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Friday, December 25, 2009

Seattle, Showers and Shrinking Worlds

(Please excuse the lack of chronology here -- I started this in 2008, and just finished it now)

My hiatus from writing lately seems to correlate with my recent trip to Seattle. Even though my ambitious writing goals for the summer were thrown violently by the wayside, I think this was actually a good thing: I didn’t have time to write. Instead, I spent two-weeks further confirming my mythical impression of a city that lies 3,000 miles away from both my family and my job. Ironically, this burgeoning love affair with Seattle was preempted by dread. I found myself – even once the plane touched down – second-guessing my decision to travel at all this summer. Excitement was obscured by MS-related paranoia, and I realized that I was – in some strange way – yearning for a much smaller world.

My body, in continuing with its ten-year habit of disappointing me, has gotten markedly worse lately. Unfortunately, while this decline should correlate with an increased ability to ask for help, it doesn’t. My body and my mind are locked in a constant battle that – if unresolved – is likely to lock me at home.

Thank God my plane tickets were nonrefundable.

Once I arrived, I’d arranged to stay at my best friend’s new house. Meli and I have been friends since I was 15, so I wasn’t too concerned about “imposing” myself on her; it seemed much more daunting to ask her live-in girlfriend for help. And since Meli works an estimated 125 hours a week for an environmental law firm, while her girlfriend, Maura, works from home, most of my days were spent – at least in part – with Maura. Predictably, a measly day into my trip, my MS-related fears were confronted, and I managed to embarrass myself so thoroughly that my stubborn hesitancy to ask for help was (at least temporarily) superseded by practicality.

Less than forty-five minutes before my friend, Claire, was supposed to pick me up for brunch, I fell in the shower. Usually falling is one of my talents; I like to think of my time spent on the floor as an excuse to sharpen my problem-solving skills – once I fall, I need to figure out how to get up. If at all possible, I like to get up before anyone sees me (especially if I’m not wearing clothes). Once I hit the ground in Meli’s shower, though, no amount of problem-solving could get me up. My absurdly long legs were contorted into a gumby-like position on the floor of a soapy, wet, stall-sized shower. I tried climbing up the shower wall, and finagling my legs into a more supportive position, but every time I moved, my legs splayed out beneath me in the soap scum, and I found myself in yet another bizarre contortion. I sat there for a while, letting the warm water careen over me while I contemplated my options: I could remain on the floor of the shower until Meli got home from work, I could crawl out of the shower and hope for better traction on the bathroom floor, or I could attempt to rearrange myself into a slightly more modest position and call Maura for help.

Obviously I chose option 2. Unable to reach the faucet handle to turn off the water, though, as soon as I pushed open the shower door, my body sort of redirected the stream of water directly onto the bathroom floor. Then I realized that even though the top half of my body was able to crawl out of the shower, convincing my wet and slippery legs to get over the metal lip of the shower stall was an entirely new issue. I was defeated, frustrated and rapidly flooding the bathroom, so pulled myself back into the shower, closed the door and wished really, really hard to be someone else. Then I called for Maura.

“Maura? Can you come down here?”

No response.

So I tried again, a little bit louder, “Maura?! Can you help me for a sec?”

I still didn’t hear her voice, but there were eventual sounds of footsteps on the stairs, so I knew she was heading towards me. From the other side of the door, she asked what was wrong, I told her I was stuck on the floor and needed her help. She came in, reached her arm into the shower to turn off the faucet and -- sensing my desperate level of humiliation -- handed me a towel for modesty’s sake. Then, while trying hard not to cry and make the moment even more awkward than it already was, I reached my arms around her neck and she managed to pull me up. She was so nonchalant it was almost unnerving – it seemed like to Maura, picking naked girls off the shower floor was as common as changing the litter box.

Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned soap scum, I needed to essentially reshower, but Maura passed me the shower chair allowing me to wash my feet with far less peril. Thirty minutes later, clean and dressed, I headed to brunch feeling almost normal.

In addition to extreme (though temporary) mortification, I learned a few things from this incident. The obvious: to use a shower chair while showering. The less obvious: that accepting help -- especially from someone you're not 100% comfortable with -- is mutually empowering. I firmly believe that we are all here to give and to receive with grace. And though I don't know if it is really possible to be picked up off a shower floor with grace, I do know that Maura's calm affect allowed me to preserve as much dignity as humanly possible. I fear sometimes, that my need for help will forever curtail my ability to give back and I will remain a "taker" for the rest of my life. I also wonder if I will ever learn to receive help without a certain (often oppressive) level of guilt and humiliation. I do know though, that if I allow my world to shrink as much as my fears urge me to, I will likely never learn.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kate:

your stories are powerful, but while the stories may speak for themselves and you could skip the insights, those you write for this story hit home: " give and receive with grace".. well said. xoxo -kim

Susan said...

"My body, in continuing with its ten-year habit of disappointing me..."

I laughed out loud when I go to this :).

Holly said...

While you may not be giving back the physical help you receive, you are giving back with your writing. You are giving those of us that are in similar situations the ability to realize that we are not alone in our daily struggles and that life does go on and can be good at times. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing!