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!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Lucky 13

Mile Marker 5200:

My niece Brianna just turned 13.

At Mile Marker 5200, I trail behind her through the narrow aisles of Primark, her favorite store in the mall.  She peruses the graphic tees, torn denim shorts, and skinny jeans, handing them to me one by one.  We carry an armful into the fitting room.

This is her birthday present -- shopping -- because at 13, she has a style all her own.  (Well, technically it's a style she shares with most of her friends, but you get the idea!)  Plus, I'm a shopper too.  We have that in common.

After checkout, Brianna says, "There's one more place I want to go."

If you know a 13-year-old, you can probably guess where we're headed...

Starbucks Frappy Hour!

Brianna lives in the far suburbs, at least an hour's drive from Philly, so coming into the city is a big deal.  We don't see each other as often as we'd like.

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But whether she knows it or not, she's played a large role in my journey.  She was only 6 when my accident occurred.  During those earliest days in the hospital, she couldn't visit, so my walls were papered with her handwritten notes and magic marker drawings.

When I was discharged, we worried about what to tell her and how to talk about my missing leg.  I used to take her to the sprinkler park and the ice skating rink.  She loved the aunt I was "before."  What would she think of me now?


We didn't have to worry.  Not really.  My sister-in-law, Amy, gave Brianna the heads-up in kid-appropriate language.  The doctors couldn't fix my leg, so they had to take part of it off.   (I've used that same sentence to explain it to many kids since!)

To our surprise, Brianna's reaction was equally understated.  At first she asked, "Why are your jeans wearing a ponytail?"

Later, when I showed her my new prosthetic "robot leg," she concluded, as only a 6-year-old could,  "It would be cooler if you had two robot legs." 

That was it.  End of story.  For her anyway.

For me it was just the beginning.  I spent the next few years busy with rehab, caught up in my own recovery.  I didn't have the confidence or stamina to take her places anymore.  We drifted apart.

And she grew up.

Now Brianna has gone from kindergarten to 7th grade.  She's a rock climber and a vegetarian.  She likes to read and bake cookies.  She does well in school.

This is our first weekend together in a long time.  (Maybe ever.)   We rack up 4 miles.

We get dumplings in Chinatown.

Sample Thai rolled ice cream.


Go rock climbing together.

Brianna can belay now!

Sure, I'm the adult here.  The expert on city life.  But the physical part is still challenging.  In the sweltering heat, we drive instead of walk.  We plan our activities around shade and air-conditioning.  I stop to readjust my leg every few hours.  Brianna waits patiently, scrolling through her phone like a typical teen.  Although I wonder what she's thinking, she seems to accept my differences in the same matter-of-fact way she did when she was six.

When bedtime comes, I set her up in the guest room with a book-light and a worn hardback copy of Judy Bloom's Tiger Eyes, one of my own favorites at 13.   It's the story of a girl with a loss so big, she wonders how she'll ever go on.  Brianna says she likes it so far.

I take comfort in numbers.  Back in my hospital days, a wise surgeon told me the number 13 was lucky.  Granted, he was just trying to allay my fear about another surgery, but the idea stuck with me.

Brianna and I are forging a bond again.  At 13, she towers above me in height.  She wears a much bigger shoe size.  She can out-shop me at the mall and drink me under the table in Frappuccinos.  Yet somehow, for some reason, she still looks up to me.

Thirteen feels more than lucky.  It feels like the right place to start.

4 comments:

  1. I love this post almost as much as I love both of you! I'm so happy that you "found" each other again:)

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  2. You never really lose the people you love .... the come back in different ways forever. All we need to do is reach out and touch them!

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  3. This is awesome had me cry a little Rebecca ever since that day you have been in our thoughts and prayers and you have come a long way ��and for Bri she loves to shop we are talking her out this weekend since we missed her 13th BIRTHDAY WOW ��������

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  4. I loved this post....made me smile. Will see "13" in a different light too now!

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