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, February 13, 2014

61 Steps

Mile Marker 1555:

There are 61 steps to my grandfather’s bedroom.

The first 12 -- from his underground garage to the building courtyard -- are the steepest.  If you live in the city, there’s no such thing as free parking, right?  These stairs prove it.  My car parks for free, but my right knee pays the price.

At the landing, there's daylight.  The next flight is gradual and easier, each step no more than 5 inches high.  Still, my right leg drags the left.  For the last few weeks, I've been here nearly every day.

I cross the flat courtyard, slick with puddles and slush.  Early this morning, an ice storm coated the trees in glass.  But now it's 40 degrees, and that fairyland has turned into a hazardous, dull mess.

As a kid, I found magic in this city townhouse with 4 levels.

Now I just see 3 more flights of stairs:  one cement and two carpeted, with banisters that alternate from side to side.  Since becoming an amputee, I dread this climb.

But today it's not about the stairs, or about my leg, or about me at all.   My grandfather is at the top.

One of my favorites :)
When I was little, "Pop-Pop" worked for the Philadelphia Free Library.  He’d scour the boxes of old picture books, bringing me new ones each time he visited.  For hours, I sat cross-legged with those books on my blue shag carpet.  I read them over and over again.

As I got older, he taught me to play solitaire.  He danced at my Bat Mitzvah.  He let me drive his Dodge convertible to high school.   He visited me in college.  

My hero --
Winter of 1994
And in my mid-20's, when I broke my foot, he took me to the supermarket and out to dinner every Saturday night.




These days, he’s in bed most of the time.  He's smaller now, a miniature of the robust guy he once was.  But his cowboy hats still hang on the wall.   His button-down shirts are still in the closet.  His beaming smile is just the same.

When I walk in, he's always happy to see me.  As the rest of his body falters, his blue eyes stay as bright as ever.  He can’t remember his stories anymore.  And when he tries to talk, the words slip away.  He loses track of our names, our visits, and how we’re all related.  (I've become his "Little Girl," and Mark is “The Judge.”)  Yet he still lights up every time we walk in.

Mirror photography
by "The Judge"
“I love you,” he declares, leaning heavily on the word LOVE.  He puts all his strength into it.  Stretches out the words to prove exactly how much they mean.   He delivers this message generously, sincerely, again and again.


At Mile Marker 1555, I reach the top of the stairs and peek my head into Pop-Pop's bedroom.  His favorite CD, Frank Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, plays softly in the background.   My mom sits on the edge of the bed, holding his hand.   Zita, his caregiver (and so much more), cradles his head from the other side. 

Today, his eyes are closed.  His breathing is labored.  Over the past week, he’s told us again and again, “It’s time for me to go home.”

“You are home,” we’ve assured him each time.

It doesn’t satisfy him.  He’s restless to leave.  He tells us his whole family is there.  That he hasn’t seen his wife for a very long time.   

He asks his caregivers, Zita and Mattie, to bring him his shoes and his pants.  He tells my mom to gather his wallet, his keys, and his Frank Sinatra CD.  After 88 years, these are the things he wants to take with him.

He tells us over and over again that he loves us.

But today, it’s time for him to go.  His sleep becomes deeper.  His breathing slows.  His eyelids flutter.  His hands get cold.  We feel him drifting away.

At once the room is very, very quiet.  The music has ended.

Zita wipes away her tears and slides the window open.  Beyond the screen, we hear more than just the dripping icicles.  Birds are chirping, a whole flock of them!   So unlikely on this February day....  

If I ever doubted what comes after, I don't anymore.

We're 61 steps up, as high as the treetops.  And if I've got it right, Pop-Pop’s even higher.

Can you hear us up there?   We love you too.

10 comments:

  1. I have none of these accounts..
    Lol!! It's Zita
    Wow,wiping away my tears..I miss him so very much.It's really weird that I am not at 2030 arch street during the week..I can see his big smile When I say "Rickie is coming"..
    By fred see you in heaven..I gained a beautiful Family..
    Rickie!! You are an amazing writer and the best friend!

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    1. He spread the love to ALL his girls! Not only did I have 44 years with a wonderful grandfather, I gained 2 new sisters and friends. xoxo

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  2. A fitting tribute. Miss you, PP (& DD)!
    (P.S. Who is my "understudy" in the pic on the steps? Was I off that day?)

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    1. It was Eric, our French exchange student - maybe summer 1985?! I am guessing you were "off" having fun at camp :)

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  3. Beautifully written Rebecca. Your grandfather will always hold a special place in your heart. Hugs coming your way for comfort.

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  4. Awesome piece, thank you letting us in to your most intimate times with your PopPop. I'm so sorry for your loss. Knowing you will all be reunited one day might help ease some of the pain of grief. I loved learning about such a spiritual journey "home". Reassures us all of where we are going. Xoxox

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  5. Absolutely beautiful blog. Very sorry for your loss. never forget all the great times you had with him and he'll always be with you in spirit and in your heart.

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  6. I'm sorry to learn of your loss. I love the family photos especially the one with the cowboy hats!

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  7. Ricki, This is so beautiful. I get it; I remember. I am sorry he is gone. But I believe in our conversation (the one on the phone) and to move on from this world in this way... well, it just doesn't seem so terrible. I hope he does get to see Dot again. Your writing is beautiful. Karen Wish

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