party of one

So you find yourself, two years shy of forty, to be a grown woman who's still scared of bugs. And that fear leads you to have a clumsy accident, and you land yourself in the hospital with a severe foot sprain. And it hurts, oh my god it hurts so much, but you take a good hard look around, and you remind yourself that you don't know what suffering is. And you suck it up and smile and joke and you do what you have to do. You look online and find a company that will rent you a knee scooter and a hands-free crutch, so that you won't be entirely helpless for the next month and a half. And the company is called Goodbye Crutches! and it makes you laugh, both at the situation and at yourself.

And they send you these things, which come in a massive box that you push down the lobby ahead of you, hopping on one foot behind it. And there's a basket and a cup holder you can attach to the scooter, which you try to find funny, texting pictures of them to a friend, but which you secretly find depressing. They send you these things, along with weekly emails with subject headings like "How to Handle Depression During the Healing Process." They send you an actual greeting card in the mail that says "Get well soon!" and is signed in cursive by someone named Laura. And this small consideration, this unnecessary, extra touch of service almost reduces you to tears next to the mailbox where you stand. But you can't cry because you've hopped one legged over to the mail area, leaving your scooter parked by the elevator, and the other tenants are coming home and getting their own mail, and you feel ridiculous enough as it is hopping back and forth in front of them. So you don't cry and you throw the card away.

And you go to your follow up appointment, which is a week later than it should have been, because there haven't been any openings at the public clinic you've been referred to. And you splurge on a cab to get there, because while it's only about ten blocks up the road, you can't bear the thought of taking a bus and having to wait while the wheelchair lift is lowered slowly, beeping loudly, holding everyone up, so that you can hobble on with your crutches. And you joke with the cab drivers in front of the hotel up the street, who argue over whose vehicle will be easier for you to get in and out of. "No one wants me," you tease them. "No one wants to give the gimp a ride."

And you don't mind that they decide to send you to the furthest cab from you in the line of five, because it's first in the queue to take a fare. You don't mind that they just point you at it, instead of whistling and calling it over to pick you up. You don't mind at all, because the past two weeks have been an eye opener, in terms of learning how much people, in general, care about helping someone out who's in obvious need. You've had doors slam straight into your scooter, your crutches, and you yourself, as you try to navigate the entrance to your building, while people watch indifferently. You've nearly fallen over a dozen times, trying to work your way past people on the sidewalk who don't move an inch to let you pass.

You wonder if you've been inconsiderate in that way to others, in the past. You wonder if you yourself would have noticed, and helped, and held the door, or cleared space for someone, or if you would have ignored them. You hope not, but you suspect that you probably did, occasionally. And you pledge not to grumble the next time someone in an electric wheelchair almost clips Chaucer's foot as they whiz by, because now you understand the very important difference between the side of the sidewalk that is smooth, and the side that is torn up and uneven.

Now you understand, a little bit.

And instead of growing more bitter each time someone fails to help, you understand that thoughtfulness is not actually the baseline of humanity. That the baseline falls somewhere much, much lower. And rather than feeling resentful about this, you actually just feel an enhanced appreciation for the nice gestures of people, because you realize that they're the exception to the rule. And it doesn't really make you sad so much as determined to belong to that group.

And at the clinic, you fill out your paperwork. You fill out your name and address and medical history, and the relevant medical histories of your dead parents. And you know it's coming, even before your eyes reach it on the page, but you dread it all the same. And when you get to that section, the one titled Emergency Contact Information, you know you should be prepared for this, because it's probably the half-dozenth time in a year that you've had to face down this question without an answer. You know this, and other times it hasn't bothered you at all, but today it does. Today it picks up the crutch you've got balancing at the counter against you, threatening to throw you off balance yourself, because the counter is too smooth and the crutch has already gone crashing to the floor twice, startling the entire room of patients, one of whom scrambled both times to pick it up for you. It picks up the crutch, this stupid fucking question on a document full of other stupid questions, and it jabs that crutch straight into your stomach, except you don't feel the pain in your stomach, you feel it in your heart, because you don't have an answer.

Because you don't have an emergency contact.

So you pick one of your friends from downtown, someone who lives close by, whom you know wouldn't mind, and who'd be there to help you if you needed it, to drive you back home if something happened, if something went terribly wrong. You pick someone whom you know would say "Of course!" and be touched by your asking them permission to make them your emergency contact. But you know they'd feel pity for you, too. You know they'd probably, later that night, as they lay together in bed, tell their spouse what you had asked. What you had needed. What you don't have. And that spouse would have nothing to say, because what is there to say? Life sucks, parents die, people divorce, and sometimes a grown woman is at a loss for just who, in her life, is the best candidate to be next in line to help her should the need arise.

And as you wait almost an hour for your name to be called in a massive waiting room filled with low-income patients, wishing you'd thought to stuff a sweatshirt in your backpack, you remind yourself for the fiftieth time how lucky are. How much worse it could have been. It isn't as if the waiting room is some dramatic illustration of that - it's filled mostly with healthy looking young women and their rambunctious children - but you know yourself to be more fortunate than them in many ways, and you count your blessings.

And when the medical assistant walks you back and weighs you, measures you, and takes your blood pressure, you're unbothered by her impatience with you for forgetting your paperwork from the hospital, and the sidelong glance she gives your iPhone when you take it out to check the date of your last period. You don't take it personally, though you would have, once. Now you know she's just doing her job and her thoughts are probably a million miles away, and you are no one to her, you are not her problem, because she has problems of her own.

So you sit in the exam room and quiz yourself on French vocabulary while you wait for the doctor. And this calms you, and distracts you from that stupid form a few minutes ago, and keeps you from thinking about it, because really, it means nothing, you know. All the security in the world means nothing, you understand, because once you had security too, and it all went away in the blink of an eye. You know security is an illusion, and that anyone who relies on anyone else to keep them safe and happy and loved and fed and housed is a fool, because we are, at the end of the day, truly and utterly alone, and fate has a funny way of teaching us that in the harshest way possible. You know the difference between you and your married friends, between you and the people whose parents are still living is negligible, after all, because there are no guarantees that those things will stay that way, anyway.

You know that, because you've lived it.

So you don't think about it, and instead you think about how pretty the French words for weather are. TempĂȘte. Naugeux. Ouragan.

And when the doctor comes in and looks at your foot, and you see the consternation in her brow, the frown when she sees just how much bruising and swelling you still have, you brace yourself. You very quickly and brusquely tell yourself to keep it together, ask the right questions, and find out what needs to be done. And when she tells you that she suspects they might have missed something in the x-ray at the hospital, and that there may be a fracture in your foot, you concentrate on your breathing, because you don't want to cry in front of this beautiful young doctor, who is being so solicitous and gentle in her manner.

So you breathe and you ask about the worse case scenario, if there is in fact a fracture in your foot. And she tells you that depending on whether it's healing correctly or not, that you'd either need a cast or surgery. Surgery, she says, if it's not healing correctly and it needs to be reset. Surgery, she says, and you feel a black space in your stomach expanding, threatening to turn you inside out (emergencycontact), but you're tougher than fucking nails (emergencycontact), you've been through divorce, depression, and two deaths in the past three years (emergencycontact), you've survived way worse and you'll survive this, too.

And you get the information you need. You schedule an appointment the next day for an x-ray. And you thank the beautiful young doctor and you leave. And you carry your paperwork back down the hall in your teeth, because you didn't want to make the doctor wait while you fiddled with the tricky closure on your backpack. And when a staffperson leaves her desk and walks across the waiting area to hold the door for you, that's when the tears come.

But you hold them.

You hold the tears in the elevator, and you hold them as you step out of the clinic and realize that since you're on a one-way street, you'll have to either switch buses or make your way two blocks to the next two-way street, in order to get back home, which is where you want to be so badly, even though no one is waiting for you there except your dog. And you hold them as you spy a taxi at the hospital across the street, and you hold them as you race against a stoplight, almost tripping in front of rush hour traffic, to get to the taxi before it gets another customer. And you hold them when the taxi driver says sorry, he has another customer already. And you hold them when he says he'll come right back for you, if you don't mind waiting, because he isn't going far.

And you sit (still holding them) on the grass in front of the hospital entrance, and you breathe and try not to think about surgery, or never running again, or not having anyone to take care of you after being cut up on an operating table. You try not to think (still holding) about these things, because there is no point, the universe doesn't care, and all the worry in the world won't change the fact that there may be a fracture in your foot after all. And you think about how good the breeze feels, and you like the clanking of metal on the flagpoles in front of you, and you listen to the flags themselves, the whipping, snapping fabric, and how nice it sounds, like the sail of a ship. And you look around you and you notice what the breeze is doing to some tall ferns behind you, making them sway and dance and tip and bend. And that's when you realize you're not holding them anymore, the tears, but that it's okay, you can feel sorry for yourself and be scared a little bit.

No one will know unless you tell them.

And you watch as a woman in an electric scooter is escorted out and helped into a van. And since you're sitting on the ground, you can see, close up, the wheels of the chair, which are the size of a stroller's, but much thicker. And you stare at the mechanics of this machine, the metal guts of it which are all on the bottom, black tubes and pipes and gears, looking grimy with dirt and oil. And the woman in the chair looks very tired.

So you wipe your tears roughly, because now the taxi has come back, he's come back for you like he promised he would. And that's something. That's a help.

And when you get home, you're greeted with love, with undeniable love. And that's something, too.

And you pull out your laptop, because you need to write, to confess the good and the bad, the uglier sides of yourself and the secret fears you harbor. The cynicism and the hope and gratitude which sometimes is glossier on the outside than it really is, deep inside of you.

And afterward, you feel emptied a little bit, and a little bit better, too. Because you know people care, even if they aren't related to you by blood or by marriage. You know that while you're alone, that you occupy space in this cold, apathetic world as a party of one, that you are thought of with kindness, sometimes, by people whose kindness you've done nothing, really, to earn.

And that's something, too.