There's a park across the road from my house. Straight across. 50 paces at most. I've been there twice since we moved here 18 months ago. I watch the neighbourhood kids ride their bikes and argue over who's turn it is next for the swings. Others walk their dogs every night. The lady with the two golden boxers that prance and bound. The older couple with the tiny white puff balls assured they own the world. That one guy who refuses to leash his dog and starts the raised hackles and lunging.
I envy them. The normalcy of life. The ease with which they walk. It's a chore for some. You can see it on their taut faces and hunched shoulders. Especially on the cold nights. Of which we have many of late. Winter is biting and walking at dusk is not a pleasantry. I don't need to see their faces, hidden beneath scarfs, flipped collars, beanies and tucked chins. Bodies are contorted to their smallest in a hopeless attempt to avoid notice of cutting wind and sharp air. Pace is quickened lured by waiting heaters and warm meals. All of them have one thing in common. They are unaware of the gift that they experience.
Walking isn't something I ever really thought about. I just did. I got up. Moved my legs. And off I went. I walked around shopping centres. With my dog. Though the NGV. Across Vietnam. I thought about it about as much as I thought about my ability to be independent. Which is never. Then I became ill and walking became complex and independence faded.
On a bad day I cannot walk. Mr Grumpy has picked me up off the couch on more than one occasion my legs little more than useless lumps of flesh. Other times they crumple beneath me. I have crawled around my house. From bed to bathroom and couch. I have moved from chair to chair to chair throughout my house. On good days I can walk a little. But my limbs fatigue. As distance and time increase I am reduced to little more than shuffle. I watch my feet as I walk and hear them them scrape slowly across the ground beneath my sensible soles. My knees stop bending and my muscles start to forget how to coordinate. I end up at a snails pace. Exhausted. Trembling. On a good day.
I don't tend to walk anywhere alone. My confidence is shot. In my honest moments I know I'm unsafe. I know that I'm a fall risk. I know. I now know I am a fracture risk should I fall. I know. But I long to walk alone.
I have a wheelchair, Vera, but I can't self propel. I am bound not to the chair, but my weakened limbs. Nearly 8 months later I am bound by an OT referral and review that are yet to eventuate. I am bound by a lack of funds that mean I am unable to upgrade to independence without subsidies and referrals.
Last week I had a Fuck It moment. I went for a walk. I was home by myself. There was no discussion. No one to talk me out of it or suggest they come along. I just did.
Don't think. Do.
I grabbed Francesca, my walking stick. Wrapped a scarf around my neck and stumbled out the door. I steadied myself on the edge of the house and let my body find some sense of equilibrium. Let go and walked.
(It's up there in the top left corner. A square smudge of blue-grey.)
The local magpie family sit in the road ahead. The same family that take up residence on the fence and taunt Freyja with their warbling chorus and flapping of wings. Just out of reach. Ignoring her barks and excitement. Occasionally they fly up in a burst only to land a mocking one metre further down the fence.
They swoop each other in play. Sing and glide from light post, to fence to tree and road. As a group they rise from the bitumen to land in bushes and bare branches as I approach. Only to land behind me once more as I pass their roost.
Watch the dip. The glide. The bickering. The song.
And then I was stepping up on the rough walkway. Overturned earth and weeds of construction. The pile of car window glass and lolly wrappers. Touching the cold blue-grey metal and the High Voltage sign. Unbending resisting fingers to lay my hand flat against the dusty paint.
Metal against my back I looked back at my house. Ragged breaths waiting to be caught. So close but so far away. And so pleasing. A rest. A stumble and false start. And then back I went.
The same magpie clan warbling on the fence. Singing as I continued my slow and unsteady steps.
A moment of "this was not a good idea, Michelle," as my blood pressure started to dive and my legs tremble. But stubbornness and an overwhelming desire not to faceplant in the middle of the street can work wonders. I have no desire for a moment's independence to be trampled by strangers picking me up off the road.
The wind crisp. The sky grey. Glorious.
Don't think Do. Don't think Do.
I stumbled across the word 'Ukiyo' the other day. The floating world. "living in the moment." That's where I exist most of the time. Where I exist in walks that thought and planning would otherwise tell me no. Ukiyo. The perfect word. Do and enjoy it. Do free of the bothers of life and broken bodies.
I made it back to the house. Opened the door and slide down to the tiles. I made it. I did it alone. And no one was there to reprimand or fuss. Well except for a Great Dane who thought that I had left for ever and was overjoyed at my return, and concerned that I was lying crumpled on the tiles.
I did it.
It wasn't a chore. It was icy cold but I didn't care. And I was fully aware of the gift.
(Resistant facial muscles make a smile hard, especially on the left side of my face.
But sometimes the effort and post smile pain is worth it.)
You ask me why I like to dance
And you ask me why I like to sing
And you ask me why I like to play
I got to get my kicks some way
(High Voltage, AC/DC, 1976)