Saturday, November 20, 2010

Horror of Horrors!

It happened. My personal nightmare.

Some rational adults fear irrational things: bugs, mice, dirt, farting publicly, having spinach stuck in their teeth, contracting rare and incurable diseases, etc. Not I. I was the resident exterminator when I lived in Fells Point; I disposed of dead mice caught on sticky traps, captured giant roaches under pint glasses and threw them out the window of my room, and even talked my old roommate off of the proverbial edge after she discovered a literal mouse house in her purse. (I know what you’re thinking, but we were clean. I promise.) My sole fear is this: falling out of my wheelchair in front of students.

(I have other fears obviously, but that is one that haunts me on a daily basis.)

One might think that falling out of a wheelchair is a nearly impossible feat but I, my friends, have turned it into a somewhat regular part of my repertoire. Let me see…

There was the time that, after one too many cocktails, I let my best friend Meli push me down Rainier Ave. in South Seattle at top speed at two o’clock in the morning. She would sprint until we were moving faster than manual wheelchairs are supposed to move, and then suspend her entire body horizontally in the air by pushing up on my handles while I leaned forward and steered. It was amazing. Amazing until the front wheels of my chair hit a crack in the sidewalk and got stuck. The chair then pitched forward, catapulting Meli over my head into the side of a concrete building and ejecting me onto the sidewalk face first. (We were both inexplicably okay.)

There was also the time that I was on a first date, and the two of us decided to walk from my apartment to Iggie’s Pizza. He was pushing and I was focused more on being cute than on the road in front of us. We reached a particularly unforgiving curb cut, my foot plate jammed into the concrete and I, before even realizing how un-cute it would be, sailed through the air and landed gracelessly on my freshly shaven knees. (He, to his credit, was undeterred.)

It was only recently, however, that I started falling without the assistance of a weathered sidewalk. I attribute this to the post-surgical deterioration of my core, and to my simultaneous stubborn refusal to ask for help. The evening after the first day of school I was getting ready for bed and taking my evening vitamins when I dropped one on the floor. Izzy was eyeing it from my bed, so rather than call Meg for assistance with yet-another inane task, I leaned forward to pick it up. About halfway down, my sock-covered feet slipped behind the footplate, my chair rolled backwards, and I fell on my face. Actually, I fell on my left eyebrow. And rather than land on an object-free piece of carpeted floor, my face landed directly on my surge protector. And though I am used to falling, I am not used to hurting myself. I thus let out a cacophony of expletives, sending my dog flying off of my bed to go get Meg. I turned to remove my head from the surge protector and saw a not insignificant puddle of blood on the carpet next to my face. Much like a toddler who doesn’t cry when she initially falls, but has a meltdown once she sees her knee is bleeding, I—upon seeing the blood—immediately lost it. Bruised knees are one thing, but a busted face on the second day of school is entirely another. At this point, Meg and Izzy were by my side, and Meg (who is not currently a nurse but most definitely should be) went into triage mode. She brought me a wet washcloth, and determined that I might need stitches. After I vehemently refused that option, she finished cleaning my face, threw me into my bed (with another washcloth) and took my car to a 24-hour CVS for butterfly bandages. Forty-five minutes later, bandages in place, I fell soundly asleep while Meg cleaned blood off of my carpet.

Incidentally, though my left temple was bruised the next morning, the bloody incision had scabbed over beautifully and was predominantly masked by my eyebrow. And though every adult in the building inquired as to the origin of my war wound, not one student so much as looked at me funny (most likely because it was only the second day of school). Still though, I was relieved. Explaining that I’d fallen on my face while reaching for a vitamin is a story my self-esteem is not prepared to handle.

Perhaps now you understand my fear of falling out of my wheelchair in front of my students is neither implausible nor irrational.

Friday my morning helper wasn’t in school; I was left to unpack my backpack, grab my laptop, attach the power cord and set up the LCD projector alone. As these are all things I felt relatively capable of doing independently, I didn’t ask anyone for help. Two minutes later, I wished I had. My backpack was on the floor, and as I leaned forward to reach the power cord, my feet slipped behind the footplate, the chair rolled backwards, and within an instant, I was on my face. In front of twenty-eight ninth graders. In addition to the two four-letter words that slipped out of my mouth on my way to the ground, within seconds I also contemplated feigning my own death so as to avoid the fall-out of my public descent.

I opened my eyes.

Every student in the class was huddled around me asking if I was okay. Two boys asked what they could do. I asked Larry to set the brakes and moments later he and Sekou picked me up effortlessly and put me back in my chair. My kids went back to their seats and I waved air towards my face attempting to return it to its original – less fuchsia – hue. It was then that I realized the most remarkable thing about my fall: no one had laughed. Not one goofy ninth grader.

And even more astounding, they didn’t tell my other classes. By 3:05 not one student had so much as implied that he’d heard about it.

(If you don’t find that amazing, you do not know fourteen and fifteen year-olds very well.)

So it happened. My number one fear. And I’m still here to tell about it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Benefit Happy Hour this Friday!

Everyone is invited :)!/event.php?eid=113364875394819

Thank you is an understatement too...

Monday was a hard, hard day.  I had my first physical therapy appointment since my surgery, and spent two hours completing a humbling reevaluation.  Without burdening you with two-hour’s worth of PT-related whining, the entirety of the appointment can be summed up as follows:
Therapist: Okay Kate, now try to kick your heel back towards your butt.
Me: (lying on my side on the elevated mat, teeth gritted, brow furrowed) Is it moving?
Therapist: No.  But it says here you were able to do it last time.
Defeated is an understatement.
Two days later, I pulled into my parking spot at school to find Destiny about to head inside.  As I opened the side door of my van, she stuck her head in and with the most ridiculous-sounding voice I’ve ever heard, said “Hi Ms. Hooks, I lost my voice.”
Though I’d be lying if I said I remembered what Minnie Mouse’s voice sounded like, I’m pretty sure that Destiny’s voice was slightly squeakier and considerably higher pitched.
“What’s up Kiddo?  You sound ridiculous¸ but I’m so glad you’re here!”
I backed up the driver’s seat and lined it up with my chair, took a deep breath and transferred horizontally into the chair.  Or should say I attempted to transfer into my chair.  As soon as I initiated my muscles, they decided to put my body into its new favorite “plank” position.  My butt was half-way on the chair, my legs extended straight into the passenger seat and my back pushed against the back of the chair so hard that the chair actually tipped over backwards and I was stuck at a 45 degree angle unable to move.
Destiny asked the obvious, “Ummm, what do we do now?”
That’s when Antonio walked by and peered in.
“Antonio, come help!”
Between the two of them, Destiny managed to get my legs out from under the passenger seat, and Antonio – using all of his might – pushed me forward enough that my trunk finally bent.  By that point, Michael was standing outside of my car asking how he could help too.  Both of my shoes had fallen off, but once I was securely in the chair, shoes were no longer a high priority.  Antonio pushed me out of the van, handed me off to Michael and the four of us trekked into school through the rain.  Once in the building, the new administrator asked how I was,
“Better now, it just took three kids to get me in here!”
She laughed.  I think she thought I was kidding.
Once inside, though, I attempted to leave my mortification and frustration in the van and spent the next eight hours trying to make the unification of feudal Japan interesting to 9th graders.  At the end of seventh period, I rolled down the hall towards the bathroom, and caught up to a student I taught three years ago.  Right before he made a right hand turn into his English class, I thwacked him in the back of the knee,
“What’s going on, Miles Green?”
Pants hanging down beneath his butt, with twisties in his hair and gold fronts on his teeth, he turned around and caught me off guard,
 “Ms. Hooks.  Hey I wanted to tell you, you ain’t gotta worry about that money stuff no more, we got you.”
I literally had no clue what he was talking about.  Apparently my face registered confusion.
“Ms. Belleville told us what’s going on.  You ain’t gotta worry, Ms. Hooks, seriously.  We got you.”
“Well Miles, I appreciate that, but I hate needing all this help from people.”
“Nah, nah, Ms. Hooks, that’s just it, you gotta learn to swallow your pride and take our help.  That’s what you gotta get, we want to help you.”
“Okay, Miles.  I get it.”
“Seriously, lose your pride.  We got you.”
He disappeared into English class, and I continued towards the bathroom.  The kid gave me chills.
Afterwards, I went back to my room to pack up my stuff and finish up some work.  Mr. Marinelli, the Science Department Head walked in to my room, sat down next to me and proceeded to explain a  Causes page he set up on facebook called “Running for Kate’s Care”.  Apparently he started running recently, has signed up for a number of races, and is asking for pledges in honor of my care giving expenses.  Two parts of this conversation struck me as absurd: 1. He prefaced the story with, “I did something last night and really hope you won’t be mad.”  2. Marinelli doesn’t run.  At least that I knew of.  The last time we talked about aerobic exercise he told me he walked and that he didn’t enjoy running.  So I was shocked.  On a number of levels.  And I am so rife with guilt and self-doubt and perpetual frustration that I struggled to respond. 
“Thank you.”
He doesn’t need to hear about the panic attacks that wake me up at 4 am almost every night where I start to imagine my life without Meg and the millions of impossibilities that I cannot conceive of conquering without her – care giver or not. 
Marinelli left, and almost immediately the bell rang signaling the end of the school day.  Within seconds, Jasmine (see my “Little Homie” story below) walked into my room and reminded me that we had to leave immediately so she could get a ride with her friend’s mom.  As Jasmine is, at this point, the only person at school who is able (and willing) to physically lift me out of my wheelchair and heave me into my driver’s seat, I am tied to her schedule.  After she heaved me into my seat, she backs down the ramp and says this,
“Last period, Ms. Hooks, I was thinking about how much I love you and I decided that if the school were on fire, and no one had gotten you out, I’d go back into the burning building to find you.”
“Really, Jas, but what if I were in the bathroom?  I know how much you hate bathrooms...”
“Ms. Hooks, of course I’d rescue you from the bathroom.  I already did that once, remember?”
So I can’t kick my butt with my heel any more.  With either heel in fact.  But really, with these people in my life, how lucky am I?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing...

Title compliments of Jack Johnson. And though his song has nothing to do with my particular circumstance, I cannot help but get those lyrics in my head on a more-than-daily basis. I’m still sitting, obviously. But as the days go on, I’m losing patience rapidly.  You know that ants-in-the pants feeling you get after a long flight or car ride when you just want to move your legs? I have that feeling all day long. Every day.

Waiting. I am desperately trying to hold onto a semblance of hope that this will get better, but in the near-term, the list of things I wait for is ridiculous. It starts at 6:00 a.m. when my obnoxious alarm wakes me up with a jolt. Some people hit snooze a few times and fall back to sleep for an additional ten minutes, and honestly there are days when I try. But the alarm sends me into a near panic-attack every morning, because the next hour and a half is debatably the most stressful part of my entire day (which says a lot considering I’m a teacher). I start waiting for Meg. Once the NPR announcer says it's 6:15, my stress level elevates and I start to worry about the list of things I need cooperative legs to do in order to get to school on time. Usually Meg saunters in around that time to help me get out of bed, but we don’t speak – there is an unwritten code of silence between the two of us until she’s had her coffee. When I finally arrive at school, I also wait (although generally my new helper, Rebecca, beats me to school). She helps me transfer from the driver’s seat to my chair, and pushes me into the building towards the main office. I sign in, she gets my mail out of my mailbox, and we head towards my room. Though at this point it has been less than two hours since my alarm went off, my level of exhaustion and stress convince me it’s late afternoon.

Once the bell rings, though, there is no more waiting. The time between 8:15 and 3:05 flies by and there is never enough time within a 47 minute class period to accomplish everything I intend to accomplish. Every day I want to be a better teacher than I was the day prior; at this point my job is my top priority and, as such, my students truly get the best part of who I am. They get my drive, my patience, my enthusiasm and my confidence, and at the end of the day this passion is almost immediately replaced by fear, self-doubt and frustration. They also get every iota of energy I have, and possibly even some that I don’t. That means that at the end of the day – in addition to my aforementioned grumpiness – I am also physically drained. Thus, the foray into patience-cultivation resumes.

I wait for Destiny (another new helper) to straighten my desks, and for Jasmine (referenced in my “Little Homie” story below.) and Antonisha to eventually bring me back out to my car. There, Jasmine actually picks my entire 5’10” frame up off of my wheelchair and heaves me into the driver’s seat as if I’m a toddler. Then I often head towards Hopkins to pick Meg up from work (where I generally wait in the hospital parking lot), or I head directly home. If I’m alone when I get home. I need to wait for someone to spot me during the seat-to-wheelchair transfer (my attempts to do this alone after school have ended in disaster – or near disaster – far too often). As the list of things I cannot do independently grows, the list of things I need to wait for grows conversely – putting pants on, getting on or off the toilet, going anywhere in my car, getting into or out of the shower, changing into pajamas ETC. Since I have zero control over the execution of these tasks, I also have zero control over when any of these things happen.

Which brings me to the last word in Jack Johnson’s aptly titled song, Wishing. But something tells me that one doesn’t require much explanation.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I knew that as soon as school started my writing would fall -- once again -- by the wayside, but I've been having this recurring thought/memory of late, and I desperately need to write.  Please forgive my brevity…

My senior year of high school I was lying on my back on my best friend's bed.  Her bed was adjacent to the wall, and the window was set about half way between the foot and the head of her ridiculously concaved twin-sized bed.  As the two of us talked about something not-particularly-memorable, I lifted my right leg up at a 90 degree angle and rested it between the wall and the window frame.  While we chatted, I stared at my leg.  At an age when most girls are prone to irrational bouts of self-deprecation in regards to their bodies, I was the rare seventeen year-old who felt almost reverential towards mine.  My knobby knees and ugly feet weren’t pretty necessarily, but I felt this almost stifling amount of gratitude for what they did for me.  My feet were connected to what – at that point – I defined as The Story of My Life.  And as I mindlessly stared at my right leg, I intermittently flexed and relaxed my quad muscles, impressed and grateful for my ability to control just one part of my life.

I think about that day almost every afternoon.  When I get home from work and change from a pair of pants into a pair of shorts, I cannot help but look at them.  It’s foolish.  I experience the same type of internal monologue when I wake up in the middle of the night to pee.  It goes like this:

I wonder what time it is?
Don’t look at the clock.
If it’s within an hour of your alarm you will not fall back to sleep.
But what if my alarm isn’t set?
What if I unconsciously turned the alarm off in the middle of the night?
Do not look at the clock.  Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it. 

I always look.

The same thing happens with my legs, but the internal monologue sounds a little  different:

Kate, don’t look at them.  Don’t do it.  It’ll put you in a bad mood.  Seriously.  Do. Not. Look.
But what if my ankles are less swollen than usual? 
What if I contracted deep vein thrombosis during the day and I could prevent an untimely death by just looking at them?
Wait, can you even see deep vein thrombosis?

Once again, I always look.

But instead of having an anxiety attack on account of another sleepless night, I experience a combination of disgust and sadness that knocks the wind out of me.  Now my bony feet are swollen, and my ankles merge into my calves, and though my knees are still knobby and my thighs are still skinny, but there is no longer any functional relationship between my mind and my muscles.  The only time I even see my quad muscles flex is when my nerves misfire and my leg kicks out in a decidedly nonfunctional spasm.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Plea for Help

I wish to start this blog in the same way my middle school students liked to start their essays: in this blog I am going to tell you why there is a donation button on my blog. And that, my friends, is why I no longer teach middle school.

Please note also, that before I begin I will try as hard as I can to avoid either ranting or indulging in self-pity, but both efforts may very well prove futile.

My current situation:

• I had pretty major surgery on June 17th. And though the entire point of the surgery was to make my life with M.S. more manageable, at this point the opposite has proven true. Make no mistake, things weren’t going swimmingly prior to the surgery, but – when necessary – I could do things like get in bed, transfer into and out of the shower, and put my socks on independently. Now, those things are only possible with the help of my roommate, Meg.

• Problem: Meg is moving to NYC. She wants to move as soon as possible, but has resigned herself to remaining in Baltimore through December at the latest.

• In addition to being one of my favorite people in life, Meg is also my built-in caretaker. I trust her implicitly. Even when I find myself in impossible predicaments, she is able to rescue me. She never, ever lets me fall, and she problem-solves like no one I’ve ever met. She loves to cook, bake and clean, and she can always, always make me laugh. Meg’s only “flaw” is that she refuses to take a compliment, and seems to think I’m joking when I refer to her as superhuman. I, of course, am dead serious.

• When Meg leaves, and when she visits her boyfriend in New York on the weekends, I am left with a few options: 1. Enlist the help of friends, 2. Move home imminently and give up on my so-called independence, or 3. Hire a caretaker. Each of these options is rife with cons; option # 1 is unrealistic, option # 2 is antithetical to my general Will to Live, and option # 3 is ridiculously expensive. One might wonder why health insurance does not help with the cost of a caretaker, and to this I have no definitive answer. My cynical self, however, posits that if one is forced to go on disability, one is no longer the concern of his or her private insurance company, and things like personal care attendants are thus covered by the state. This saves the insurance company money, and that – obviously – is the name of the game.

• The caretaking options that I have proactively researched cost $20/hour. Sounds reasonable until you do the math. If I hired someone for a minimum of 5 hours on the weekends, it would cost a minimum of $100, an excess of $400 each month. As a teacher, this is not an added expense that my salary can incur.

I am consequently relegated to ask for help. I love my job. Teaching offers me a daily reprieve from thinking/stressing/obsessing about M.S., and though I am fully aware that what I do is not who I am, my job – at least at this point – feels like the best part of who I am. It’s the part that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning, and the part that makes me feel like I still contribute something to this life of mine – even if Meg has to help me get my pants on in the morning. I cannot let this be taken away from me, but it’s going to take a caretaker-extraordinaire to prevent; and that is something, at this current juncture, that I just cannot afford.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

My Little Homie

As a teacher in a wheelchair, I am chronically reminded that kids -- even kids that talk out of turn and never do their homework -- possess a level of core goodness that (unfortunately) seems to erode a bit after the age of 18.  I am reminded of this almost every morning when I park outside of my school and am immediately bombarded with students asking if I need help, while the adults hurry into the building to sign in and get their copies made before 8:00.  Sometimes I am also reminded of this when I use the bathroom.

Those of you with proper "adult" jobs might have access to office bathrooms that are clean and well-stocked with toilet paper and hand soap.  If you're really lucky (though chances are, you haven't even noticed this), your properly stocked bathroom might even be ADA compliant (a.k.a. wheelchair friendly).  As a teacher, I am not afforded such luxuries.

A few weeks ago, Jasmine, one of my old students spent her sixth period lunch in my classroom with me.  She calls me her "Big Homie" and I call her my "Little Homie"; ironic considering she is roughly twice my size.  She had work to do and I was hastily recording grades from the day's quiz into my gradebook.  She'd intermittently reminisce about ridiculous things I did during class three years ago (she thrives on poking fun of me), and her occasional imitations of my voice are hilariously funny (though only because I hope they're totally -- I pray -- inaccurate). When the 10 minute warning bell rang, I figured I should head to the bathroom while I still had ample (or what I thought to be ample) time. 

As I left the room, I told Jasmine to come check on me if I wasn't back when the bell rang.  The words were intended as a joke.  I mean really, what could a student do if I fell in the bathroom?  (Even if that student threw the shot and the discus for the track team.)

So I headed into the bathroom and managed to -- for the sixth time this school year -- get stuck on the toilet.  No matter how hard I tried to heave myself off the toilet with my left hand on the grab bar and my right arm braced on the toilet paper holder, I could not get myself to stand.  And try as I did, I could not manage to keep myself calm; I started crying (which further ensured my complete inability to get up).  Then I made another crucial error -- I looked at my watch.  1:24.  In one minute, the bell would ring, my 7th period would invade a teacher-less classroom and inevitable chaos would ensue.  This made me cry even harder and though I tried one more time to get up, I was met with zero success.  The bell rang and my completely counterproductive meltdown elevated a notch.

Then I heard the bathroom door open. 

"Ms. Hooks, you okay?"

It was Jasmine.  I was crying so hard at that point I could barely speak.

"No.  I'm stuck.  Go find Mr. Marinelli and ask him to watch my class."

She said she would and promised she'd be right back.

The late bell rang sounding the official beginning of 7th period and I attempted to get it together.  Jasmine once again opened the door.

"I couldn't find Mr. Marinelli, but I asked the skinny kid with the heart condition in your class to keep an eye on things and he said he would.  What do you need?"

[The skinny kid with a heart condition could never, incidentally, be trusted to keep an eye on things.]

"Can you come in here and help me get up?"

"Okay, but public bathrooms scare me."

She walked in.  I pulled my skirt down as completely as possible so as to appear somewhat presentable and opened the stall door.  Jasmine peered in and immediately broke into hysterical laughter.

Her laughter is contagious, even in the most extreme of circumstances.  So I started laughing and crying simultaneously, and incoherently told her that nothing was funny.  This made her laugh even harder.

"What do you want me to do?"

"Get me off this freaking toilet!"

"Obviously.  But how?"

I explained that she'd need to move the wheelchair out of the way, come into the stall and grab me under the armpits and help pull me up as I attempted (once again) to stand.  This she did with ease, all the while laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.  She pulled me up, helped me adjust my skirt (which, incidentally had fallen into the toilet during one of my attempts to get up) and held me for support as I awkwardly pivoted and flopped into my chair.  Once sitting, she helped me bend my stiff legs, flushed the toilet and pushed me over to the leaky sink.  We both washed our hands and headed out the door of the bathroom towards my classroom.  Unfortunately, though, despite Jasmine's heroic rescue and a relatively crises-free resolution to another failed bathroom venture, I could not fully get it together.  Jasmine stopped pushing me a few feet away from my classroom door and -- still laughing -- told me I could not go into my classroom.

Recognizing nothing other than the urgent need to have a teacher in a classroom of 28 14 and 15 year-olds, I stupidly asked why.

"Ms. Hooks, no disrespect, but you look like you just got bitch slapped in the face."

The comment made me laugh so hard, that my tears almost stopped completely.  I hastily tried to rub the smeared eye makeup away from my under eyes and waved air towards my face in a completely ineffectual effort to return my face to its normal color.  I looked up at Jasmine and asked if I looked any better.

"Um, not really."

So I escorted Jasmine to her physics classroom first, told her teacher that she was late because she was helping me, and turned towards my classroom.

When I rolled through the door, an audible silence spread through the room.  I guess it was obvious that I'd been crying.  I avoided eye contact with all 28 pairs of eyes in the room, turned on the LCD projector and told everyone to start the quiz.  In an unprecedented demonstration of obedience, they all opened their bags, got their notes out and started on the quiz.  Quietly. 

Except Antonio.  Obnoxious and adorable Antonio got out of his seat, walked to the front of the room and hugged me.

A hug, at that point, was the very last thing I needed; I am completely unable to maintain my composure when I'm that raw and someone treats me with any semblance of tenderness or compassion.

I cried.  Again.  In front of all 28 students.  The very last thing a teacher should ever do.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

I (Still) Remember Running.

There are certain things that bring memories to the surface: music, food, old emails,  journals, photo albums, etc.  There are times when submerging yourself in the past is necessary, and times when prior melodramatic rantings make you laugh, make you cringe, make you relieved that in spite of what you felt at the time you are finally Grown Up.  Other times, however, there is only one word that adequately summarizes the act of reveling in the past: masochism.  As someone with a disease that precludes most of the activities that I enjoyed for the first nineteen years of my life, I'm generally cognizant of this and know that -- when I'm in a funk -- I should not watch a track meet on TV, or go to one of my student's cross country races, or look through pictures of myself prior to 1997.  There is one aspect of this, however, that no matter how much I try, I cannot control: the weather.  Track is a spring sport, and even though I was officially diagnosed with MS in the fall of 1997, there is no time of the year that hurts as badly as the first few days of spring.  I have lived through twelve springs since I last ran, and you would think that with the passage of time it would get easier.  At the very least, I hoped to feel less raw over time.  This, unfortunately, is not the case.

There are countless things I cannot do anymore.  Most of these are things that I grieve silently on a daily basis: putting my pants on in less than twenty minutes, reaching items off of a tall shelf, hanging my clothes before they are wrinkled beyond recognition, and -- though it might sound unfathomable to a healthy person -- I truly do miss vacuuming, cleaning toilets and mopping the kitchen floor.  These things, though, connote a certain level of dull (though mostly manageable) pain, and the pain is generally superseded by an ugly level of guilt.  Things that I no longer do are things that other people now do for me, and I cannot seem to accept -- despite continued reassurance from friends and family -- that this is okay.

Nothing, though, nothing at all compares to the grief I associate with running.  My friend Eric asked me once (a few years back) if I remembered what it felt like to walk.  The answer was, surprisingly, no.  He and I both agreed it was probably preferable to forget.  Why then, I wonder, do I still remember how it felt to run?  I can still feel my heels strike the rubber of the indoor track, and feel my quads burn through the last 100 meters of an 800.  I remember the moments between "Set" and the gun, when I'd take a half step forward, lean forward over my right leg and silently repeat the mantra "I can do this and I will do this".  I remember my high school track coach telling me he wanted me to run so hard that as I rounded the turn towards the final stretch I wished he would shoot me to put me out of my misery.  Let me be clear, I have no delusions: running hurt, and there were days (lots of days) when I whined and complained and wished I had one iota of the hand-eye coordination that other sports necessitated.  But I didn't, so I ran.  And though it occasionally made my muscles burn and my mouth taste like blood from the overuse of my lungs in the cold weather, it became part of my identity.

I've heard that people who lose limbs still have occasional phantom sensations: an itch, a twinge of pain, the sense of hot or cold.  Running is my phantom sensation.  When I face the window and close my eyes tightly, I can still feel it.  I can feel the miracle of my nerves making my muscles contract when I want them to, and feel the impact of the ground beneath my feet.  When I open my eyes this memory knocks the breath out of me, and it's all I can do to remind myself, in a totally different context, that I can do this and I will do this.  But there are no words: it is so damn hard.