Mile Marker 9:
At 9 years old, I thought I was turning the corner of adulthood: I got my ears pierced. I saw Grease. I outgrew my poster of Shaun Cassidy.
November 9th turned back the clock.
Mile 9 is for my mom. Each morning at the hospital (coincidentally around 9), I heard in the hallway a rustling of shopping bags and cheerful chatter that told me she was near. My body relaxed with relief. Organization would soon take hold. Tenderness would takeover.
One day she arrived with a glint in her eye that told me she’d hatched a new plan. “I figured out how we can wash your hair,” she said. I was all ears. I’d been using that dry shampoo, the kind that makes your hair like straw. She turned on the faucet – it usually took a good five minutes to run warm – and then started unpacking her bags. She pulled the commode over to the sink, put a pillow on top of it, and covered it with a “chuck,” one of those multipurpose waterproof hospital sheets. Then, she helped me pivot on one foot till I was perched on top of the pile. We layered towels across my chest and put another chuck on my lap to protect my bandages. Yep, this was going to work.
In addition to shampoo and conditioner, she’d brought an empty plastic container, probably from a quart of Won Ton Soup. “Ok, lean back,” she said. I did. And from that soup container, came Nirvana. Warm water spilled from the ridge of my forehead to the base of my neck. My mom washed and massaged and conditioned and rinsed, and when I sat up I felt like a new person. There was water all over the floor, but the two of us were LAUGHING! A nurse popped in the door to check on us. “We’ll be neater next time,” we both assured her. I combed my wet hair and watched as my mom, in typical Mom fashion, went off in search of more towels to clean up the floor.
From 9 in the morning till 9 at night, my mom remained by my side doing everything she could to comfort me. She brought me books, cards, photos, pillowcases, and gossip from home. And when my pain made it hard to be alone, she spent the night curled up in the chair next to my bed.
Before surgeries, tests, and difficult news, we took each other’s hands. “Be strong,” we said to each other. “Be strong.” Her strength became mine. But, then again, I know it always has been.
Mile Marker 10:
From January to June this year, my dad and I had fallen into a comfortable routine of doctor’s appointments, trips to CVS, and grilled cheese & bacon sandwiches. We also took evening walks together.
But my dad will tell you that our walks go back far beyond January. Back to 1969, exactly. Then, I was a colicky, sleepless infant. To coax me to sleep, he strolled me around our apartment parking lot at unusual hours. One night around 2 a.m., a police officer in search of suspicious drug activity checked my baby carriage to make sure there was really a child in it. Or so the story goes.
Fortunately, our recent walks have been less eventful. We catch up with neighbors. We point out colorful gardens, unkempt lawns, and new cars. Occasionally, I trip on the sidewalk.
In the beginning, it was easy to measure distance; I could only walk as far as our next-door neighbor’s driveway. We were back home in a matter of minutes. With anyone else, it would have seemed a waste of time – why even put your shoes on? But with my dad, each trip felt like an accomplishment. A small, but worthy step forward.
As I made progress, we measured distance by the number of houses we passed – counting 4, then 6. After that we used landmarks – we made it halfway up the big hill; halfway around the block. When summer temps soared, we walked the corridors of the mall. Grilled cheese & bacon night moved to Ruby Tuesday’s.
After one of those walks, we happened into a Dick’s Sporting Goods and bought a pedometer. Interesting idea, we thought. How far could I really walk?
Mile 10, it turns out, is a marker much like passing the 10th house on our street. We know we've rounded a corner, but we also know there’s farther to go. Slowly, gently, my dad accompanies me ahead. For now, it’s just the two of us, and it's just an evening stroll.
Mileage so far: 10.92