Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturday Musings, 20 June 2015

Good morning,

The day weighs heavily on me.  I feel the rend in my back where I fell, backwards, suddenly, while dressing on Thursday.  Though I managed to prevent my head from striking the sharp edge of the platform bed frame, my posterior fared worse.  I landed on my scale --  a certain irony in that! -- and heard a crunch as I tried to rise.  Now those degenerated disks which I yearn to ignore  scream in anger when I walk.  And I must walk:  I've striven all my life to do just that.  So I remind myself:  it's not cancer, it's not MS, it could be so much worse.  I pull a half-dozen pairs of shoes from the closet, trying to find some which provide enough support and can cushion the blows as each foot strikes the pavement.  The pain plagues me but I keep walking.

My physical therapist, she of the bold spirit and beautiful French-Canadian accent, widened her eyes as I told the story later that day.  She guided me to the machine on which the day's session would start, all the while admonishing me to be more careful! Something about the widening of her eyes as she spoke reminded me of someone else but I could not place the look until the middle of last night when I happened to be awake, reflecting on my week, and a memory returned.

I had never had a job quite like this:  Day camp coordinator, for the city of Jennings.  I've gotten the job by using my parents' address, even though I live in the city.  It's 1978 and I am twenty-two years old.  I have no more experience with coordinating a day camp than I have with much else.  But I take the job anyway.  I need the money.

My staff consists of a handful of sturdy, tanned college students, both male and female.  They do the real work.  They organize the volleyball, the softball, the running around chasing dodge balls on the parking lots.  I manage the schedule and the arts and crafts, and make sure the supplies get locked into cupboards at the end of the day.

We also have  a soccer coach.  He tells me he's a refugee from a South American country.  He says he's a star back home.   I watch him showing the children how to kick a soccer ball and I can believe that he's a star.  It's in his bearing.  

At the end of each day, I hand out water to the children and make sure they're hydrated after their sessions in the sun.  They brush sweat from their foreheads and blow on each other's faces.  It's hot, sticky, and bright.  We stand under the pavilion and wait for their rides home.

My soccer coach tells me one night that he could help me, if I wanted help.  I'm not sure what he means.  The last child has waved from the car window and I'm locking the supply closet, shutting off the lights in the small office and the restrooms.  He walks alongside me.  When I turn to look at him, puzzled, his eyes widen and he gestures to my legs.  He can't seem to find a word for what he sees.

Ah, yes.  I understand.

He tells me, There's equipment at the high school, I could show you.  I search his face for signs of duplicity.  This could be a ploy to take advantage of me, after all.  But he seems genuine.  I shrug.  He takes that for assent and says, Let's go over there now. We drive in tandem.

For the next thirty minutes; for thirty minutes a day, five days a week, for the rest of the summer, we do the same thing.  We send the children home then drive to the high school and he works with me.  His voice is calm, sweet, encouraging.  He speaks to me like an older brother would speak to a frail little sister.  He guides my feet into the straps of foot pedals.  He adjusts the bent of my body as I strain against the lightest of weights.  He encourages me, in accented English peppered with his native language.

And I do, indeed, improve.   The tightness of my legs eases.  A bit of normal tone appears in my calves.  I wobble less.  My teacher seems pleased.

When August comes, when the camp session draws to a close, he suggests that we set up a time for me to work with him even though I'll be back in graduate school.  I have given him nothing in return for what he has done except my thanks, which he gestures away.  I don't really understand him.  I tell  him I will do that, that I will get in touch with him.

The fall passes and I do not call.  I'm busy.  I have a full load of seminars and my drinking buddies have returned from their summer pursuits.  I  fall into a routine of class, work, and clubbing with the occasional one-night stand thrown into the mix for distraction.  Whatever benefit I have gained from my summer activities dissipates.  

Around Christmas, I think of the man and wonder if there's a chance he might work with me again.  I phone the high school.  The secretary falls silent for a few minutes, then asks who I am.  I tell her my name, I tell her that I ran the summer camp.  I sense a change of mood on the other end of the phone just before she advises me that the soccer player had to go back to his country.  She offers no further explanation and I ask for none.

I have the decency to feel a little ashamed.

 In a few minutes, I will take my aging dog to the vet.  She'll have her annual check-up and I'll talk to the doctor about the weakness in her hind quarters.  At eleven o'clock, I'll present myself at the Y of which I am a new member.  I have an appointment with someone on the staff there, a "wellness" review, a free service offered to members in order to help them make the most of the facility.

I've had a long run, nearly sixty years.  I've had a lot of help along the way.  My first physical therapist, who also taught yoga, instilled in me the firm conviction that I should breathe.  The therapist in Arkansas guided me through pregnancy, figuring out how to compensate for the lack of medication which I could not take, lest I lose the one baby that I would ever have a genuine chance of birthing.  A brave young woman, a hospital therapist at St. Luke's Hospital, worked with me tirelessly through the seven weeks which I spent in the hospital after my knee replacement.  My French-Canadian, with her bright eyes and mischievous air, has taken up the baton. 

But of all of these, I owe the most to my South American soccer star, whose gentle voice and kind smile remain with me, even though I have forgotten his name.  He believed in me.  And he believed in me without asking or receiving anything in return -- which is good, because  I had nothing to give.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.