my left arm over and behind it. This would give me a very good initial stretch in my left shoulder. I would hold this pose for a few minutes. After this began to feel natural, I would reach my right arm over the back of the couch. This stretch would be more severe, and now I experienced slight pain in my left shoulder. Remembering how limited my mobility in this arm had been, I would hold this position for several minutes.
I also practiced walking and climbing stairs. Walking was as simple as walking up and down the hall. While I did this, I concentrated on lifting my left foot as high as possible with each step. If I grew careless, my foot would start to drag on the carpet. So the best way to prevent falls was to make every step a planned one. While this could feel quite trivial, it was better than constantly tripping. Stairs were a more straightforward matter of stepping evenly onto each step. Once one foot was positioned securely on a step, I would bring my other foot up or down to join it. After constant physical drilling and paying off every upcoming debt I could, I would be prepared to enjoy a week in Dallas; then I could transition into my new apartment.
My friend Karine came to town when France – her home nation – played in the second round of the World Cup. I had convinced her that Minneapolis would be a great place to watch World Cup soccer in America. France played in an early match, so she came to watch that match at Chateau. When I first met Karine, she told me that she was the least patriotic french person I had ever met. Now I was able to get footage of her proudly singing “Le Marsellaise.” Argentina fought very hard, but France controlled the match, and I never thought the result was much of a question. The funniest thing about the match was when Karine complained about French striker Mbappe, only to see him score two goals that sealed the match for France early in the second half.
After the first match, we went out for lunch. The afternoon match was Uruguay v. Portugal. Karine and I had been arguing about Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo since our first meeting. She is a fan; I cannot stand him. We could not get into the bar where I wanted to take her, so we went to a barbecue restaurant near my home instead. By the time got there, Uruguay was already ahead 1-0. This seemed like a fluke. I didn’t expect the score to hold, but Uruguay ended the half ahead and each team scored early in the second half, and Uruguay went on to win. Karine had to leave after that match because she had two-hour drive ahead of her. I was so happy to have shown her a great day of World Cup celebration in my city.
My flight to Dallas was scheduled for the following Monday. That afternoon I got to the airport almost three hours early, expecting to need extra time to go through security. When I reached security, the agents asked me whether I could hold both hands above my head for three seconds. I told them that as long as I could hold it up using my right hand, I could hold my left hand above my head indefinitely. My cane would have to go through the x-ray machine. The agents asked me whether I would require a substitute in order to walk through the area. I told them that I didn’t.
I handed over my cane, took off my shoes, and stood up. After walking into the full-body scanner, I turned and lifted my hand high above my head. When this was done, I walked out and let the next agent pat me down. My left leg felt so solid beneath me. I proudly stood there and followed his instructions. After he finished, I carefully walked over to my wheelchair and sat down. My heart pounded with pride. It was the first time since the stroke that I had gone through regular airport security. I would no longer need to arrive at the airport extra early.
I arrived at my gate far ahead of schedule. So I went to a charging station and plugged in my phone. After my phone got to 90%, I unplugged and walked to a restaurant to have a burger. Eventually they called to board my flight. I was able to board early and get to my seat. When I sat down, I was able to buckle myself in after several tries. This was the first time I was able to buckle an airline safety belt with my affected hand. I sat back and peered out the window. This trip would see me doing more for myself than I had been able to do in three years.
We touched down in Dallas just after 7:00. It was still light outside, and I hoped to enjoy a few hours with the family. I waited for everyone else to leave the plane so I could have a clear path to debark. Once I was off the plane, one of the flight attendants noticed that there was no wheelchair waiting for me. Someone radioed for another one. The flight attendant asked if I would like to go back inside the plane so I could sit down. I told her that I didn’t need to. It was comforting to know that I could stand the whole time.
After we picked up my bag, the attendant wheeled me out to the curb where we met my brother Jonathan. Jonathan and I caught up on several things. He told me that he and Candice, his wife had closed their Facebook accounts. As first-time parents, they didn’t want the distraction. It occurred to me that he had not seen the vast majority of the images documenting my progress. When we stopped for food, I showed him a couple of the videos. It also occurred to me that he had not been seeing my weekly blog posts, either. I sent him a link to the issue about Mama.
When we got to the house, Dad and Ivory came out to meet me. They had already been in town for several days and had had a long day, so they soon went to bed. Jonathan led me to a rear room where I would be sleeping. Instead of a bed, there was a double-sized air mattress. He wanted to know if that was adequate. I sat down on the mattress, pushed down with my right fist, and sprang back to my feet. We were both impressed at how easy it was. It was one more thing that would have been unfathomable last year.
I woke up the next morning around 6:00. Instinctively I rolled over to the edge of the bed. I wanted to get up and go to the bathroom before it became an emergency. Sitting up and pushing down on the mattress with my right hand, I tried to stand up. But unlike the night before, I could not push myself up. The mattress had lost air overnight and now had too much give. Frightened that I might end up peeing on Candice’s and Jonathan’s floor, I searched around for a way to stand up. Spying a coffee table, I crawled over to it. I swung my legs over until they were parallel with it. Now I planted my hand on the table and my left foot on the floor. Next I rested on my right knee. From this position, it was fairly easy to stand up. I walked to the bathroom, relieved that I wouldn’t be leaving a mess.
After using the restroom, I came back and decided to start dressing. Now I encountered a new problem: the bed was too low for me to get dressed on. Ordinarily I need my feet to hang over the edge of the bed so I can loop my pants over them. I cannot bend my left leg much, so I rely on the help of gravity. Since the mattress was not raise high enough, my left leg splayed helplessly out in front of me. I could not stretch my arms out far enough to put on my pants. I was slightly dejected. However it was too early for anyone else to be up and about anyway. So I lay down and went back to sleep.
Around 8:00 I called Dad to come in. I knew that he always got up earlier than I did, so I assumed that he must be up watching TV and getting ready for breakfast. However there was no answer. Puzzled, I looked at my phone. It was only 7:30. I was still getting up in time to start breakfast at Chateau. It was nowhere near time to get up, considering that everyone else was on vacation schedule.
About fifteen minutes later, my phone rang. It was Dad. “How are you?” he sang.
“I’m doing fine. Did I wake you up?”
“Naw. I just got up and saw that you called.”
“When you get up and about, do you mind helping me get dressed? The bed here is too low.”
“I’m up now. I’ll be there in a minute.”
A few minutes later, Dad was there. Three years earlier, I had needed him every time I wanted to get dressed. Now it was more of a technicality. We did everything in under five minutes. After we had finished, I felt silly for being downcast about needing help. The last time I had seen Dad, I’d been concerned about my lack of progress and my lethargy. Now I was waking up before he did, and getting ready to start the day on my own.