I used to be a paper doll with a relatively-rockin’ wardrobe of money, title, privilege. A two-dimensional darling of modest means but sky-high potential, and this was America at the turn of the 21st century, so how bad could life be, really?
I used to give more than I took. I used to be reliable: making commitments and keeping them. (Why didn’t life do the same for me?)
I used to agonize over what I would do with my life, with the wispy expectation that with enough strength inventories and navel gazing, I’d eventually figure it out, live it out, make good on some time-debt I inherited.
I used to know how the world worked. I used to know how to get my way and have people thank me for it. I used to have conversations and never lose the next word, much less the entire thread evaporated. I used to be able to do 5 things at once.
I used to pee and poop when I wanted to, in bathrooms, in private. I used to be able to drive at night, at dusk and dawn and every hour between. I used to be depressed sometimes, but there was always the going to be time to grow out of it, this phase, this rough patch, this one-off blue mood.
I used to want to save the world. I used to think that the hardest part of my life was past and that I had the rest of my life to keep making it better. I used to be able to feel touch and temperature and pleasure and not want to crawl out my skin.
I used to be in sync with the rhythms of the world – wake and work and play and sleep, repeat. I used to have a job to go to, a week that made a weekend make sense. I used to be proud of myself sometimes.
I used to read books. No — I used to inhale books, devour books, put a new book on like a sexy new dress and spin around and shimmy. Then I went blind and got mostly unblind and had kids. Now I buy books and stack them and give up and give them away unread.
I used to be independent, not a joiner. I used to feel equal to my wife, or near enough – a star fit to hang near her moon. Not this frozen dwarf planet orbiting by habit, dumbly waiting for an international body of scientists to demote me further, any year now who knows, it’s not up to me.
I am medical records number 56-1802,
the patient in exam room 3,
claim number 45688-48375-00092-1,
the refill request on line 2,
dependent of the primary insurance holder. I am
“ma’am, are you okay?”
“ma’am, do you need help?”
Becoming a mom has not helped, not that I expected it to, but maybe I didn’t expect it to hurt so much. How could I possibly compete with the piss and vinegar of somebody 1/35th my age, even 1/17th, 1/12th? They arrived programmed to learn at such a breathtaking pace, to hoard skills and knowledge like so many goldfish crackers. They are still on that upward trajectory with a hazy ending so inexpertly timed that we can pretend it doesn’t even exist.
I, on the other hand, am perversely devolving, deviating from that upward arc of exploration and acquisition. I am losing, always losing, with no hope of getting back, as the world and my people in it keep moving on, up, out, and around.
As they should! As I should.
I used to be a bad imitation of myself. Now I’m a bad imitation of somebody else. Not well enough to be well, not sick enough to die. Disabled, but not “wheelchair bound.” Disabled, but not born that way. Not appropriately grateful for whatever it is I’ve got left, not happy to have been conscripted in the fight of my life.
Not getting better has been the biggest failure of my life, tied maybe with not being able to quit caring about the failing – six of one. I can’t get out from under the disappointment, steeped in shame, the failure of imagination and neurons and pelvic floor.
But nearly ten years in, it’s obvious that the horse is out of the barn and I’d just as soon burn it down, that piece of shit, falling-down, ramshackle deathtrap of a barn. At least then the horse will have to find a better place to live.
Who is the horse? Who is the barn? If I’m so smart, why can’t I figure this out?