It’s the little things, sometimes, that get you.
Well, me, anyway.
I won’t say that before life went to hell in a handbasket on a buttered slide (heh), I was blind to the little things. But it was easy to overlook them, until I realized I didn’t have [THAT THING] anymore. I don’t mean just the material goods, either.
Let’s talk about…walking.
Simple thing, for most of us. One foot in front of the other, opposite arm swinging along in time. Or maybe not, if you’re carrying something, but still, quite a simple and straightforward thing, this walking business. Especially if you have a choice. If you’re walking because you want to.
But what happens when you don’t have a choice anymore? Is it still simple? Or does that simple thing take on complexities you never would have imagined Before?
I went from a driver to being much more of a walker when my car got totaled in 2012. At the time, what felt like the hardest things to deal with were the knowledge that looking for work had just gotten that much harder…and if I lost my place in the shelter, I no longer had an alternative place to sleep. Both huge things, complete life-changers in a life that had already seen more change in two years than in the twenty years before, and most of it negative.
What hadn’t occurred to me was what it was going to mean to be on my feet more, walking to and from the bus stop on the way to or from the library/the DPSS office/the women’s day refuge/the shelter. And doing so with my purse and my laptop and maybe whatever paperwork I had to have for the day, because the luxury of leaving anything at “home base” didn’t exist at the shelter in the first place — if you thought you’d need it, you took it with you when you walked out of the dorm at 7:00 AM, because it would practically take an act of Congress to get you back INTO to dorm before 7:00 PM for anything less than dire illness. And there was no more leaving it in the car anymore. So I was carrying everything I could conceivably need during the day, slung over my shoulder. Or the other shoulder. In shoes that hadn’t been anywhere close to new for, oh, eight years or so. And walking.
A block here. Two blocks there. Three or four blocks thataway. Down the stairs from the Gold Line platform, around a corner and down an escalator and around another corner and down another escalator to the Red Line platform to get to the Expo Line and then off the Expo Line to the corner and then cross the street and down a long block and then stand a while until the other DPSS office opened and I could attend County Job Search Program 2.0 (I’d still had the car for program 1.0). In newer shoes that hadn’t been designed for that much walking in the first place. Carrying The Baggage. (The laptop and such, I mean — although the metaphorical baggage was at least as heavy…)
The low back, she started to complain. The left shoulder, because I got into the habit years ago of slinging the purse over my left shoulder and it just never seemed to stay properly situated when I switched it to my right shoulder. And of course, the laptop bag added to the fun. So, low back, and both shoulders, my neck, a bit, and feet and ankles and knees, all doing their best to do what I needed, but Not Very Happy About It, thank you very much.
And then, The Job happened! And I rented a room from someone who could give me a ride to work! Glorious! Except… Unfurnished bedroom. No chair. No sofa. No bed.
But I had an air mattress. Queen size. I figured I could put off buying a bed, or even a sofa, as long as I had something to sleep on, so I got a folding chair at the same time as I bought a couple of small dressers for my clothes and called it done. Until my first night in my new room. When I woke up flat on the floor on the deflated air mattress. I figured I hadn’t closed the valve tightly enough and made sure I got it right the next night.
Nope. Not the valve. A leak. A leak I couldn’t find, and wasn’t sure could be patched, or would stay patched, even if I could find it. So for a little over two months, I slept on the floor. For bedding, I used:
1) as the first layer on the floor, a throw that had been given to me at the shelter;
2) as the second layer, a heavy velour bathrobe, ditto, folded to provide a little extra cushioning; and for sheets I had
3) a beach towel, ditto ditto, and
4) a bath sheet given to me by one of the other gals who went to the women’s day refuge, in case I couldn’t afford a towel for a while.
You know, I damn near cried when she gave me that towel. The “little” things…
Anyway, from the last weekend in September to maybe the second weekend in December, that was my bed, and I was glad to have it. I was afraid to spend too much money before I passed my three-month probation, but I finally reached the point of HAVING to have something a little more bed-like to sleep on. So I bought the least expensive sofa-bed Ikea had, one that unfolded, more like a futon than your classic sofa-bed with a pull-out mattress frame, etc. And it was actually quite comfy. What I didn’t pay much attention to was the fact that while most of me was sleeping on a nice thick cushion, my ankles and feet were on the hard platform that served as the base for the sofa cushion in folded-up mode — and that platform was perhaps three-quarters of an inch higher than the rest of the bed.
I tended to sleep on my back for a goodly portion of the night because the cats slept either on me or tucked up against me so closely I couldn’t turn over. Fast-forward a few weeks, and my knees started to pain me. They started to hurt quite a lot, actually, and I realized that between the height difference between the hard platform and the cushion, sleeping on my back, and one or two of the cats deciding to sleep draped across my shins or thighs, I had managed to hyperextend my knee joints.
May I tell you JUST how much that sucked? It sucked sewer water, that’s how much it sucked. And although I used a couple of extra (dirt-cheap) pillows rolled up like bolsters to take the stress off my knee joints when I slept, they didn’t get any better. They just seemed to get worse. Which meant I was walking differently, trying to compensate, and just throwing the rest of my body out of alignment too.
I discovered, years ago — when my gay ex-fiance became my deceased gay ex-fiance, to be exact, that’s a different story, but the gist is seven hours of video games instead of crying my eyes out led to a nearly “frozen” shoulder and two cervical vertebrae out of alignment and I cried when I tried to turn my head or raise my right arm or get dressed or do ANYTHING — that physical pain was even more mentally debilitating than grief, because all I could think about was how much I hurt and why wouldn’t it stop and how could I make it stop and what if I couldn’t and when would it stop and and and…
When I moved out of the rented bedroom, I left the sofa-bed because the RV has a bed. Not queen-sized, but a bed. And I thought my knees would be back to normal in no time. Wrong. Wrongity wrongity wrongness of wronging wrong. Between the walking to and from the bus stop and the older-than-Methuselah shoes, my knees just kept on hurting. New shoes? Yes, tried those, and ran (heh) into the situation where shoes that felt fine in the store didn’t actually work in the real world, so it was back to the oldies again. And about the time it started to feel like ye olde knees were improving, I was late getting out the door one morning and found myself running across the street to my bus stop. Well, trying to run across the street. Halfway across, my left foot hit the pavement at the wrong angle and I really, honestly thought I’d fall, that my knee would just collapse on me right there in the middle of the street. It didn’t, yippee hurrah and other enthusiastic noises, but it was too close a call, and of course, the knees had to start healing all over again.
But you still have to walk, y’know? You have to walk because you’re still on probation and don’t have medical coverage yet, and then because even though you have coverage, you don’t have sick time to use to go to the doctor and therefore either have to use (equally non-existent) vacation time or work make-up hours or whatever, and it just got to feel like more trouble than it was worth. So I was careful about how I walked, tried to do a little stretching, and kept my fingers crossed. When I went to Reno in August (and there’s ANOTHER blog I need to write up!), I was actually afraid that somebody was going to suggest a little cliff-jumping expedition, because I didn’t think my knees would let me make the hike in, let alone hike back out.
While I was in Reno, however, I bought a new pair of shoes. And they fit, and were comfortable, and so I wore them to work instead of the OLD SHOES…and one day, I realized my knees weren’t bothering me as much. That in fact, they felt like they were back to about three-fourths of the way back to normal. Then, because these were open-toed and the weather would turn sooner or later, I bought a new pair of walking shoes, with good arch supports and well padded…and my knees have continued to improve. I’m still not at the point of running races — hell, running at all, let’s be honest — but I don’t hurt anymore.
What brought this on, you might wonder. Why this extended discussion on walking and pain? Simply this: there’s an older woman, mid-sixties at least, living in a pickup truck with a camper shell in the company parking lot (and good on the Powers That Be for letting her). She has a big black dog who shares the truck with her, and there’s a gray-brown tabby cat that’s either hers or is a stray she takes care of. And this woman has problems walking. She uses a cane, but one foot’s turned wrong at the ankle, and she almost drags it; she also seems to have hip issues, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. It hurts to watch her. But on the rare occasions I see her, she always waves, always smiles and says hi, always tells the barking black dog, “Hush now, you know her!”
This evening, while I was waiting for my bus home, I saw her across the street. She’d been grocery shopping, and had set her two bags down on the sidewalk next to the signal pole so she could walk — hobble — across the street, get the shopping cart she’d scavenged, hobble back across the street (with the cart as support, which I would think helps a bit), put her two grocery bags into the cart, hobble BACK across the street…
Nope. Not this time. I just got up, crossed the street, picked up her bags and walked back, waited for her to finish crossing, put the bags in the cart because she didn’t want me to risk missing my bus on account of helping her, and sat back down on the bus bench.
And tried so hard not to cry. Because that could have been me, that so easily could have been my life. And I helped her, not because I knew she’d appreciate it, but because I could.
Because I can walk, and it doesn’t hurt.