Philadelphia News & Search
One in an occasional series.
In the house we lived in for the past 42 years, a split level, there are 7 steps down and 7 steps up. If you need to go to the basement, that’s four more. Each way. Plus a warning: Mind your head.
I have embedded in my forehead a crease that I will take to my eternal rest. Every so often I would be distracted:
Now over the years my wife and I, plus assorted sons and grandsons and a great-grandson, have traversed the 7-7 route without serious incident. Ponder that. What are the odds?
How many miles have been stepped off by, say, daily household traffic?
Times 42 years.
Surely we must have reached Spock by now.
And then one bright and shining day I tripped.
Took a header. The Earth moved – I hoped it was due to something amorous but, alas, no such luck – just your every day garden variety pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you swan dive.
As I became less agile and the shadows lengthened, I became a moving hazard, the 7×7 route fraught with peril. I moved one deliberate step at a time, creeping along, feeling my way shaky and uncertain, pausing and inhaling. It dawned on me that I was a prisoner of sorts in my own house.
I teetered, began rocking back and forth, making false starts, trying to screw up my courage. On one harrowing occasion I stalled out halfway up, frozen, panic-stricken, crying out in a hoarse, rasping plea. There were, thankfully, people in the house . . . and it took three of them to pry me loose.
So we counter attacked. Risers were installed. Something with which to clutch on either side. Extra lighting. You’d have thought we were defending the Alamo. If I moved, there was immediate alert: Where you going?
None of your business. And I know, I know, you’re just protecting me from myself.
On All Fours
A friend passed this along, said it worked for his mother-in-law: Get down on your hands and knees on a step. Now go backward, gently. That takes the down part out of the equation – going up is easier than going down because there is nothing to fix on.
A confession: For most of my life I strolled up and down on escalators with ease, never giving a thought to the moving sidewalks and feeling sorry for those who gave them wide, skittish berth. And then quite without warning I found myself perched in front of one, frozen, unable to force myself to get on, my indecision creating a pedestrian backup.
I had become one of the very ones I had mocked, and I felt dizzy and barely escaped. In my ear I know I heard the familiar taunting of an old tormentor: Al, my Alzheimer’s nemesis – that slimy rat bastard.
To this day I can’t get on one, can’t even get close without feeling that queasy paralysis. Ah, well, after all, they say, its better for you to take the stairs anyway, right?
As long as you don’t trip.
And remember always our mantra in fighting Al:
Never give up
Eventually and unavoidably there came a meeting of the tribal council and it was raucous and contentious, just like family gatherings tend to be.
The subject was Downsizing.
Another word for Upheaval.
After nearly half a century of serving as the place you could always come home to, our family nest was deemed too large and unsafe for current occupants. Let’s find some of those leafy retirement digs, it was suggested.
Everything from there on was so much radio static. The current occupants, which would be the two of us, immediately dug in our heels. The word eviction was used frequently.
I’ll skip over the next several months about age and infirmity and the inevitable, about one side feeling betrayed and abandoned and ungrateful, and the other side feeling the sharp twinge of guilt, and the limp argument about no more lawn mowing and snow shoveling, etc. etc. The trump card was the specter of tripping and falling, etc. etc. The unassailable logic of what’s your birth date? Etc. Etc.
Glaciers melt faster.
But ultimately Logic won out.
Not by a lot.
We agreed to succumb, to abandon the nest.
And now came the hard part.
As I mentioned in an earlier journal, be prepared to cry.
The Long Goodbye is not for sissies. You are being torn asunder. Don’t fight it. A huge chunk of your life is disappearing, leaving only memories, and that is the cruel irony of Al and what he does, what he leaves, cobwebs and fog. So paper your new rooms with ID tags. And with each one, drop kick Al square in the groin.
The hardest part is rummaging through the crates and boxes, all the flotsam and jetsam accumulated over all those years, and deciding which stays and which goes. And you’re standing facing a window full of puppies and they’re asking you to be ruthless in your choosing.
Pass the tissues and the hankies.
The harsh reality of The Long Goodbye is that no matter how long and how fiercely you wish for it not to end, it must.
But wait … look there . . . up ahead. They’ve left a light on for us.
Maybe . . . just maybe … this won’t be so bad after all.
Next: Starting over. In a world without steps.
Bill is a retired Inquirer sports columnist and author of “Deadlines and Overtimes: Collected Writings on Sports and Life.” firstname.lastname@example.org
Philadelphia News & Search