Happy Monday – November 28th, 2016

After several false starts this morning, I found myself alone on a park  bench near my home. I arrived well before any children would be out of school, and just as the current shift of homeless men were finishing up their day drinking. Feeling a bit down I was already on my third lollipop of the day. I watched the men from across the empty playground, as they lumbered out of the park and off towards the nearby shelter for the afternoons feeding. From there, feeling refueled they would be about town mustering the coinage for their evening dosage. Which would most likely be consumed after dinner at The Salvation Army on the other side of downtown.

I recalled the schedule well, thinking about my own wilderness years as a vagrant. Living day-to-day by the good graces, and gullibility of others. For the time being it seemed so much easier than pushing headlong against the very daunting task of recovering my old life; then finally accepting the reality that I would never have it back. Not that life, but eventually a life.

In many ways it was a happy existence. Full of mornings spent loitering in parks like this one, with little on my mind outside a buzz. Every day was a social event, if only because no one could avoid true privacy. My own troupe of vagabonds would sit around various benches and picnic tables of the city. Prerolling our tobacco, talking road side philosophy and pseudo-mysticism. Then spend the late hours chatting up locals, who had much less experience with inebriation than we did, talking them into buying us booze or sharing their drugs. As the bars closed and the marks thinned we’d slink off to whatever semi-safe little bolt holes we had prepared for ourselves.

The problem with being a bum is that it’s migratory work. Trick is to leave town before someone realizes they’ve been taken advantage of, while everyone still remembers the good times they had with you around. It’s either that or dig in and put down roots for the long angles of at least appearing to be a respectable member of society. When my exit window came up I was tired of traveling, and weary of the constant hustle. I began dabbling in the real world menace of holding down an actual job and paying my own way. I began having actual relationships with people again.

Nothing serious at first. A friend or two, people I liked talking to instead of convenient acquaintanceships built on mutual self-interest. A series of mindless jobs that didn’t pay shit, ones to pay some bills but, I could slough off whenever they annoyed me. I girlfriend here or there, nothing romantic, just some occasional intimacy. Building blocks, baby steps. A toe in the pool of society just to test the waters. I’d been burned on this deal before.

It took forever it seems, maybe it really did. I don’t have everything I want, but I do have a lot. A decent job, despite a few things. A great wife. A wonderful daughter. Semi-permanent housing and a few material niceties. If I keep working at it one day I might even become financially stable. All in all things are good, at least better than they used to be. I have my life again, maybe not my old one, but it’s still mine

Yet on my darker days I still think about giving it all up and walking off towards the sunset. Disappear out of everyone’s life again, for the third or fourth time. Can’t really keep track anymore. Just some times it gets to be too much. To be honest I really do miss the adventurous uncertainty of it all. Plus there’s a certain comfort in being no one in particular.

But, I’m too old, and too sober, and I let myself get in too deep. It’s my life, but it’s not just mine anymore.

That’s a good thing, just in case you were wondering.

Anyway that’s what’s on my mind.

Happy Monday.

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Memory of the Quiet Room

Behind the creaking door,
Down into the dark,
Where that place was once a home.

The stairs met a wall,
An tea lights were placed.
As an unintentional shrine.

Here we kept it,
That book of shadows
Wire bound and always open.

We bragged of our shames,
Our private betrayals,
Our petty conquests of the flesh.

So proud as we sowed our way,
Through the great mediocrates,
Of our young lives.

Moments of recklessness,
Written down for posterity,
Moments we later decided to forget.

That record of our age of triumphs,
We since ordered burned,
This was its final secret.

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A Place in Time

Past the parking meters on the street, there is a large, yet unobtrusive, two-story yellow house. The faded cream tone of the paint contrasted by the white trim of the windows, and the railings of the front stoop and the balcony above it. Out in the front yard just to the right of the paved walkway is a little red sign with white letters giving the only indication that there was anything more than apartments inside. Up the stairs, across the short porch, through the front doors, and just to the right. There it is, The Dragon’s Hearth.

The front room furnished with cheap pegboard shelves hold rows of colorful books and boxes, and several drab folding card tables. Over a disused fireplace is the head of a white dragon named Kryos is mounted; a rubber mask around a wooden frame that gives the store its moniker, it is the look of the thing that matters. If it is early in the afternoon it is always filled with people playing games. Wonderful people of all ages, playing such wonderful games made of paper and imagination. In the back room painted figures of pewter are engaged glorious battles as they are pushed around large green table.

At the very front of the store behind the long, glass display case I often sit on my stool  the ,between fish bowls full of dice, and the cash register. People come in to The Hearth just to chat with me, sometimes I play a quick round or two of whatever trading card game is popular this week. Mostly I just sit and survey things in silence or talk smack about gaming with friends. It gives me an overdeveloped sense of importance, like I’m holding court. I am happy not knowing about the years to come.

Anymore this isn’t a real place, just a moment that was sometime between when my father died, and when my world went to shit.

Now and then, since what I like to call my recovery, I build it in my head, to see if I really miss it. I don’t suppose it even matters if I do. That was there and that was then.

I am here and it is now.

How to be Homeless

Homelessness and You:

~A Short Primer~

Welcome to the exciting world of the dispossessed. No matter what the circumstances that caused this, you are now counted among the dregs of society. Until further notice your well-being, and opinions count for diddly squat to the bulk of the populace. You are essentially a non-person. If you are to get through this and make out the other side you need to know a few things. Things I had to learn on my own.

The key thing that you’ll need to do is locate a few basic services.

  • Food
  • Clothing 
  • Shelter 
  • Hygiene
  • Entertainment and Information Services
  • Socialization

Food

This is the most import of all necessities, and fortunately the most easily obtained. Most cities or towns of any reasonable size has some religious group, social service or other outreach organization. Notable organizations I have encountered include The Salvation Army, St. Francis House, The Krishna’s, local/ state social service departments.

The level of service varies based on local and state laws and the availability of resources of a given organization. There is generally at least one if not more locations, generally a church or homeless shelter, that serve prepared meals daily. Get to know all of the available meal times and locations in your area, in some cases there are different venues that serve on the weekends. In some cases you will be asked to sit through a sermon or a short prayer prior to the serving of the meal. These people are doing you a favor, the least you can do is pretend to hear them out, even if you don’t believe a damned word of it.

You may be able to obtain, by of food pantries or similar services, a bag staple grocery items; canned goods, breads, pastas, etc. These services are often of limited availability, usually confined to use a handful of times per year.

In increasingly rare circumstances temporary food stamp assistance may be available in your area. All areas are trying to reduce homelessness, and have settled on a strategy of making it increasingly harder to survive to do so.

Clothing

Given a lack of available permanent storage, and a limited carrying capacity you will be spending quite a lot of time in the same set or two of clothes, so make sure they are comfortable. Everything has its limits however so knowing how and when to obtain more is important. You can usually find a charity in the area that has a clothes closet available or offers vouchers for use in various thrift outlets, again The Salvation Army is a good place to start for these services.

Select clothing that is durable, and easy to clean. Dark colors and cotton are your friend here. Pay special attention to footwear. Most of your days will be spent walking so make sure to select shoes based on quality and condition, regardless of how silly they may look. A clean pair of socks are always welcome.

If it is possible to select accessories, stick to those that increase your ability to carry. A good, well made backpack, shoulder bag, or purse is indispensable. The only other useful items in this area are belts or suspenders, and possibly a wallet. It’s not so much for money but a wallet is good for keeping  track of your I.D., if you lose that you may just be screwed.

Shelter

If you think you will just be able to crash at a homeless shelter, you are probably wrong. Besides needing clearance from the local police department before you will even be considered for admittance, most shelter spaces are either taken or reserved for women with children, and when you think about it that makes a fair bit of sense. The options this leaves you with are few.

As far as just getting some sleep goes, most places will roust you for sleeping in parks at night, but you should be fine if you just nap there during the day. Inclement weather is another matter that you will need to deal with however. If public places are your strategy then know where to find a convenient overhang or awning for rain, the police are less likely to bother getting out of the cruiser in a downpour. Colder weather simply requires more clothes and a blanket or two. If there is a freeze warning, or other dangerous most shelters will admit more people under emergency provisions.

In many locales there is a tolerated nest of transients, often refered to as Tent City. For reasons of safety and sanity I do not recommend these places. Much of the population there is composed of people who, for one reason or another, are not welcome at the shelters or feeding places. In general it can be assumed that this also a haven for violent criminals, dug abuse, and prostitution. I speculate the reasons these camps are tolerated is due to an issue of containment, they are a ready-made collections of suspects for the authorities to go conveniently raiding when they need to look like they are doing something about crime in the area.

My best advice is to keep floating as close as you can, for as long as you can, to normal society. Make a few kind-hearted friends and never abuse their trust. When times get too rough you can generally hole up for a few days, surfing on couches or camping out in van or other vehicle. Just make sure that under no circumstances that you over stay your welcome if you have any intentions of keeping them as friends.

Hygiene

An often overlooked factor is how hard it is to maintain any sense of cleanliness. Pay attention when you go to the shelters or soup kitchens, usually somewhere is offering laundry and shower facilities even if it is only one or two days a week. It may seem gross to use a public shower after some grubby homeless man, but remember you are some grubby homeless man and unless you wish to remain that way it’d be best if you just grow up and take care of matters. Most such places also will offer free disposable razors. Take one wether or not you plan on shaving, you never know when you’ll need something sharp that is legal to carry.

Staying relatively clean won’t just make it easier to keep interacting with regular folks, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself too. You will probably stay a lot healthier to boot, if I need to explain why you obviously failed health class. Pay special care with your teeth, you can get tooth brushes for free usually. I made the mistake of neglecting this area and now suffer from a host of preventable tooth and gum problems.

Entertainment and Information Services

Just being out and about watching society unfold offers nearly unlimited potential for amusement in and of itself, sometimes however you need to do something a bit more specific to pass the time, or you need to get a hold of someone or get current on recent events. In this case you’re best friend is the local library.

The library is a public space that is well equipped to serve may of your needs. It is crucial, when entering a new town to know where the closest library branch is. In addition to the obvious rows upon rows of books, there you will find access to newspapers, periodicals and local maps that will help you get the lay of the land. Here also is internet access, you may need a library card to use the computer services. Most shelters, even if they aren’t able to take you in, will assist you in getting identification and allow you to use their address for mailing purposes. This will make it possible, or at least easier, to obtain a library card.

Seriously, you’re homeless, you have a lot of time on you hands. Read, educate yourself, it’s for your own good. At the very least brush up on your favorite authors. My time spent on the streets is how I got fairly well acquainted with H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Philip K. Dick and a few others. It kept me out of serious trouble.

Socialization

No matter who you are, you are going to go quite mad if you don’t talk to people. There are two groups of people you have to maintain social graces with, The Homeless and Normal Folks.

It’s easy to see what you have in common with other homeless people. It’s important to maintain relationships with them. They often have solid information on what’s going on in town, and are generally willing to talk to new people. If you need to know where to find something or get access to services they’ll usually point you in the right direction. The thing is that, even though they are people just like you are there are a few hazards to bear in mind when dealing with them. Most people you encounter that are in your situation, if they spend enough time on the streets they like to feel like they are in control or doing you some special favor that you should one day pay them back for. Also a good number of them are addicts of some kind, and if you get involved with their lifestyle they will happily drag you to hell with them just for the company. Lastly, you know nothing about these people except what they tell you, I once found out I was hanging out with a wanted murdered because a cop spotted us walking down the street one day and arrested him, and nearly me as well.

I have mentioned already about keeping relations with normal society. If you ever want to get out of this situation in one piece it is critical for you to make yourself acceptable to some small corner of society. There are always ways of meeting these people, at coffee houses, outside of music venues. They might choose to associate with you for the novelty of the experience at first, or because life on the streets gives you access to connections they don’t have. They will probably be from the younger crowd, impressionable, idealistic, very easy to take advantage of. Be careful, don’t be the guy that’s just hanging around to ask for money or just looking to sell or score some drugs. These people can find you places to stay and potentially a job.

Every person that you find who is willing, for whatever reason, to interact with you is a resource, you need to treat them as such. You need to be able to discern their usefulness and spend time cultivating that relationship accordingly. It is useful to remember that most people you meet regardless of their role care little about you as an individual. Even social workers and outreach staff aren’t so much concerned with you as they are with the problem you represent, so don’t feel bad about taking the upper hand if the situation allows it.

In time you may be able to make a real and lasting friendship. Until then you are a hustler, get to know this about yourself, get comfortable with it. Chances are you’re going to be doing it for a while.

Devising an exit strategy

In the end there is nothing guaranteeing your reemergence into normalcy. It is mostly up to you spotting and exploiting opportunities as they come up. Relying solely on the good will of others, or worse expecting any kind of real assistance from government agencies is going to be a dead-end.

The only proven way to get out of this situation is getting into a position where you can obtain a source of income, and in time be able to afford a place to live. Legitimate work is preferable in the long-term but not quite as immediately lucrative as criminal activity. The irony of course is in the difficulty of finding legitimate, gainful employment when you are obviously a vagrant. I am afraid your prospects are only good for the jobs no one else wants.

Still, I advise an honest job no matter how menial the work or little the pay. I mean you’re a bum, it’s not like you’re too good for a fast food restaurant, or digging ditches. It is hard justifying taking abuse for very little upward mobility but, the longer you stay on the streets the harder it becomes to get back off them. There are plenty of people out there who have chosen vagrancy as an occupation, if you need motivation to eat a little crap at work now and then go have look at them.

Well that’s about all there is, I hope your stay on the bottom rung of society is as short and as pleasant as possible.

This guide was inspired by a Weekly Challenge

It’s Kind of a Long Story

I wasn’t an avid reader in my youth. Don’t get me wrong, I liked to read books, I just wouldn’t consider myself widely read. What got me telling stories was sitting around kitchen tables playing Dungeons and Dragons.

I started off as a bit player. The older kids had a regular game and one of them couldn’t show up. I was just the annoying little dweeb that wouldn’t go home, and some how I wound up spending the rest of the day fumbling around with a half-elven magic user and bugging the crap out of the rest of the group as they tried to explain the rules. By the end of that first session I don’t think I had a handle on what I was doing, but I knew there was something there I wanted more of. I loved being given the opportunity to be part of the adventure. After a few more tries I made my first ham-handed attempt at running the game. My first story had little in the way of plot but there was a dungeon and there was a dragon, the heroes prevailed and so I guess three out of four wasn’t bad for a preteen with a fist full of dice.

It all sort of ballooned from there. I spent the larger portion of my formative years geeking out with what ever game could be found. Fantasy, western, spy thriller, science fiction, super heroes; if you can name a genre I have been an active participant in a story of that fashion. My compatriots and I got to spend any number of afternoons describing as a group the various adventures of a universe full of protagonists.

My earliest writings that I found satisfying were in a journal that I kept as a way to pass the time while I was homeless and hitchhiked my way from state to state. It was a way to keep sane, my own little piece of mental real estate. It wasn’t my first diary, but it was the first where feel I was writing creatively. Not necessarily fiction, but lets just say that my life as a vagabond looked a lot more interesting on paper.

It was also the first journal I let anyone else read.

It’s a big step to let the general public into your head space. Let them read the things you think about in the dead of night, in the middle of the woods, with no one around but the crickets chirping at you. In a way that journal was the first step towards blogging.

I was dedicated to that journal, I wrote in it everyday (except for the time it went to Jamaica and back without me) until the swampy environs of Florida caused it to molder and rot apart. It’s so hard to have nice things when you’re a vagrant.

There is only so much rough living a body can take, so it does become useful to reenter society.  The upside of networking from scratch to obtain lodgings and a source of income is very time-consuming, and my relationship with writing became a little more erratic while I reestablished myself. All the socializing this required did allow me to bring together a rag-tag group of people interested in adventure games. This kept the stories flowing, gave me a chance to develop some skills, work on technique. A well thought out game is some times a lot of paperwork, a lot of writing.

My character sketches were becoming more like narratives, my plot lines more elaborate I was getting good at it. I started penning out a story, well technically typing but you get the idea. It was a nice piece of fantasy fiction. It was going well I thought. Somewhere along the way I became a drunk. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure it was a preexisting condition.

I got distracted. I forgot to write one day, then I forgot another day. Sometimes I would forget for weeks at a time. Then came a day when, in a fit of inebriated shame and depression I deleted the contents of my hard drive. A few years of drinking later and I can’t say I remember many of the details of the story.

Sobriety isn’t a second chance. Sobriety does make second chances possible, that’s what I have to believe anyway. At any rate if you want something you have to pursue it. I decided some years ago that I would like to be a writer. I failed in this endeavor the first time around. Now I’m ready to try again, and that’s not the only thing I’m taking a second shot at.

I couldn’t say if I aspire to write for a living. For now that point is moot, we’re not there yet. I am at best and out of practice amateur, getting some practice in, needing to keep these ideas from boiling over in his head. At worst I am grasping at straws, just searching for focus, a way to replace the booze. Either way I suppose it’s either try writing or go crazy.

For now I settle for writing, I’ll always have crazy to fall back on.

This essay  inspired by a  Weekly Challenge.

Slight Return

This is a continuation of Fall, which is a memoir.

The manager of the restaurant I worked at before my accident is sitting across from me in an old church pew, cut down and re-purposed as a dining booth; I want to smack the smug look off this entitled prick’s face. I can’t because I am basically interviewing to get my old job back.  He studies the scrawled note clearing me for work; it’s four lines long but he acts like he’s reading a freaking novel. He casually tosses the note off to his right, right and explains how he is concerned about my knee “blowing out” while I’m working and that the other guys have “stepped up their game” since I’ve been gone. I know this is bullshit, ,if these guys were capable of stepping up enough to replace me even after four months of practice we would not be having this conversation.

“I got you, and don’t worry the bone’s knitted back together already, I’m pretty sure that can’t happen.” I unthinkingly run my hand along my right thigh, that leg is still half the size of the left. I know it’s not going to re-break, but I don’t tell him about my uncertainty about how long I can stand on it before the muscles and tendons give out, and my knee buckles from fatigue. “I just don’t have full flexibility back yet, so I shouldn’t work the line right away. I’ll need to start back on pizzas or the salad station.”I’m not trying to knock anyone out of position; besides it’ll be a while before I am able to work enough for that to even be issue.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking man.” he says, all I can think about is how likely it would be that he’d be my boss if he wasn’t the son of one of the owners. “Cool bro, tell you what, check back next Wednesday. I’ll see where I can fit you on the schedule.”

I’m pretty sure there is a special fate in store for people who use the word Bro, if there isn’t we should make one up.

I leave through the empty kitchen, the cooks won’t be in for another hour. They’ve got the busiest weekend of the year coming up and he’s trying to play it cool like he can do it without me. It’s possible, but I know that my career longevity to date has been based on ensuring that the job sucks just sightly more without me there than it does with me.

Later, that night I track down Danny, the sous-chef, at the bar down the street after his shift. Through a haze of smoke, cheap beer and shitty bands I manage to confirm that my replacements haven’t quite matured the way needed to me and adding to the staff a quite likeable, but functionally illiterate hill billy has not improved things in my absence. I leave the bar dunk and self-satisfied.

The week crawls by and I show up for my first shift back, an insulting short waste of one, but I’ll take what I can get. Chef is sitting out back playing some idiotic game when I roll up.

“Welcome back, you drinking again?” Since most people haven’t bothered to visit me they’ve had to rely on social media to keep track of my life. I haven’t made a public matter of my slip back into the world of my vices yet.

“Yep, cigarettes too.”

“Thank God.” He breathes, clicking off his iPhone. He’d make hell of a support group sponsor; good thing I’m not looking to join one.

“Hey Doug!” Luke yells as I walk in the back door. They promoted him out of the pit and onto the oven in my absence, not sure on what merit; kids basically a snot nosed turd with delusions of wit. “How was your vacation?” I’m fairly certain he thinks that shit eating grin on his face make him look clever.

“Tell you what, I’ll go ahead and break your knee. Then, I’ll drop a three-year old off at your house and you can tell me how much of a vacation it is, asshole.” So this is how we’re gonna start it off. Fine we’ll play it hard.

I spend the two and a half hours allotted to my schedule doing menial prep work, verbally sparring with my coworkers who missed how good I am at it, and telling these guys, who’ve obviously stepped it up oh so much, what they were forgetting to do; what with us planning on doing tens of thousands of dollars in business this weekend and all. As I’m wrapping everything up we’re looking good going into tomorrow.

The manager comes up and asks, “So you think you got your bearings back?”

What an ass bag. “I broke my knee, not my skull. I could do this type of work with on arm.” It’s true, I once worked the grill with my arm in a sling for more than a week. “I could have done it from home, except it’s not legal.”

He laughs nervously and I clock out. I return to the comfort of my front stoop where I ice both my knee and several glasses of scotch and water. Tomorrow starts the main event and I need to make sure I’m properly hung over for it.

In a sick, sad way, it feels good to be back.

Cut Loose

This is a continuation of Fall, which is a Memoir.

It has been, at this point, close to four months since my injury and I am tired. Tired of using my cane, and wearing the brace to hobble my way through this socioeconomic blight of a neighborhood, down to the convenience store that is five blocks away, bright and early, and fully hung, over three mornings a week to catch the bus out to my physical therapy and then to hurry across several lanes of traffic to make it to the bus back when I am done. I am sorely tired of leaning on my daughter’s stroller as I limp a mile and a half each way, several times a week to the grocery store to pick up what limited provisions I can carry on my back. I am tired of being the one waiting up for my significant other to get home from work; even the slight hint of irony to our role reversals just pisses me off more.

Therapy for my knee has become more aggravating. One recent pool session involved playing race the clock as the water slowly drained out so they could fix the aquatic treadmill; the device that is supposed to be an integral part of my treatment and yet has been out of service since the day before my first appointment. Upon my arrival for what has turned out to my final encounter with Jude and the pool the treadmill was working but, it turns out to be almost unnecessary due to how far along I am in my recovery anyway. What is perhaps even more annoying, my last land appointment my therapist was absent and so I was left in the care of someone who actually listened to my concerns and made an attempt to involve himself as I did my exercises, all while handling two other patients and never once fidgeting with his fancy new smart phone nor going and hanging out at the desk in the middle of the gym. This only reinforces my opinion that my regular guy is an irreparable douche with a bush broom attached to his upper lip. All of this while my anxiety is growing over the tiny little fact that my limited insurance is about to top out on how many of these oh so extremely therapeutic appointments are going to be paid for.

With all of these things in mind I go to my evaluation at the orthopedic clinic that is handling my case. The same as always Physicians Assistant scowls at me because I am still using my cane which I was presented with the last time I saw him. On that previous visit he tried to ream me because I could barely flex my knee at all despite having been to therapy a grand total of once, and now I have to show how far I have come since. Standing with my back to the wall and holding on to the back of a chair for balance I slowly raise my emaciated leg, I force my foot farther and farther back towards the wall despite the stiffness and pain. My weeks in the vice like contraptions in the physical therapy room have paid off as I manage to eek out the ninety degrees that is required for the PA’s satisfaction. He tells me I can sit down and he scampers off with my latest set of x-rays to go see his master, the actual doctor in charge of my case.

It seems it is another busy day for the clinic and my attendant doesn’t return for half an hour. When he returns I am told the good news, the thing I have wanted the most since I started coming to this building. I am getting out of the brace. I can hardly believe it at all. I find myself excitedly asking about how much longer before I can stop using the cane and get back to my job at the restaurant.

He says, “Right away, you can take that brace and cane home and burn them, Dr. Vlasic says to cut you loose.”

And just like that I am ticked off all over again. “Cut me loose.” This phrase should have been a great relief to me. Instead, I what I hear is that some jackhole of a doctor whose name sounds like a brand of pickles and hasn’t talked to me or even looked at me once since the second or third day after I woke up in the hospital, who may have a piece of paper in his files that lists my occupation as a cook is letting his testy little minion tell me that I have been dismissed from their collective presence and I am free to figure out on my own how I am supposed to return to work with what limited mobility I have. I am not their problem anymore, that is what is really be explained here in not so many words. I am a poor person, with the type of insurance that poor people have and that is not going to last very much longer so I am being “cut loose” before they are stuck trying to squeeze money from my limited personal finances instead.

At the end of the day I am left with a certifying that I am fit to return to my job that hastily scrawled by someone who’s probably closest experience to what I do for a living is that the have at one point eaten in a restaurant, and the kind of deep seeded anger and depression that could almost be mistaken like optimism from the outside. I manage to shove the accursed and by this time foul-smelling brace into my back pack and then, out of habit, lean on my cane as I make my way past the reception desk to the elevators. I have a bus to catch and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a one way ride this time.

Therapy : What are your goals for treatment?

This is a continuation of Fall.

I arrive at physical therapy, enter the locker room, take off my shoes and socks, unstrap my brace, and change into my swim trunks; a time consuming process with little a knee that bends like there is a steel rod running through it. I enter the pool room and see that Jude, the PTA in charge of the pool, is still occupied with the older woman with the bad dye job and entirely too vocal opinions about things she little informed of; the cupric hue of her hair and the abrasive drone of her voice confirms that it is Monday morning. I have started drinking again and despite my efforts to conceal it I know the smell of cheap stale beer is escaping through my pores; I can’t really bring myself to care. Jude begins the usual assortment of questions by asking if I have taken any pain killers and what my pain level is. I like Jude, he’s a good guy who really likes people or if nothing else good at pretending that he really likes people; either way it makes him well suited for his job. We’ve gotten to know each other fairly well over the past few weeks, his family is from Haiti, but he grew up largely here in Florida, his dad is a chef, etc. I think he likes me, even if only due to the fact that I am not one of the regular remnants of the baby boom he has as clients, who always seem to know more about what they should be doing for treatment than someone who clearly has studied it professionally. I have, however, grown tired of these particular questions; I have repeatedly explained to him that I stop using any medications at least four hours prior to therapy so I can take some right after we’re through to fight the inflammation that results. I find the second question always perplexing. I am supposed to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten, I always feel like I am playing some sort of  guessing game as I have only three levels of pain on my own yardstick:

  1. No pain.
  2. Pain I can tolerate.
  3. Get me to a god damned hospital!

Today I arbitrarily pick three out of ten, I haven’t really noticed him change my routine based on my answer.

I am early today, as directed by the mustache called Brent, or Trent, or whatever, in charge of my treatment. I am now supposed to start off every therapy session by using The Flexinator for at least fifteen minutes. This medieval contraption is essentially a vise that pushes my foot up towards my hip forcing the knee to bend, breaking up the internal scar tissue left over from surgery; the best part is that I have to manually crank it up there with a lever, instilling the illusion of control of how fast I might regain normal motion in my joint, increasing the likely hood that someone like myself would push their level of discomfort further and further in the naive hope that is was doing them good. Torquemada would be proud . I wonder why they never ask me about pain after I spend my time with this machine?

The water in the pool is just below body temperature and helps soothe the ache the torturous device has conjured in my knee; the underwater treadmill is still broken, as it has been since the day before I started my pool sessions. So, instead, I walk the length of it first forward and then backwards, the furious headache and sore muscles from the hangover I have makes keeping my balance a tough challenge. Today I am practicing standing on one leg with my eyes closed. Jude finds it amusing that when I attempt to do this with my uninjured left leg that I manage to spin a full three hundred sixty  degrees while attempting to maintain my balance without knowing. While I am concentrating on my exercises Jude asks, “What are your goals for treatment?”

So it’s going to be this kind of day. I have reached a point of dealing my knee where keeping a positive a positive frame of mind is just to exhausting and now I can only hope that my attempts at paying lip service to questions such as these aren’t as transparent as they sound. To be honest I don’t even hear the answers that I give the therapists, nurses, and physician’s assistants that ask them anymore. It doesn’t help approach that I haven’t seen anyone with the letters MD after their name since I left the hospital, if they can’t be bothered to care why should I. So, in lieu of my actual verbal response to this tired old query I only hear my internal dialogue.

“I want to jump up out of this god damned pool, grab my cane, beat you to death with it and then be able to leg it, full speed away before the cops get here. I want to walk, I want to run, I want to jump. I look out of the floor to ceiling windows on the other side of the pool at the land therapy room and see all these other jack assed, shit bags on treadmills and stationary bikes and I want to be them, instead of dicking around in this piss warm water like a god damned little kid. I want to never have to strap on that fucking ugly, sweaty, and cumbersome articulated contraption of a brace ever again! I want to kick that relic of The Inquisition that I am killing myself on three times weekly, until it is smashed in a million pieces! I want to never have to hobble on in here again, or watch that mustachioed douche bag fiddle fuck around with his iPhone! That, my friend, are my goals for treatment!”

I don’t say any of this to Jude, because I like him and he is good at his job, and none of this is his fault.

Therapy : One On Land, Two On Water

This is a continuation of Fall.

I wake up, I pry the three year old off of me; she has insisted on co-sleeping with us, again. This would be fine right now as it’s winter and this apartment has more holes in it than a colander, the extra body heat is welcome. The shit part of this arrangement isn’t the lack of privacy it’s the fact that my right leg is still extra sensitive from being fresh out of the cast that has shielded it for the last couple of months, and she manages to kick me in the knee several times a night; the one with the screws in it.

This morning my left leg has a sharp pain running up and down it, I assume that it’s just a cramp and force my way up and out of bed. Fumbling for one the damned crutches I make my way out of the bedroom and travel to the other end of the domestic hallway. Calling where I emerge a living room would be funny except I keep getting told the same joke everyday, It is more like having a foyer attached to your bathroom. My wife is in the section of this area best described as a kitchen, making breakfast for all of us. Today I am going to need my strength.

It’s my first day of physical therapy today. I am nervous. I haven’t walked without my leg in some sort of contrivance since I fell in January. I know that today I am going to have to lose the brace for at least part of it. This is a hard thing for me to imagine at this point; on the few times since that day that I have seen my naked leg it is remarkable how emaciated it looks, it is only a third of the size of the left leg and that is probably a kind estimate. When I move it in the limited capacity that I am able it still feels awkward and alien, not at all like it is really any part of me; it’s more like another being willing to do what I ask but it just doesn’t speak the local language. I have my doubts that it will support my weight and I am terrified to find out.

I have my choice of bus routes to the sports medicine facility that I have been approved for. I have My choice of either a long, contrived and winding way through the unknown areas of a college campus with several transfers or a shorter more direct path that only requires use of two buses but includes hobbling  my way across four lanes of traffic and a strip mall’s parking lot to get to the second stop. Both have the potential to be a huge pain in the ass. I opt to leave early for the shorter route, in case I miss the transfer bus this will give me an extra half hour to catch the next one. I took the longer one for my last orthopedic appointment and it just made me mad by the time I got there.

I manage to arrive early for my appointment and try to fill the time with the out of date magazines supplied to me. Mostly old copies of The New Yorker, I’m not really reading them just fidgeting. I make mental note to bring a book next time. Eventually I am buzzed back into the gym like cavern behind the solid wood doors where I am greeted by a man with a mustache that reminds me of Officer Dangle, if someone forced him to wear cargo pants. I explain my concerns about my knee and confess to being more than a little nervous about using my leg without the brace, he makes a lame joke about wanting me to climb a tree. I climb onto one of the tables and he takes a measurement of my ability to bend my knee, I am not sure if appalling is a number but it should be in this case.

The remainder of the session is him giving me brief instruction on stretches and isometric exercises, intermingled with him running off to dick around with his iPhone at the main desk while I attempt them not quite sure if it’s right or not. I think about saying something but given the level of interest his coworkers are exhibiting in his fancy new gizmo I doubt it will do any good. The exercises leave me tired and sore, I wonder if this is a positive sign.

My knee is iced while he prints out blurry copies of instructions for stretches to do at home. I am told that I would be a good candidate for therapy in the pool, and he introduces me to the guy who does this. I read this as, “Let me make you someone else’s problem.” The therapist tells me it is probably best if I still use both crutches for now. I am sent on my way to catch my bus stop and am told to stop back to get my full therapy schedule when I come in for my follow-up with the orthopedist.

Later that week I am berated by the Physicians Assistant in the clinic for still using my crutches and for not being able to bend my knee back far enough. Apparently one therapy session should have been enough to go from zero to ninety degrees. After realizing that I actually have some sort of insurance that is paying for all of this he calms down and provides me with a shiny new cane.

Downstairs I meet with Physical Therapist Dangle, I think his real name is Trent and am fairly certain I am not going start liking him anytime soon, I know for sure that his mustache is annoying the crap out of me. He tells me that I will need three therapy sessions a week for the next eight weeks. One on land, and Two on water. Two more months of my life being on hold. Two whole months of looking at his stupid ass mustache. Life is peachy.

Awkward Steps

This is a continuation of Fall.

The buzzing of the saw sends cruel, teasing vibrations up and down my whole body. The cutters banter back and forth about who operates the saw the fastest. I am not sure of their consensus but who ever it is must have the day off, this is taking forever. This marks the second time I have been in the cutting room since my surgery and I hope it to be my last.

With a soft cracking sound, and a blast of cool air, I can see it now. The white, atrophied thing with the clumsy scar running through the middle, taking up most of my vision. It is my leg or what my leg has rotted into over the past months.After this long I feel a highly disassociated from it, I’ve come to know it more as a useless turd, wrapped in a dark blue fiberglass shell that I was forced to drag around whenever I need to be somewhere. If I was poetically inclined I might think of this in terms of cocoons and moths and other shit like that but, I’m not.

My emaciated limb now rests in the back half of the cast supported by a stirrup. The front half lays next to me propped in the corner with the crutches. Those fucking things again, they’ve long since stopped hurting when I use them, but just looking at the exhausts me. Unconsciously, I flex my ankle and accomplish no movement but, manage to experience excruciating pain as I attempt to use long immobilized tendons. The absence of the upper portion of the cast makes me very aware of the air conditioning. The Physicians Assistant walks into the cutting room.

He’s friendly enough in that rushed professional sort of way that lets you know that he has dozens of cases to see to in the next hour and if he could just get you taken care of he’ll be more than happy to tick off the box next to your name and you can get on with whatever it is that you do when his presence is not required. He asks me how I’ve been? How’s my pain level? How I’m doing on my meds.

I am very specific when I explain; I have been in a cast that makes most activity uncomfortable and sitting on the toilet an acrobatic stunt, I’ve been in a lot of pain obviously, but I am managing it well, and that I’m fine on my painkillers that I have been using  as little as possible because; they fuck with my mood, make me unable to concentrate, and they keep me from being able to shit, which is no good for anyone’s mood. I believe using in total honesty when it comes to dealing with these medical types.

He just nods and scribbles something on his clipboard and tells me he is going to go ahead prescribe me more pain medicine anyway. Just Lortabs this time, a bit of a step down from the usual seemingly endless supply of Oxycodone. Also he wants me to switch from ibuprofen to acetaminophen for inflammation for some bullshit reason that I gather has something to do with my liver.

Great, more pills I don’t want to take, good thing I’m an honest man I know a lot of people who would shit solid gold bricks if they knew the mountain of pharmaceuticals I am sitting on. It’s a tempting idea, given my lack of income at the moment, but doing time for a felony of that magnitude is not the way I want this to go. My leg is strapped to the newly sawn-in-half cast with an ACE bandage and I am instructed to crutch my way through the labyrinthine halls of the orthopedic clinic to the X-ray room.

It strikes me as odd, how a place that treats people who can’t walk isn’t designed with them in mind. Several films are taken while the elderly radiologist babbles on about how she is just getting over a cold and her daughters school/wedding/funeral or whatever the hell she’s saying. I don’t think she realizes that I can’t hear her when she is behind the glass window where the controls to the camera are. I don’t care enough to follow along at any rate but, I nod and smile at her any way. When we are through she helps me off the table and I am sent hobbling on my way to wait outside the cutting room until the PA catches up with his workload. When he finally scurries by he gets someone lower down on the ladder to get me moved into a small consultation room. Here I wait some more.

Eventually he figures out what room I am in, and shows me one of the films they took of my knee. A couple of wires and a screw. That’s it, that’s what all of this is about.

 I fracture my patella in three places and that’s what I’ve got for a memento. A couple of wires and a screw. Well two screws actually, He lets me know that I can’t see the other one in this film. Good news though, I’m staying out of the cast this time.

They order me fitted for a brace, and write me up for some physical therapy appointments. They take a few notes on how much mobility I have in my joint, it turns out to be basically none. They strap the brace on me and bring me my shoes and discharge papers. The PA walks out with a definite air of one who has fulfilled his obligations and shuts the door with a gentle click. I am left alone.

Sometime later the door opens and, much to the surprise of one of the clinic workers, I am still in there, crying. I can’t bend my knee far enough to get my shoe on, and trying to do it is causing me unbearable pain. She brings me some tissues, puts my shoe on for me. As she helps me stand up, I get a gentle reminder to try and walk heel to toe, it’ll take some time to remember how to do it. I get myself under control and head to the reception desk for checkout. I never did manage to thank her for helping me.

A brief elevator ride later I am out the front doors.  I am running late so I’ll have to set up my therapy appointments over the phone after I get home. Using only one of the accursed crutches for support  I use short, awkward steps to  cross the street in time to catch the last bus home. It’s not much but I am walking under my own power again and it makes me feel better than I have in months.