The view from shoe level

When those nice little old ladies fall on T.V., they always show the devoted daughters plugging in the handy dandy tracking device that calls the ever-vigilant bright-eyed neatly-dressed attendant at some distant calling center who promptly promises to send help “right away” when dear old mom next tumbles to the ground, sending prunes or grape nuts scattering in all directions.

What they don’t show you are the hours of physical therapy the nice little old ladies need before they are allowed back in those accident-prone, handicapped-inaccessible kitchens, the ones with overhead cupboards, ancient faucets, outdated appliances, and lack of walking space.

Let me tell you, falling and not being able to get up is the least of the problem. It’s likely to be that last bit of rest you’re going to get for a long time.

Sooner or later, a neighbor or friend or partner or wife or husband or child will wander by and you will have to admit that you are not looking at the interesting mid-20th century variegated pattern in the handsome wall-to-wall carpeting of your hallway, that in fact they might as well haul you to your feet, that—ouch—your right arm isn’t quite what it should be and perhaps we’d better call the doctor.

And so begins the usual round of Dr. This and Dr. That and x-ray this and x-ray that. It all takes a couple of weeks and a bunch of hemming and hawing and gulping down horse pills and sleeping with heat patches glued to your arm and tossing and turning all night long and nearly dropping the half-gallon of milk because you forget that you are one-armed these days.

And of course I can’t drive because I use hand controls and that takes two to tango. And oh, have I mentioned that CF broke her OTHER hand and is in a cast for three weeks? We shan’t discuss the sad circumstances under which it happened except to say that I will describe my stupidest fall and then tell you that hers was even more stupid:

I was doing yard work a few years ago, walking down our driveway, pushing our 65-gallon plastic garden waste cart ahead of me. It looks just like a garbage cart, the kind the town gives you for your garbage. Fortunately it was empty, and the top was open. I was tired, always my excuse. I lost my footing and stumbled forward, and ended up flat on my stomach, with my head and shoulders inside the garden waste cart. As far as I know, no one saw me. It happened on my birthday. At least hers wasn’t on her birthday. But it was close!

My most recent fall did not happen out of sight of friends and neighbors; it happened in plain sight of CF and just out of sight of NF, who had, let’s say, “neglected” to hold the door open for me, causing me to stumble up the short flight of stairs tween garage and laundry room, crashing to the ground and somewhat crushing the semi-antique aluminum cake carrier I was no longer holding but instead flinging to the ground, although I did try to brace myself by pushing off the wall dead ahead of me which simply caused me to double-bounce on top of said carrier and ricochet off the pile of newspapers waiting to be recycled. There was a slight cushioning effect, the one and only time, I am sure, that Mitt Romney will ever be of benefit to me.

The x-rays showed damage that will require physical therapy, which did not surprise me. I have done this before, because I fall a lot, and I always damage the right shoulder, which amuses me. I am left-handed, and for many, many years, I was a fast-pitch softball catcher. I imagined that at the least I would have new knees by now, or a ruined left shoulder. But no, those joints are fine. It is the much less used right shoulder that is turning arthritic, has bone spurs, and is continually being crushed and mangled by my falls.

The doctors can’t tell without an MRI if I’ve actually “torn something” in the rotator cuff or not, but they shot it full of cortisone and now it’s off to P.T. twice a week, where, should I fall, I will be immediately whipped back to my feet by two or more extraordinarily athletic young people. I need to warn them that I get dizzy if I stand up too fast. These are the same people who coaxed CF’s first broken paw back into shape, therapy that involved, among other magic treatments, dipping her hand in hot wax, a treatment that sounds so spa-like that I purr with envy. I suspect the closest I will come to hot wax will be bumping into the air freshener candle in the bathroom.

However many times I may stumble in P.T., I am sadly certain that I will fall again in real life, that I will again damage this shoulder. What I think I really need is to go to Falling School. I need to learn to fall properly. They must teach that somewhere. There must be professional fallers. Someone to teach you to not stick out your arms so you wreck your shoulders, but to tuck in your arms and roll with the flow. Someone to teach you to do a floor routine, like those gymnasts in the Olympics. After all, when I was in grade school, they taught us to survive a nuclear bomb. Certainly they can teach me to survive a three foot drop to the floor now.

I’m not too old. I can still learn. And I’m pretty sure there’s enough newspaper in the garage to use for cushioning.

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Mixed emotions

It is difficult to believe that the small, squealing delight of dirty diapers that we call our son has grown into nearly six feet of smelly armpits, and that he’s starting high school. But he is.

And with that has come his first request for a steno notebook.

We were not prepared. Has it really come to this? We had 3-rings, pens, pencils, backpack, and so forth, but….

Actually, it hasn’t come to this. In his best ninth grade penmanship, he had actually asked for a “stental” notebook. Perhaps it was the rush of the first day.

The request was scribbled on a form that the parental units had to sign. There were two forms, and CF asked me to look them over. She had her back to me at the computer as I studied the form, looking for where it mentioned the steno notebook. I couldn’t find the place. She hadn’t mentioned that NF had written it in by hand, and we weren’t really paying too much attention to what each other was doing.

“Where?” I asked. “I can’t find it.”

“It’s there,” she answered. “Keep looking.” She was involved in whatever she was doing. I glanced over the two pages again.

“I can’t find it.” I was getting annoyed, as if this was a test of some sort. Why couldn’t she just show me? It wasn’t that big a deal. I’d found a notebook already; I just wanted to confirm that it was OK.

“It’s right there. Check it again.”

I looked over the two forms again. Nothing.

“Still can’t find it.”

She whirled around in her chair and turned over the pieces of paper and pointed out his handwriting.

“Right there,” she said. “I told you to turn them over.”

Sure enough, there it was: stental notebook. But I never heard her tell me to turn the form over.

Damage done, I hurried off to my office to lick my wounds.

And wounded wounds they were.

It was absurd, it was ridiculous, I know, I know, but there was something about the whole situation, maybe because I was staring at sheets of paper looking for something, maybe because she had her back to me as if she was timing me, maybe because she whirled around a bit too much like an impatient teacher, but I felt as if I had just flunked a test.

It felt as if I had just flunked a test in rehab and they weren’t going to let me go home yet and I was going to be stuck even longer with Fox News All. The. Time. and men with gigantic beards who haven’t quite copped to the fact that they will never ride their motorcycles again.

It was a momentary panic but it lasted long enough for CF to catch me blubbering at my desk, which made it all a bit worse, because I think she was trying to be funny, because after all, it is kind of funny to have your son ask for a “stental” notebook. It’s not often that you get to add a new word to your family dictionary when your only child is in ninth grade. That usually ends when they are, oh, three or four, and get a pretty good grasp of the English language.

The stental notebook I gave NF is one that I had used a bit, and I tore out the few pages I had scribbled on. They had had directions to various ball fields in Western Washington, ball fields we can now find even without caffeine. It also had a nifty pocket for storing loose sheets of paper and handy six-inch ruler. One lucky boy, eh?

So last night as we were driving home from another baseball game (What? You though the season was over? Hah! As their tee shirts say, there is no off-season in baseball.), I asked him how the notebook was working out.

“Good,” he mutters from the back seat, then says, louder, “You left some stuff in it.”

“Oh?” I croak, trying to sound disinterested, realizing I sound alarmed. If he found stuff in that notebook, was it just more directions to more ball fields, or was it the start of some bit of writing I’d forgotten about? Had he read it? Was this why he was telling me about it? Was he reaching out to me?

After he got home from school today, I wandered down to his room. He was smashing something to bits on his TV screen using a wireless piece of plastic he held in his hand. They call this recreating.

“Hey, did you keep those pieces of paper or did you throw them away?”

“Threw them away.”

“Did you read them?”

“No.” He hasn’t looked away from the TV yet.

“Was it paragraphs of writing or just scribbles?”

“I don’t know.”

Do I push this or do I walk away? I sniffed the air. Literally. His almost six feet of armpits didn’t smell too bad. His room was in semi-decent order. Whatever it was on the TV screen was collapsing nicely.

I walked away.

He, she, whaa?

Having a short fuse can be handy. If you’re going to lose your temper, it helps to do it as near as possible to whatever it is that gets you angry in the first place. It makes it easier to solve things that way.

I mean, really, what good does it do for me to sit here stewing over a list of perceived minor infractions allegedly committed by CF until a long fuse finally burns down and I erupt over something absurd? Might as well erupt over something reasonable when it happens.

For instance, pronouns.

Me no get the pro of noun. Put too many in a story and lost is me. Or I. Woe me. Whoa.

CF is a pretty good storyteller. She knows how to introduce her cast of characters, set the scene, get the flow going. We’ve been swapping tales for years, work stories, childhood stories, you-won’t-believe-this stories, you’ve-told-me-that-four-times-before stories, no-wait-let-me-finish stories, and so forth.

We are such compulsive story tellers that we even have a rule to stop ourselves when the other needs a break: The Three Time Rule. Just hold up three fingers to invoke it, and the other person must stop. We inaugurated it to stop ourselves from reading all the good stuff in the newspaper to each other, but now we use it whenever one of us starts to get carried away on anything the other wants to savor herself.

So. Pronouns.

When CF comes home from work, I usually stop what I am doing (which this week is frantically writing obituaries for my college magazine) and we decompress for a few minutes in the comfy chairs, and she gives me a rundown of her day.

Her particular field of work happens to employ mostly women, and everyone in her department happens to be female, except for the head of the department. Therefore, almost all of her pronouns are female. This has been true for many years. It has never presented a problem to me when she recounts stories.

Last night, however, the fuse blew.

“Pronouns!” I shouted at her. She was a bit startled, I think. I was more than a bit confused.

There weren’t that many people in her story, but I had no idea who was who or who was where or what was going on when or why. Somebody was something somewhere was all I knew. I needed a proper noun and I needed it now. Either that or I needed little dolls to act it all out.

Screaming “Pronouns!” at someone isn’t much help, I know, because it implies that you want more pronouns, when the opposite is actually the case, but it was all my brain could muster at that point, since it was all my brain could focus on. The pronouns were dripping off every inch of gray matter left inside my skull (and believe me, I don’t think there’s much there), clogging up any hope I had of making sense of anything.

How old are children when they figure out pronouns? “Bobby want milk!” “Bobby, can you say, ‘I want milk’?” “Mommy want milk?” “No, Bobby, you want milk.” “Bobby want milk!”

Clearly I am not going to get the people around me to salt their conversation with proper nouns rather than pronouns. I’ll just have to get good at guessing what’s going on, or asking CF later, or interrupting by saying, “You mean Gertrude?” or whatever is appropriate.

I suppose there is some sort of parallel between pronouns and computer programming, in that pronouns are indirect references and programming involves indirect references. So perhaps it makes sense that pronouns are another area of my brain that fell into the black hole of brain damage.

Speaking of black holes, I dared to approach the programming black hole the other day. Those obituaries I’m writing came with a CD full of short profiles from the college, 125 of them, but they weren’t ordered in a way that made sense to me. I wanted them ordered in chronological order by year of graduation, since that’s the order they will appear in the magazine. Instead, they were ordered on the CD by first name, with the class year tacked on the end.

Not to bore you to tears, but this is what typical entries looked like:

Grover Cleveland ‘48
Thomas Jefferson ‘36
Zachary Taylor ‘52

And this is what I wanted them to look like:

36 Thomas Jefferson
48 Grover Cleveland
52 Zachary Taylor

Any decent programmer would be able to whip up a few lines of code to take care of that in a few minutes. Since I am no longer a decent programmer, I stared at the directory listing for, oh, 10 minutes or so, muttering dark and unprintable things.

I no longer have any of my whiz-bang programming tools on my computer, which is just as well, since I could probably cause grave danger if I did. But I do have Microsoft Word, which has a programming language in it, something that most of its users try to avoid, because it is incredibly poorly documented and stupidly put together. It has annoyed me from the first day I was forced to use it for something because you have to practically offer burnt offerings to Redmond, home of Microsoft, just to get it to select a block of text.

Word’s programming language is this uneasy amalgam of super-duper power-mongering world-conquering giant programming concepts and diddly-squat rinky-dink move-the-cursor-one-letter-to-the-right word processing commands. Definitely schizophrenic. Programming it goes like this:

CHANGE THE WORLD now scratch your nose.

What possessed me to think that I could manipulate the names of these little files in Word’s programming language is beyond me, but before I knew it, there I was, indirectly referencing Grover Cleveland like he’s never been indirectly referenced before. In fact, I indirectly referenced him so indirectly that it is clear he will not be back in time to serve his second term.

This in fact explains why he is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms as president. He was caught in a bad programming loop.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to give up the task before ruining the entire chain of presidents. I found a perfectly serviceable third party utility that did the job of renaming for me in just a few seconds. It handles all kinds of nifty things you might need to do with file names.

I’m considering writing to them to see if they can add a pronoun option.

 

 

 

 

That Was The Week That Wasn’t

The calendar tells me that last week happened, but I remember little of it. CF and I dragged ourselves home from California late Monday night and the next thing I knew, we were at a Friday barbeque with her co-workers (note the correct hyphenation). What happened?

Fatigue. Bone-stealing, mind-crushing, life-squashing fatigue.

But before I go any further, I must make it absolutely clear that although this fatigue is the worst part of all the M.S. and post-stroke garbage, it was worth it this time. And for once, CF agrees with me.

It was worth flying to southern California, sitting in the hot, unshaded bleachers of a ball field, cheering my lungs raw, watching my son get the BEST HIT (one of only three his team got) against a far superior team from Hawaii (it SAILED over 2nd base, dropped in neatly for a solid single). It was worth it to see his smile as he stood on first base grinning at himself about it. It was worth it to see him trot onto the field in the next game, against another superior team, to hear the announcer call his name as he modestly scooped up the warm-up balls. It was worth it to see him completely at ease with all of his friends, horsing around in the pool at the hotel, eager to explore the gaudiness of SoCal now that they were out of the tournament of 13-year-old Pony baseball teams.

And now that they were out of the tournament, CF and I could return home with clear consciences. She had to return to work (big deadline) and I had to return home (couldn’t continue without her help). Believe me, we wanted them to win, but we knew, no matter what, we wouldn’t be there to see it if they played past Sunday.

And then came Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and most of Friday, all of which passed without me knowing about them, with me not asleep so much as sprawled across the bed or the floor or some air conditioned horizontal surface relatively close to plumbing (both intake and outgoing) that CF could find and crack open my jaw on a regular basis and pour in a protein source every so often.

I know we drove up to Seattle to pick up NF from the airport on Thursday, but consciousness doesn’t really return until the barbeque on Friday, when we were entertained by a future Olympian named Tom-Tom, toddler son of a co-worker, who will win a medal of some sort in a sport TBA in 2032, as long as it involves kicking, catching, falling on your butt, and making adorable faces, especially if it uses a ball that comes up to your knees.

NF specialized in badminton at the barbeque, which is unfortunately not his sport, which I lament, since I used to be a pretty fair badminton player. Don’t laugh. Badminton is a very aggressive sport, and I have the friends to prove it, one a state champion in college, and she will happily stuff a shuttle down your throat. It’s the second-most popular sport in the world, and that pathetic little plastic thing you use in your backyard is made of ballistic cork and bristling feathers in the real world, and travels at 200 mph on the real courts and makes big, ugly bruises. Backyard badminton is to real badminton as t-ball is to major league baseball.

After the barbeque, I fell back onto the floor or the bed or the bathtub until Sunday morning, when we celebrated our nephew’s 19th birthday, something I very much wanted to do, since I care very much for him, and I think I managed to stay awake for all of the time I was there, but you would have to check with him. I know I haven’t even looked at the Sunday papers yet, normally my preferred form of worship, and it is going on Tuesday evening as I write this.

And it being Tuesday evening, it is over a week since we arrived home and I still want to do nothing but lie on a horizontal surface and close my eyes and will the world away. But I have too much to do, including a major assignment for the college from which I graduated, one that occurs thrice a year, one that I enjoy, although you will probably think I am a bit odd for doing so.

And it being Tuesday evening, it is over a week since I posted my last blog entry, and for that I apologize, but when one cannot move, one cannot write. In fact, one cannot even talk. One cannot even mumble. One can indicate one’s preference for protein source (yogurt vs. cheese, for instance), and one can indicate one’s preference for television source (MSNBC vs. PBS, for instance), with, perhaps, a wobbly wiggle of a finger before lapsing back into another period of fetterless narcolepsy.

One can indicate one’s appreciation for the care one’s partner administers, by casting a wan smile in the appropriate direction at what one hopes is the appropriate time, and one can indicate one’s joy at one’s son’s skill at baseball by casting a weak thumbs-up in the general direction of the blur of one son’s shadow when she hears his voice, and one can indicate one’s anticipation of tomorrow perhaps being the day when at last one can stand on her own two feet and walk about the out-of-doors and perhaps fetch the mail on her own and maybe drive to the store and buy a new basketball net for her son since the rain rotted away the old one (quel surprendre!).

Such is the world of M.S./post-stroke fatigue, which I normally do everything I can to avoid. I usually avoid the sun, and I usually don’t get overheated, and I usually don’t get overtired, and I usually don’t “do too much,” and I usually “take care of myself,” and I usually blah blah blah blah boring boring boring.

But sometimes you just have to say, “Who cares about my health? This is my child.

Pow! Right in the Kisser!

Sometimes finding an idea for this blog takes a while. Sometimes it comes up and smacks me in the head.

This one smacked me in the head.

Nevertheless, I hesitated to write about it, because I don’t want you to think I want you to feel sorry for me. “Oh, poor Chris, so brain-damaged.” Ick.

I decided to write about it because it gives me an opportunity to show you how ridiculous brain damage can be. What a waste of time it can be. How it can sneak into the most treasured parts of your life and trip you up. How it can do the same to the most trivial parts of your life. How nothing is safe, and everything is up for grabs.

Tuesday was our 30th anniversary, CF and me. We had talked quite a bit about how we wanted to celebrate, and finally decided on a quiet dinner later in the summer when our son is away visiting relatives. We were married in Canada on our 25th anniversary and threw ourselves a party then, but otherwise we don’t tend to call much attention to the day, and we have never exchanged presents. It just isn’t our style.

But in all that talking about how we would celebrate, just the two of us, in all of the reminiscing that we did in the days leading up to the anniversary itself, I forgot to prepare for the one very small thing that we have always, always done: exchange cards.

And so on Tuesday morning, there on the table was a card for me, along with a dozen gorgeous irises. I took one look at them and burst into tears.

It’s as if my brain had called for a drum roll, and the snare drummer had been dutifully drumming a single paradiddle waiting for me to enter, when CYMBAL CRASH! I spot the cards and my memory of how we celebrate our anniversaries comes flooding back.

I have a drawer full of anniversary cards from CF, carefully saved over the years, little reminders of our (almost mostly) happy times, timecards of where we have been, postcards from the past. I can look through them whenever I want, reread the words CF felt were most important five or ten or twenty years ago whenever I want. How could I have forgotten that?

But brain damage goes where it wants. It finds an opening and slips right in to any crack, any fissure. It hides behind the electrical impulses our brain depends on to operate, and then pounces all at once. It destroys some parts so they never return; it interferes with others just enough to frustrate our lives.

With enough of a push, I got back my memory about exchanging cards on our anniversary. I indulged myself in a good, pity-me cry in the bedroom, got my car keys and went out to the store and found the perfect card. CF did not hold it against me. (In fact, she felt terrible for making me cry.) I have retrieved that memory, for many years to come, I hope.

But I don’t anticipate getting back my memory of how to program computers or do much math. That, I suspect, is gone for good. Those are procedural memories, much more complex, involving multiple components, multiple areas of abstract reasoning. Recalling real memories is much simpler.

The real memories are still there, sitting quietly in their little axons, waiting for us to find them via a new route, one that the brain damage hasn’t ripped apart.

I’m fortunate that I still have lots of axons left intact. I remember my first date with CF (we went to Grendel’s Den in Harvard Square for dinner; she had an omelet, I had a club sandwich). I remember our unprecedented string of terrible vacations (Ant Lodge, Spider Lodge, Arctic Blast Lodge, you get the idea).

I remember the birth of our son. I remember the frantic drive from Maine to Virginia, including a desperate stop in Nyack, N.Y., at the Toyota dealership for a ring of some sort to hold the exhaust system in place after we nearly lost it on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Because of this side trip, we missed NF’s birth by half an hour, but at least we arrived quietly. We still have that car, and it still has that ring. And we still have that son.

Speaking of which, NF’s birthday is next week. I’d better double-check with CF to make certain I haven’t forgotten anything about that celebration, but I think I’m all set. CF’s birthday is in September, and I am already planning ahead. Last year, I was still in the hospital on her birthday. Her sister Peggy was able to find the present I had for her hidden in my office, but I think really CF was just happy I was conscious enough to tell her where it was.

 

 

East Is East and West Is West

Even if they do meet right in the middle

I was once friendly with a woman who got lost going for a walk around the block. Literally. Around the block. Three left turns and she was lost.

Now, thanks to the stroke, I am that woman.

That became painfully clear yesterday when CF and I drove down to Portland (Oregon, that is) to pick up her sister at the airport. That’s one of the tricks of living in Olywa: visitors can fly in to Portland (Oregon) if the airfare is cheaper than it is in to Seattle, even though the drive home is a bit longer.

By the way, it annoys me that the city in Oregon is the better-known Portland, since it takes its name from the more idyllic place in Maine. The Columbian place won its name on a coin toss, and would have been otherwise known as Boston but for the flip. Boston, Oregon? Don’t think so. They’d compost the Green Monster out here.

It became painfully clear yesterday that I am lost in space because we left home very early so we would have lots of time to visit a bookstore we have wanted to visit since we moved out here many years ago: Powell’s City of Books, the largest bookstore in the world, occupying an entire city block in Portland. I’d been reading their ads for decades, and we had come close to visiting several times.

We had pages of MapQuest maps to get us there, and I was the navigator, a role I had successfully filled for hundreds of trips. CF turned on NPR to keep her company while I confidently snuggled in for my usual 30-minute nap, blankie and eye mask in place.

When it became time to call out the first non-highway turn, I did my best, but no matter what piece of paper I tried to read, nothing made sense. As near as I could tell, we were supposed to turn onto Steel Bridge Road, but there was no such road. Well, there were signs for it, and there appeared to be something that looked like a steel bridge, but there did not appear to be a turn for it, and instead we turned onto what appeared to be a macadam bridge, or perhaps an iron bridge, or maybe a concrete bridge, I really don’t remember at this point, because CF was rather frustrated.

You see, she has historically been the one without the sense of direction, and I have always been the one who has confidently said, “It’s O.K., all we have to do is go around the block.” I’m the one who has never needed a map. I’m the one who could just sniff the breeze and say, “This way is north.” I’m the one who could glance at the sun and turn for home.

Now I couldn’t find a simple right turn.

So what does CF do? She wings it.

“This looks like it,” she says. And off she goes. All I can do is gasp.

“Oh, look,” she says, “Burnside Street.” And darned if it isn’t. Somehow, against all odds, she has found the very street that Powell’s Books is on. I look at the directions again. There were three or four more turns we were supposed to make. Somehow she has accomplished it all in a few magical swoops.

It didn’t seem to matter to her that it was Burnside St. East when we needed Burnside St. West. She assured me that it would turn into Burnside St. West at some point. How she knew that I do not know. And she said that if it didn’t, we would just turn around and go back the other way to find the west end. How she knew that I don’t know.

I no longer knew where I was. All I knew is that I wanted the books.

All of my life, I have been surrounded by books. My mother gave me my first one to explain why the doctor was cutting my umbilical cord. She had me enrolled in book clubs all through childhood, and I was always several grade levels ahead of myself.

I still remember the day I was allowed into the adult library in West Caldwell, N.J. It was called the Julia H. Potwin Memorial Library, and it was upstairs from the children’s library. You reached it by climbing an iron staircase and opening a wooden door. It was all very mysterious the first time. The children’s library was full of the usual drek, and I had exhausted its supply of Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, etc., and was desperate for something more substantial.

That first day, I climbed that staircase and opened the door and viewed the high stacks surrounding me. I was in awe. I turned to take in the whole picture and vowed I would read every single book. It was heaven.

And until yesterday, I was never cowed by a room full of books.

But Powell’s did me in.

The essential map of Powell's

The essential map of Powell’s

It’s the only bookstore I know of that has to publish a map of its layout. It’s the only bookstore I know of that names its rooms. We were there for two hours. I barely got through one-tenth of it. Barely, hardly, scratched it.

And then it was back into the car to get lost again, to watch CF pull off another magic maneuver to get to the airport to pick up Peggy. I mean she just about pitched the MapQuest directions out the window. She had me read them to her, then muttered something to herself about “going back the way we came,” which meant nothing to me, since the way we came was a few magical swoops as near as I could tell.

The streets in this part of Portland (Ore.) evidently were modeled after the streets in Portland (Maine), in that they are narrow, except flat (the ones in Maine pitch hill-wise and cobble-wise), so I had to close my eyes as CF maneuvered the magical arcs. The next thing I knew, she uttered a triumphant cry at the sight of a sign for the airport, and we pulled in just in time to greet Peggy.

And, I am happy to report, Peggy did indeed toss down her carry-on bag, give me a hug, and tell me I look great. Even if I did lose my way between the parking garage and baggage pickup trying to find her.

Three strikes or winning run?

Every summer, my partner’s sister, Peggy, comes to visit. She’s the one sister who still lives on the East Coast, despite concerted, whining efforts to get her to move out here to the West Coast where the other four daughters live, three in Washington and one in California.

Peggy is the one closest in age to CF, and they have been best friends their entire lives. When I had the seizures last August, even before we knew I had also had a stroke, Peggy and her younger daughter Sharon flew out here to help CF, because that’s what kind of people they are, always sticking their noses into everything.

No, not really. They just wanted to help. They kept CF going. And they kept our son, NF, going too. (Not to shortchange my friend, Amy, or my mom and sister, who also raced out here to help, or all our local family and friends, but right now I’m writing about Peggy.)

Here it is, summer again, although last night at the baseball game we sat swaddled in blankets and sweatshirts in 40 degree weather while NF’s team WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP, beating a team that had beaten them all season long, even though that other team was all 14-year-olds and they are all 13-year-olds no I am not bragging just stating facts now we move on to Pony-13 Regionals woo hoo oops back to what was I saying oh yeah.

Here it is, summer again, which means that it’s time for Peggy to visit. Normally, this is a time of great anticipation and excitement as we joyfully plan activities and prepare accommodations and race around desperately cleaning the house for her arrival. We especially need to fumigate NF’s room to remove all traces of dead and dying baseball socks, historical remnants of Hot Pockets, and gnarled bits of pizza crusts.

But I find that I am preoccupied with what Peggy will think of me.

The last time she saw me, I was essentially unable to walk more than 10 feet, and I was using a walker, the one with tennis ball feet. I had barely made it home from the dreaded rehab unit, the place where they kept me locked in my bed, the place where they made me wear the burqa-sized diaper, the place with Fox News All. The. Time.

The last time she saw me, I was a wreck. I could barely get out a sentence. I couldn’t remember what was going on, what had happened to me, what had happened the day before, what had happened an hour before. She’d come half-expecting to attend my funeral.

So what will she think of me now?

How scrutinizing will her scrutiny be? Does she expect me to be the model of health, a perfect physical specimen, ready to climb Mt. Rainier, the local vertical challenge, or swim Hood Canal, the local horizontal challenge? Does she expect me to conquer the television game shows, her mother’s daily challenge?

Or does she expect me to be the same semi-comprehensible semi-drooling semi-smiling semi-clothed semi-conscious dragabout that I was last September? I’m not sure I can go back there. For one thing, I’d have to load myself up with an awful lot of Vicodin to drool like that again. Not to mention to smile like that again. Not to mention clothe myself like that again.

Not to mention feed myself like that again. Back then, I was eating mostly cottage cheese and mandarin oranges. I’m not sure I can look at mandarin oranges again for another year or two. Or three. Or even at Mandarins. Or at oranges. Or at navels. Or navies. Or at the navels of naval officers. The Mandarin Navy was eating mandarin oranges as their navels were inspected by midriff-baring naval officers munching navel oranges. Or some such modern nightmare.

But back to Peggy and that fast-approaching day-mare. Why aren’t there day-mares? I mean, you can look up the word and find a definition, but not much else, not a full and juicy tradition like you can for nightmare. Guess the sunlight kind of ruins things. Oh, yeah, back to Peggy.

Peggy will be my first repeat visitor, so to speak. Most friends and relatives have been around me all the time. I see them every day, or every week, so they have seen me morph back to where I am, more or less. Peggy will see me all at once to where I’ve gotten, less or more, in one gigantic plop. Will she think, “OH!!” or “ohh…”?

She’s talked to me on the phone, so I suppose part of what she thinks of me depends on how well my voice carries on the phone, which I fear is not too well. I know the croak doesn’t work well on Ma Bell. Even CF has to ask all the time if I’m OK when we talk. Strike one?

And it also depends on what CF has told Peggy about how I’m doing. I think she paints a pretty positive picture, except I know that they like to play a woe-is-me game with each other about how much they each have to do. (“I made 45 meatballs today.” “So what, I made 55 meatballs.”) That might work against me, if CF moans about taking care of me. Strike two?

And it also depends on what time of day Peggy’s plane arrives. If she gets in late at night when I am frozen stiff with exhaustion from M.S. anyway, all of the progress from the last year will be hidden anyway. Strike three?

But I’m going for the long ball here, and I think Peggy will score the winning run. I think Peggy will take one look at me, throw down her carry-on bag, fling her arms around me and say, “You look great.”

A note about a previous blog: The truly obsessive among you might recall my obsessiveness over the word “co-worker” a few blogs ago, and how the managing editor at a newspaper where I worked insisted that we always use a hyphen in the word, so that it never be read as “cow orker” by mistake. Wouldn’t you know it: in our local rag, The Olympian, just this past week, its printed edition ran an obituary with the hyphenated word “cow-orker.” I was so happy! Yes, I saved it.