Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The More Things Change

Mile Marker 132:

Do you think we’ll feel old?  e-mailed my college friend Linda.   

No, I said to myself.  The only thing I’ll feel is that I have ONE LEG.

They won't get it, I thought.

We were gearing up for our 20-year reunion at Northwestern, and I was going to see some of my BEST FRIENDS in the world.  But I was afraid I'd changed too much.  That nothing would feel the same.

On Friday afternoon, I headed to the airport -- luggage, leg, and all.  My parents wheeled me through security and waited outside my glass cubicle while the TSA folks scrambled to find a female agent to pat me down. 

I felt many things – anxious, excited, wary, frustrated -- but OLD was not one of them.  In fact, sorting out the seating arrangement on the plane with Mom and Dad, I felt very, very YOUNG.

But we made it.
Welcome to Chicago!

Mile 132 began with a Saturday morning jaunt around Northwestern’s campus with friends -- Wendy, Shelley, Linda, and Debbie -- and family – Andy, Nina, Mom, and Dad.

So much was unchanged.  Lake Michigan still pelted the eastern shore.   Fisk Hall was crawling with red and gold ivy.  The Norris Center Bookstore still sold sweatshirts.  Our old dorm still had the same couches (ewww!) 

Students jogged past us on the Lakefill.  I remembered playing flag football and soccer there, walking on the rocky cliffs, tiptoeing across the lake’s frozen waves in the winter, and tanning on the beach as soon as the thermometer hit 45 degrees. 

Wendy pointed out that we should have enjoyed it more while it lasted; we'd probably never afford such property again in our lives!

But these memories didn’t make me yearn for a younger time.  They made me yearn for FREEDOM.

For me, the campus paths wound longer and steeper and curvier than they were before.  The rocks along the lake were tilted and tricky;  to stay upright, I grabbed for my friends’ hands.  And the idea of climbing up 4 flights of stairs to see my old dorm room --  I decided to put that off till our next reunion!

At the football game Saturday night, Wendy and Linda dropped me off at the gate before they parked the car.  Shelley helped me side-step my way across the crowded bleachers.   And Northwestern didn’t disappoint us.   Sure, we were defeated by Penn State.  But really, would it have felt like old times if we’d WON?!


After the game we dined with even more friends – Vimla, Sean, and Sheila -- at Dave’s Italian Kitchen.  Our favorite dive had moved from its ramshackle hideaway under the EL to a bigger, shinier space in central Evanston.  But you still couldn’t beat the food…or the company!

And the next morning, we celebrated the end of our whirlwind visit with five of the newest additions since graduation –

Neela, Alisha, Tara, Emma, and Nathan.

But even with the kids around, I didn’t feel old.  (SHORT maybe, but not old!)  

And there were even a few brief moments when I stopped thinking about my leg.

As friends, we’ve seen each other through dorm drama, boyfriend breakups, loss of loved ones, and serious sickness.  We’ve driven cross-country, visited each other's hometowns, stayed up all night, and biked Lake Shore Drive together.  We know each other's dreams as well as we know our own.

Of course, they couldn't get exactly what it’s been like for me this past year. 

But that's all right because they GET ME

And this weekend, like always, I got their ok.

Andy and Nina shopped for essentials I couldn't carry on the plane.  Linda helped me set up the hotel bathroom so I could reach everything on my crutches.  Wendy offered a hand so I could climb out on the rocks.  Vimla rescued us at the stadium when our car was parked miles away.  And Shelley drove me back to the hotel when I was too exhausted to take another step.

When I popped off my leg as soon as I arrived at the hotel, they didn't blink an eye.  And when it took me three tries to put it on in the morning, they were ok with that too.

Of course, we were amazed at ALL THE YEARS that'd had gone by.  We laughed that our parents were our age when we first moved into the dorm.    That this year’s freshmen class wasn't even born when we were freshmen!   And that our kids (I consider them mine, too!) – are now closer to college age than we are.


But we didn’t dwell on these things.  Our friendship is stronger than both AGE and ACCIDENTS.


On the flight back, O’Hare’s full body scanner made the Philly security system look like a circus.  Mom, Dad, and I zipped to the gate, stopped for some Garrett's Popcorn, and then packed onto our over-booked flight like seasoned sardines.  

Before I knew it, I was back in my house.   And I’d been wearing my leg for 16 hours straight!  

I never claimed to feel old.   Just different.  

But it's good to know that some things will always be the same, no matter how many years -- or miles -- apart.

Love you guys!

7 comments:

  1. Nostalgia! It's great to see your faces all together.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, Rick, I knew this was going to be a good one and I was right! There is something about old friends -- friends who knew us BEFORE. Before we got older, grayer (me), fatter (again, me), back when we had two legs (okay, you). I've always said that old friends are special because they understand what makes us tick. They know our parents and our siblings and where we came from and what we looked like when the whole world was ahead of us. My new friends are fantastic – don’t get me wrong. They know me NOW and know the ins and outs of my daily life. But old friends … they know my STORIES.

    Spending time with you this weekend was so very important because until your accident I’m not sure that even I realized how very special you are to me. You are my BEST friend from college! You are the one I keep in touch with, the one I see (almost) every year, the one who knows my husband and kids, the one who talks with me about writing! And to be back with you at the place where we met and became friends was really, really special. And even though having only one leg may have consumed your thoughts, there were lots and lots of moments when I forgot about your leg completely. You are the same Ricki in so many ways, but now you are even more amazing because you are stronger and braver and just … MORE than before. You’d think losing your leg might make you feel like less, but to me, you seem bigger in spirit (and half an inch taller, too!).

    As we talked about this weekend, it sucks so much that you’ve had to go through what you’ve gone through this past year. Losing your leg will surely never feel like something you would have chosen. But reading your blog, and seeing you teach my kids about your Genium, and watching you bravely climb across treacherous rocks – I see something in you that has blossomed since last November. Your accident certainly has had lots of downsides, but let me tell you – you have made lemonade out of lemons, my friend. You are meeting amazing people and sharing your story. You are volunteering your time to people who are where you were not so long ago. You are teaching children about magic legs and what it’s like to face challenges and overcome them. You are rocking it on the inline skates and the rock-climbing wall – things I avoid with TWO legs. You are amazing. I know that having one leg may be a pain in the butt (so to speak) for you, but if anyone can handle the challenges with grace and enthusiasm and hope – it’s you, my friend.

    Love you to death and can’t wait to see you again!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was so glad to hear you were making this trek--and it sounds like it was well worth it! It must have felt good to be back in Chicago with all your friends. Like a big hug. Miss you! xo

    ReplyDelete
  4. Having Roger Boye open the door at CRC for us (and look EXACTLY the same after 20 years!) seems like the perfect metaphor -- you can always count on your college friends to open their hearts to you and be that consistent rock of support. There is something about college friends--perhaps because you went through that transition to adulthood together--that makes such a strong bond. And even though we live quite a distance apart, I still feel your spirit in my life and find such a comfort knowing how easy it is to reconnect when we talk.
    Last weekend was so rejuvenating to me, thanks to the strong energy from you and everyone. Linda and I were talking on the way to Midway that we need to find a way to get together in person at least once a year. There is no better medicine that the energy of good friends. :o) Let's start planning our next reunion!

    (PS: Wendy, your comment captures so perfectly so much of how I was feeling after last weekend.)

    ReplyDelete
  5. You know how good friends can finish each other's sentences? Well, you guys just finished mine!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Take another look at the words written on the rocks in your Lake Michigan photo... "All i do is... WIN!" Whoever wrote that probably carries in-line skates in the trunk of her car... you know, just in case! Proud of you and thankful to be taking this journey with you...

    ReplyDelete
  7. And don't forget the "XXI Forever" sign in the mall near the haystacks. Sounds like you have great friends from college. One of my best friends is from my college days. I'm glad that you enjoyed your trip!

    ReplyDelete