Hi there. Yes, we got back from Italy seven weeks ago. No, I haven’t written.
Radio silence…yes I have been invisible. Even to myself.
I have been too distracted.
I had thought — I had imagined that when we would have returned from Italy I would host dinner parties for my family and my friends. It was my plan. There was a lot of food that I could cook — that I would cook — and we would toast those who we would return to — and share beautiful evenings.
But that did not happen.
Full disclosure: all those months we were away I didn’t write about the fact that I was having a bunch of pain. Yes, it was limiting. No, I didn’t think there was really ‘anything wrong’. But yes, it persisted and progressed.
And progressed some more.
I wrote to my doctor back in the States. I told her I was having issues. Then I told her I was concerned. Then I told her I was really, really concerned.
So she scheduled an appointment for me to see a specialist. Thirty-six hours after the moment I was rolled off the plane, I was at the doctor’s office.
After a week and multiple tests I was diagnosed with a collapsing femoral head and my total hip replacement was scheduled for seven weeks’ hence. I began on crutches, to not bear weight on my leg — and the couch. I tried to distract myself with coffee dates to catch up with friends that I had not seen in almost eight months.
And then, back on the couch. Too much time on my feet, even on the crutches, was just too much.
I made lists of things to do and fix around the house. Correction: I made lists of things for other people to do and fix around the house.
I listened to the news almost constantly — to shut off my thoughts.
To not feel anything.
Because to feel something is to accept something very deep — deep down to my big dead bone — that the rest of me is not going to last forever. That parts of me are wearing out.
To accept the reality that I walked on a dead and fractured bone for probably 250 km — over seven months — and I didn’t trust myself that there was anything really wrong with me. There is certainly something to that.
So I do everything I can to not feel things. I find a tangled necklace in my drawer one night. I work at untangling it for ninety minutes. And it is still tangled. But I am determined. I want to work on this allegory for my life. I want to unknot it. So far I cannot make no sense of it.
Then I find myself back in the MRI…breathing, breathing to stay calm during the test. I try to think of things that are peaceful: seeing an elk in the forest in the early morning, before dawn looking at the sea…any green sea at all — and snow. After a snowfall it is so peaceful. So I am thinking of snow and suddenly there are tears in my eyes and they are rolling out onto the table as I remember.
I am almost five years old…just four weeks’ shy. It is just a few days past the Blizzard of 1967. I am in kindergarten. I see myself approaching the school exit, my eyes on the school bus. I see the face of our driver as she reaches for the handle that closes the door of the school bus. I think she sees me watching her as she drives away — without me.
I don’t panic. I don’t go back to the school and ask for help. I am ashamed that the bus has left without me.
I think to myself “I can do this”. Twenty-three inches of snow had fallen two days before…the largest single snowfall in Chicago’s history. I was barely forty inches tall. I lived less than a mile from the school. But I was not yet five years old.
And I began to walk home. I walked in the direction that seemed familiar even though nothing in the world looked familiar, blanketed in white with high snow drifts everywhere.
I just started walking. And I kept going. A few blocks…I crossed over a bridge….over a highway…and stepped into a snowdrift and went down.
I was in snow over my head. I saw snow all around me. Everything was peaceful. So quiet.
And I remained there. In the snow. Everything white.
I don’t know how much time passed…maybe 10 minutes…maybe 45. But I was pulled out of the snow by two strong arms attached to the tallest woman I had ever seen — with the reddest hair. She had seen my hat’s pompom just peeking out from the snow while driving by and she stopped to investigate.
She put me in her car and took me home…asking me for which way she should go — asking me which way felt right to me.
I realized, lying there in the MRI, that this experience has played itself out over and over in my life.
Over and over in my life if I feel that the bus has left without me — I will not ask for help. I will just look around, choose a direction and start walking. I will walk through snow that is deeper than my legs and comes up as high as my waist towards some sort of goal.
And inevitably, I will land in a snowdrift, in over my head. And I will remain calm about it.
In Italy, when I started to be in so much pain, I just kept walking. I went to school every day. I persevered. I kept walking. Over time walking became more difficult. But I kept on. I was in an unfamiliar place. Help was not really available to me.
When I got home — and saw a doctor (or three) I realized I was suddenly in a snowdrift — over my head.
I am waiting there now, in the snow, for ten more days until my surgery.
Mostly I am calm. Everything is white.
I will be so grateful for the arms that will pull me out. Some days I think “I’ve got this!” — and some days I am just lost in the snow.
Of course I know I will be fine. That early story of mine showed the seeds of who I grew up to be — fearless in many things, resourceful, persevering.
I just go forward.
I have been too distracted by pain, frankly, to think too long of who and what I left in Italia. I have spared myself the discomfort of re-entry.
I dream of Italy, some days still in Italian. I wake in tears. That time was was profound for me, for us.
We had the opportunity to be beyond ourselves, to test ourselves. We were changed.
And now, another challenge. This one also requires courage and resourcefulness…just like all the others. I need to keep moving forward…and when it is time for me to take a step, I will take one. And another.
And with some help.