I was born in a small down in southern Vermont, the quintessential “small town America” type of place. We didn’t have a General Store, but we did have a pay phone, things get real when you get a pay phone in the center of town. Out tiny town consisted of an elementary school, a church, a fire house and a community hall where all of our graduations and celebrations from wedding receptions to birthday parties. Outside the community hall there was a giant Maple tree which was probably at least 3 feet wide at the base and over 100 years old. The road we built around it, it was part of the town, it was THE landmark. One day they just cut that fucker right down…bullshit, I tell you. All the kids would walk down to the common tree, it was the thing to do at the time, and then it was just gone and a new road was built over the spot. But that is not the point of the story here, kind of though I guess, meaning good things don’t always last.
Growing up my mom was the town baby sitter, essentially. There were 13 kids including my sister and myself that she would watch all summer, and after school during the year. It was pretty great to have kids your age around when you live in a town where the closest neighbor is NOT in walking distance. I remember those days so fondly, my cousin and I were like two peas in a pod, attached at the hip and never apart. We did everything together and when we weren’t at my house we were at hers. She was and still is like a sister to me.
Those were the days when mom told you to “go play in traffic” or “go play in the street” which really consisted of a tiny dirt road with maybe two neighbors that lived past our house so really never much traffic at all. We were always filthy, covered in dirt and grass stains. Our feet were black from not wearing shoes for days and constantly running though the swamp and dirt pile, yes there was a dirt pile, not a sand box, that would have involved buying actual sand, instead there was just a pile of dirt, clearly meant for something aside from our amusement but it was there so we played the shit out of it.
We were always outside, always. I had the most epic tan one could ever hope for, surprising that none of us ever got skin cancer, knock on wood, those were the days before “wear sun block or you will die immediately of skin cancer”. Those were the days of, “lets take the baby oil out and get a tan” or just lay on the lawn and bake in the sun like a couple of fried eggs. It was great to be a kid in the 80’s, great I tell you.
If we could do it without shoes, we did, if we could do it in our swim suits we did, if we could get away with out washing our faces or the dirt off our hands we would. We didn’t care, we didn’t give a shit that we looked like a bunch of dirty grubs, we just didn’t care. There were no video games to play, nothing better to do in the house, everything fun to do was outside. Inside was the punishment, you didn’t want to be inside, ever.
When the two of us got chicken pox in the summer of 1988 it was torture, we were banished to the pull out couch, all day, inside, away from everyone else. The upside to that was we got spaghettios instead of PB&J, aside from that though, it was torture. I had the pox on my eye lids, in my mouth, up my nose, between my toes, EVERYWHERE, it was no fun at all, but I would have still rather have been outside.
We were those kids that hated shoes, didn’t wear them unless we had to, and by had to I mean school and in the store, but you better believe they were off in the car until we got there. I could have spent my whole life in a pair of flip flops if we didn’t get so much god damn snow here. Seriously, feet were not meant to be crammed into pointy shoes.
I never played sports, it just wasn’t my thing, but my cousin and I still spent all of our time outside even in high school. I would go to her house and we would ride horses or 4 wheelers and just tear ass around the fields and down the road, because it was small town america and lets be honest there were no cars and never any cops to yell at us. We would ride our wheelers down the road to the hunting camp her stepfather had in the woods, which really as just a pop-up camper on blocks. We would sit in there and shoot the shit and play cards and just mess around being teenage girls. We never did anything questionable or anything could have gotten us into any trouble with anyone, we mostly talked about boys and how stupid they were being.
When we were at my house we would walk or ride our bikes to town, not the center of our town, but the next one over were there WAS a general store, and that is where all they boys were. We would go get chips and a sobe and then go home. When we weren’t doing that we were playing in the pond of running up in the woods. Nothing really ever scared us, we weren’t afraid that anyone was ever going to kidnap us or kill us somewhere up in the woods. No one was going to offer us drugs or pressure us into anything we didn’t want to do, it was all pretty safe, that or we were just really REALLY nieve .
As a kid and a young adult I was always moving, always walking, running or hiking and I never ever even thought twice about it. I had survived a life saving liver transplant at 15, which barely slowed me down. I was down about 9 months but after that I was back to my old left doing stupid things and getting hurt. Rolling 4 wheelers, falling out of trees, jumping off the 2 seater swing, snowmobiling through the woods not on a trail, which I know now is much more dangerous than we all thought at the time, building a luge and sledding down it with those stupid plastic saucer sleds- again thought the woods, with never a care in the world, ironically no one ever really got seriously injured. One of us may or may not have run over their own leg while riding the very 4 wheeler that ran it over.. I won’t name any names, but who ever it was had a sweet tire tread bruise for weeks. Battle wounds, just battle wounds.
But like I said, we never thought anything about what we did, or how we did it, we just did things. When I was 24 I came down with a case of meningitis, which if you don’t know could very quickly kill you, or cause serious brain damage, you could lose limbs, be paralyzed, it is an infection in your spinal fluid which surrounds your brain and your spinal cord so you can imagine how quickly that could go south. Needless to say I lost the use of my right side, the ability to talk, recall words, remember the days of the week, the alphabet, who to write my name, I couldn’t hold a pen or a fork in my hand, my whole right leg and foot were all but useless and I had the worst case of double vision it was like quadruple vision. It was serious. It was bad.
After 24 years of running and being outside, barefoot and hiking, all of that was gone. I left the hospital after two weeks in a wheelchair, yay me, not! It was depressing, I just couldn’t walk, I didn’t know why, I couldn’t remember 5 minutes ago so how was I going to remember why the hell I was in that chair. It was one of the hardest things I have ever been though in my life and I have been thought the gamut with the transplant.
It was quite a shock when I finally realized that this could very well be the way I spend the rest of my life. But I wasn’t really willing to accept that, I worked hard in physical, occupational, and speech therapy to get where I am today, but it has been a rough, rough road. I had left the hospital mid June and by the next May I was down to a cane, after months of a walker, nothing makes you feel more useless than a walker, you can’t carry anything. A cane was a great achievement and I was very proud of that. The state had revoked my license, i had a handicap tag, and I needed someone to drive me to PT twice a week for 18 months. That was fun… NOT! At 24 the last thing you really want to be is dependent on someone else for EVERYTHING. It was belittling, it was depressing, it just made me down right angry sometimes. I couldn’t run, or hike, I couldn’t get on a 4 wheeler, shit I could barely walk.
Ever single step I took took great concentration, it wasn’t as easy as just one foot in front of the other. It was literally shift your weight to the left foot, try to balance long enough to use you quad to lift the dead weight of your lower leg and make sure you lift it enough to get your foot up off the ground, then try to move it forward without catching it on the ground, and then step down and uncurl your toes so your aren’t walking ON them, and then shift your weight to the right at much as possible and then step with the left foot as quickly as you can. That was just one step. That was my new ONE step. Imagine a whole day of that. One tiny rock could throw me off and I would take a digger and smash up my hands and knees and face. I went down like a pile of bricks, no control over any part of my body, no control of my reflexes, nothing, I just went down. It was hell. It was a nightmare. I kept waiting to wake up and be fine, to just get up one day and be able to run again, so far that has been a no go, I can keep dreaming but its likely not NEVER happen.
In the past 7 years there has been more swearing that ever before, more bruises, more cuts and scrapes, more PT, more back pain, knee surgery, back surgery, surgical removal of gravel from my hands, broken toes and more botox that any hollywood house wife could ever imagine, and all in my foot.
When I am sitting everything is totally normal, for the most part, but when I walk I get the stares, the looks, and the questions. I work with kids, so there is a constant state of “what did you do to your leg?” and how do you explain that shit to a 7 year old? even the 14 year olds don’t really understand. Brain infection, brain damage, nerve to leg no workie, foot no workie- I walk funny. And no it doesn’t really hurt, for the most part. It hurts more on the inside knowing that all the things I did as a kid are long gone, and I’ll likely not be on a horse any time soon, or zipping around a field on a 4 wheeler. Its not just my leg, its my balance, my equilibrium, I can’t even shake my head without getting dizzy.
I gained full use of my right side except for my lower right leg and foot. Google “drop foot” that is me, and its not fun.
But I can see straight and hold a pen and a fork, no more eating with my hands, and do most anything that doesn’t involve my feet or legs. Walking for most people is a natural thing, its automatic, you don’t even think about it. I think about every single step I take, every single muscle that has to fire to get my leg and foot to move just right to take a step and I need to constantly look at my steps to be sure I don’t trip over the tiniest of rocks or sticks. I no longer have two good feet. I have one good foot and one mediocre, temperamental, botox filled foot that has a mind of its own. It’s fucking awesome. (note the sarcasm)
While all of this sucks and I wish things were different I do know that it could all be much worse, I could still be in that wheelchair or dead, so I know I am lucky to at least have what I have and I make due every day. Its just not as easy or care free as it was 8 years ago. Everything now is just harder, more complicated and takes 5 times longer, I guess that is just how life goes sometimes. Sometimes you get your two good feet, and sometimes you don’t.