Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Last summer I planned to go to Scotland. Sarah, my roommate from my Junior year abroad was working in Edinburgh, and compared to the 27 hour flight from Baltimore to Australia, I could travel to Britain in a mere 9. Without much thought, I booked a ticket on Orbitz, and briefly rejoiced in my impulsive, carefree attitude. I was empowered. I was an independent teacher who'd saved her money wisely, and planned to spend it in style. I would travel intercontinentally alone, with a neurological disease, and it was going to be fabulous.

But that's not exactly how things worked out. First I discovered that Sarah was still, after several months in Edinburgh, living in an un-MS-friendly hostel (she'd assured me she'd be living in a proper "flat" by the summer). Then I had a relapse. To complicate things further, somewhere in between, I'd convinced my co-teacher/favorite friend in Baltimore to travel with me. To clarify: I purchased plane tickets in March, convinced Amy to purchase plane tickets shortly thereafter, found out that the aforementioned "flat" was nonexistent in April, and had a relapse in May.

Relapses vary when it comes to MS, and certain people bounce back without sustaining permanent-types of disability. I, however, didn't. I got a sunburn that turned my skin tone from relatively normal to that of a fetal pig in formaldehyde, presumably melted some precious nerve myelin in the heat, and was suddenly rendered just a little more disabled than I was before. My symptoms were bad enough that I started using my wheelchair in the grocery store, at the gym, when I went to get my hair cut, on trips out to dinner, etc. My legs and coordination deteriorated to the point that I managed to slip in a handicapped bathroom while I was at a hotel for my brother's college graduation, and was forced to use a walker for the majority of May. The relapse was serious enough that the trip to Edinburgh no longer seemed practical. I started to envision my wheelchair wheels stuck between historic British cobblestones, and my friend Amy hauling my wheelchair up stairs while I climbed, a la Spiderwoman, to wherever our destination might be. I saw myself in bars with cute Scottish men and my walker, and concluded, thus, that I needed to cancel the trip I'd already planned. I needed to leave Amy alone with intercontinental travel plans to see my best friend, and spend the summer home, with my family, in Ithaca.

I didn't deal very well with any of these conclusions. Especially when Orbitz refused to refund my tickets, and the various hostels I'd booked throughout Scotland were ostensibly impossible to reach. $2000 poorer, and one geriatric walker later, the school year ended, Amy left for Scotland without me, and I went home to my parents'.

I planned to write a lot, but the keyboard was stiff, and my fingers were MSey and uncooperative. Instead I worked really hard on two things: not taking my anger out on God, and swimming. I begrudgingly had hand controls installed in my car (wince!), and bought "life-changing" jeans for far too much money (no, there is no correlate). Then, though, just as I reached the pinnacle of my pity party, I met Jim.

Jim had been roommates with my closest friend from high school, Meli. The two of them had lived in Seattle for three years, initially building houses for Habitat for Humanity, then living together while Meli continued with carpentry and Jim worked with incarcerated youth. At the end of their three years together, they drove from Seattle to Ithaca; Meli prepared for law school the upcoming fall at Cornell, and Jim prepared to move back to South Florida, where his family lived. When the two of them arrived in Ithaca, I was supposed to be in Scotland. Jim, according to my unwarranted expectations, was supposed to be annoying.

He wasn't.

We spent four days together, Meli, Jim and I, and when he left I felt a little different about things. I didn't think about MS as much. I signed up to swim across the lake. I started writing more. I remembered how to laugh. I thought at first it was the jeans, but after some not-so-challenging introspection, I realized it might have something to do with Jim.

After a decidedly ineloquent email where I attempted to express these sentiments to Jim, we slowly started talking. Then I visited him in Florida where he sat with me on the ground after I'd tripped, and asked me what it felt like to walk. A question that no one had ever asked me before...

A year later I'm still not in Edinburgh. Amy had fun without me and Sarah moved back to Australia. I still use a wheelchair to grocery shop, and I've gotten much, much better at balancing the bags on my lap (a skill I'd never hoped to acquire). I swam across the lake and wrote a book. I found a job teaching that I actually enjoy, and, more importantly I fell in love.

Jim lives in Baltimore now. He drives me absolutely crazy and just dropped a hamburger on my new couch. His feet smell and he's the most self-righteously stubborn person I've ever met. He's passive aggressive and independent, yet undoubtedly the most unconditionally loving and perceptive person I've ever met. No one has ever had this much capacity to break my heart, and the whole thing makes me want to bury myself in a bag of mulch - I'm vulnerable and scared and can so clearly remember the days when just my disease and myself governed my mood... But Jim, and the circumstances that brought him into my life, are what I would characterize as Jesusy.

So far.

So I guess I'm glad, in retrospect, that in spite of a new walker and a $2000 loss, I didn't take my anger out on God. I'll take a grease-stained couch over a summer in Edinburgh any day.

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