When I was first diagnosed with M.S., I realized it was my last chance to learn to play tennis. I told this to a friend of mine who also had M.S., and she told me that when she was diagnosed, she used it as an opportunity to give up playing tennis, and was happy for it.
I went on to play competitive tennis for several years, kept doing it until I broke my arm, kept playing very competitive softball until I couldn’t walk after the games, kept riding my bicycle until I couldn’t—well, let’s just say that it’s not true that once you learn you never forget.
It was a long, bloody battle over everything with M.S. Not really. No blood. But I did fight over everything. Ask CF. I gave up nothing without a fight. She still has to bark orders at me about overdoing things. Not really. She doesn’t bark. She does make a funny yelp, though, if I touch her broken wrist the wrong way.
But now with the brain trauma after the stroke, I realize there are some things I have given up rather easily. First of all, as I have written about, long division, goom-bye. I can recall flunking my first test on long division in fourth grade, because I decided that no one really cared about the remainders, and if the question was 17 divided by 5, then 3 was close enough of an answer for me. I pranced to the front of the room, the first one done, smiling proudly at Mrs. Monell, only to have her grab my arm and correct the first one for me, before I slunk back to my desk. Slank?
Second of all, computer programming. I used to write this stuff in my head. In my sleep. In the shower. The mantra from the home office was “Document your code.” This always bugged me because I thought my code was absolutely clear, that any other programmer could tell what was going on with it. Now, I look at it and I don’t have a clue what I was doing. It is written in some sort of Trans-Siberian-Octo-Generian-Lactose-Intolerant-Ovulating language I have never seen before.
All of which brings me to the third thing I have given up without a whimper. Gardening.
Here it is, mid-June, and I have yet to turn over a spadeful of dirt. I busted my backside last year in the garden, rebuilt the entire perennial bed, planted all kinds of bulbs and seeds, put in 100 tulips for CF, made plans for a whole bed of lavender, the whole deal. For the first summer in the garden, the place looked pretty good.
Don’t get me wrong: I love flowers. I am fascinated by wildflowers, and will screech to a halt on any road if I spot one I can’t identify at first glance. I like to take the little squiggly lines on the map rather than the big red lines so I can look for wildflowers on the way, and I have the photos to prove it. If I had my druthers, I’d move to Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine and become its wildflower expert, now that its former expert has moved on to, uh, greener pastures.
And that’s what I liked about gardening: the flowers. All that malarkey about getting your hands in the soil and communing with nature did nothing for me but get me sweaty. The best part of that was stopping to drink cold non-alcoholic beverages.
It’s interesting living out here in Washington after so many years in New England. The flowers are so different. Foxglove is a wildflower, almost a nuisance plant along the roadside here, where it is a treasured, scarce garden flower in Maine. I can still hear Hannah, a bell-ringing friend, telling me she had some foxglove getting “nice and plump” in her garden.
And lupine is just the opposite. The lupine here is not the lovely pale shades we see in Maine. It’s mostly some sort of hybrid deep purple Kool-Aid acid test stuff. Ick.
Throwing in the trowel so easily does surprise me, because I’ve been gardening for years, ever since CF and I bought our first house 20-something years ago. We didn’t even own a shovel then. Well, we owned a snow shovel. (And a hose, because we had an inflatable pool that we kept on the upstairs enclosed porch of our apartment. We filled it from the kitchen sink. It was small, but quite refreshing.)
But I guess that’s just part of the brain damage. It makes you do surprising things, like give up things you thought you really liked, just like it makes you do things you never thought you would do.
I’m not sure if I’ve done anything I would not otherwise not have done. First, I got lost in the double negatives in that sentence, so I’m not sure what I just said. Second, anything weird I did I just blamed on all the medication.
But not gardening is definitely because of the stroke. I don’t miss it. I don’t miss weeding or digging or thinning or deadheading or watering.
Just give me the good stuff. Let me go walk in the garden. Let me go walk in the woods. Let me go walk in the prairie. With my cane.