A Story About a Sandwich

IMG_1153I used to frequent the sandwich shop in my building nearly twice a week like clockwork. I always ordered “The Cyclist” on marble rye. The kind man behind the counter making my sandwich always greeted me with a smile as I picked out the slice of strawberry cake with the most icing. On my way out, I always grabbed a small stack of napkins along with a plastic fork and knife (the latter being necessities to keep the avocado from oozing out from between the slices of bread, with help from the Thousand Island dressing).

I still remember the clicking sound my black pointy high heels made against the beige tile as I ventured back to my office, with my Cyclist on marble rye and strawberry cake in tow.

Over the years, my visits to the sandwich shop dwindled…and eventually stopped. As walking became more difficult, it became easier to use my wallet or waistline as an excuse not to venture out for lunch.

Until today.

Today, I was in need of a quick bite, and a sandwich seemed easy. It had been several years since I had “The Cyclist on marble rye,” and I was looking forward to visiting my old stomping ground with help from Big Red.

Yet everything about today’s visit reminded me that things had changed…and it wasn’t just because I opted out of the strawberry cake.

Today, the sound of my heels clicking against the beige tile was replaced by the clicking sound made by my scooter with each spin of the wheels (a rather annoying sound resulting from an encounter with a sidewalk months earlier).

Today, the kind man behind the counter greeted me with a smile, but then asked, “What happened to you? The last time I saw you, you were walking. Well, you’ll get better.”

Today, I forgot to grab a fork, knife and stack of napkins, because tears began to form in my eyes. This was neither the time nor the place to engage in a conversation about my health, much less with “the guy behind the counter.”

Oh no, the avocado is going to ooze out now.

Today, I didn’t bother checking to see that my sandwich was mistakenly on a wheat bun, and not actually on marble rye, because I wanted to get the hell out of the sandwich shop.

Today, it hit me like a ton of bricks…things were different.

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My Affair With a Grocery Store Loaner Scooter

grocery largeIt had been nearly a year since I stepped foot in a grocery store. Between my recovery last year from a bad fall, followed by pneumonia, my husband became a grocery shopping pro. He’s suggested on a number of occasions that I join him by using the store’s rent-a-scooter (it’s easier than pulling my scooter out of the trunk and assembling it), but I figured my search for gummy worms would just slow him down. Yet when I recently offered to host a baby shower for a close friend, I ended my abstinence from grocery shopping and cheated on Big Red with the Kroger  loaner scooter. Not only was asking my husband to do my dirty work unfair…I was also concerned we’d end up with mini pizzas and Reese’s peanut butter cups as hors d’oeuvres.

I fought off the decision to use a loaner scooter for a long time. I viewed the scooters almost as public urinals…minus the stench. They lacked the cleanliness and sparkle that Big Red had, and who knows how many behinds graced those dingy seats over the years. (Yes, I am a spoiled priss and they just seemed clunky and groady.) But I needed a quick fix so I took one for the team.

After choosing the least groady scooter, I was off! …albeit at a snail’s pace. I expected the same burst of speed that Big Red delivers, but the loaner lacked Big Red’s bells, whistles and speed. (Perhaps Kroger doesn’t want riders to loose control and crash into displays.)  But what the loaner scooter lacked in speed, it gained in size. Maneuvering the scooter was like driving a boat (more like a hooptie), and Big Red was more like a Mini Cooper; I wondered how this hooptie would maneuver in the aisles.

We began our shopping adventure by checking out the gourmet cheese selection. When I realized I passed the smoked gouda, I put my loaner in reverse when suddenly, “BEEEP! BEEEP! BEEEP!” blared out so loudly that I’m pretty sure the shoppers in the frozen foods section on the other end of the store heard me. The sound resembled the warning signals that sound loudly from the fork lifts that roam Home Depot’s aisles. I was so embarrassed that I vowed not to back up again in the store…even when it meant riding in a circle around the entire baked goods department to look at a selection that was four feet behind me.

Finally, it was time to test out my rental in the aisles of the store. As I turned into the aisle, I was pleasantly surprised that the massive basket jutting out from the front did not sideswipe the corner display. I made my way halfway down the aisle before realizing I needed to turn around. Since reversing was not an option, I went for the U-turn…success! My loaner was a hooptie, but turns out it was a Cadillac of hoopties. I took a break and a made a couple 360’s in the aisle, just because I could.

My moment of appreciation ended quickly when I found myself trapped in an aisle at a funny angle. Unable to move forward or make a U-turn, I realized my only option out was reverse. Once again, “BEEEP! BEEEP!” The sound was so loud in such a narrow space that it startled the guy in front of me who was concentration on his search for chunky peanut butter. As I reversed, we heard similar beeps reverberate from around the store, as if the reverse function served as a GPS tracking device for Kroger’s scooters.

After making our way through the store and wine section unscathed, I concluded that my fling with the loaner scooter was not so bad. I’m now willing to extend my affair with the scooter and consider a relationship of convenience to occasionally help out with shopping. Now I just need another excuse for a party!

The Things I Miss….

I miss being able to stretch my arms up high to the sky.

I miss swing dancing with my husband.

I miss being able to jump, and for a brief second having nothing but air between my feet and the ground.

I miss the feeling of euphoria from a good, hard workout.

I miss the blisters from my toes rubbing against my pointe shoes.

I miss the feeling of cold grass under my feet.

I miss the ease of wearing flip flops.

I miss the shape of my calves when wearing 4″ heels.

I miss my 4″ heels.

I miss the feeling of a short flowy skirt brushing against my thighs on a hot summer day.

I miss dancing the night away with friends.

I miss a lot of things, but at least I can say I experienced them all.

Pimp My Ride

BM

While attending the recent Abilities Expo in Atlanta, I must admit that I became a little jealous of manual wheelchair users. Most vendors at the Expo sold accessories only for manual chairs and very few for motorized chairs or scooters. One vendor was selling neon motion lights for manual chairs, while another was selling spinner “rims.” I’m not stuck in 1994 so I didn’t actually want to purchase neon motion lights, but I really wanted to accessorize my unwanted accessory in a way that reflects my personality. A candy apple red scooter with a horn that sounds like a wailing cat doesn’t quite cut it.

Then I saw the dude with the huge upper body and license plate on his wheelchair that said, “BEAST.” “Now THAT,” I thought, “was AWESOME.”

As awesome as it was, I knew having a license plate on my scooter that said “BEAST” was maybe not appropriate for my professional accounting work environment. Perhaps I should get one instead with my college nickname, “Big Momma.”

Oh by the way, at the suggestion of my closest friends, I’m changing the name of my scooter from “Little Red Jet” to “Big Red.” “Little Red Jet” is just not fitting for this Big Momma.

 

Practice Makes Perfect

hello-my-name-isIt’s taken me over 20 years to accept and say out loud that “I have muscular dystrophy.” The progression of my disease was so slow, and I would become acclimated to my modified way of walking, talking and moving my arms, so I would often forget I even had MD. Until I began having significant difficulty walking, I equated my experience living with this disease to living with a large, gnarly, prominent scar – it’s there, sometimes it might be uncomfortable, but you’d probably forget about it until you saw it in a mirror or got the “I wonder how he got that” stare from strangers. Because my disability was insignificant to me, I was never very comfortable talking about it. Having “that” conversation made it more of a reality, and I was perfectly happy living in my fantasyland of denial. Transitioning into a wheelchair, however, has forced me to accept my reality and become more comfortable with engaging in conversations about my health. I’m learning to accept and be comfortable in my new normal, but it’s definitely been a bumpy ride getting here (for me… and for everyone around me).

I’ve learned over the years that people never really outgrow the innate sense of curiosity they have as children (that same curiosity that embarrasses parents when their kids stare and point at someone who looks different and then yell “Mom, what’s wrong with that person?” loud enough for everyone in the grocery store check-out line to hear). As much as I tried to live in Denial Land, my facial weakness and inability to smile always invited inquisitive stares or comments from strangers that quickly brought me back to reality. I remember once shopping in a Miami mall in high school when a sales associate approached me first to offer assistance, until she asked, “What happened to you?” I responded that I had muscular dystrophy before she continued, “Oh, how is that different from multiple sclerosis?” My response was short and along the lines of, “I don’t know. I don’t have multiple sclerosis.” Maybe it was the look as though my eyes were going to shoot lasers at her head, but she finally realized I was not there to offer a neuroscience lesson and she walked away, leaving me in tears and back to my reality in the midst of the Macy’s Juniors department.

Once I learned not to fault people for being curious, I wanted to satisfy their curiosity and become more comfortable with opening up about my disability; after all, it wasn’t going anywhere any time soon, so there was no point in fighting it. A mentor in graduate school helped me meet my new goal by challenging me to talk about my disability with a certain number of strangers in one week. We discussed how initiating that conversation can help break the ice and help strangers get to know me easier. My husband encouraged me to take on this challenge and decided to take part in it as well. But determining just how to initiate the conversation was the real challenge.  If I wasn’t going to walk around with a nametag that says, “Hello my name is… Meredith and I have muscular dystrophy,” then when was the right time to bring it up? Somehow we determined the right time was at about 1:30 am at a hotel lobby after party following a friend’s wedding. With help from “liquid courage,” we marched outside to our fellow after-party-goers who were puffing on their cigarettes with one hand while sipping the remaining Bud Lights with another, when my husband announced, “Just in case anyone was curious, we want everyone to know that my wife has muscular dystrophy.” The Band-Aid came off and it was all downhill from there.

Seven years later, I’ve not quite mastered conversations about my health, but I know that practice makes perfect. At a recent visit to the park with my six-year-old twin cousins, who affectionately refer to me as their aunt, I expected that I might have that conversation since it was my first time sporting my scooter around the twins. (Side note: My twin cousins are not your average six-year-olds; I’m fairly certain they are going to be brain surgeons or run the country someday.) The questions sure came up as we left the playground and headed towards my car.

“Hey, that’s cool!” said one of the twins, referring to my scooter as the other snacked on seaweed chips and dried edamame (I am not making that up). I was comfortable discussing with the twins how I can still walk short distances such as within my house, for now, but if I go to a big place like a park then I need my scooter to help me walk. That’s when one of the twins asked the million dollar question…”Aunt Meredith, why can’t you walk?” I considered this question would likely come up, and I rehearsed what my answer would be, but for a moment I forgot the caliber of six-year-olds I was dealing with as I responded, “Can you fly? Well, just as you don’t have the ability to fly, I don’t have the ability to walk.” I knew immediately by looking at her face that my response was not going to satisfy her curiosity. I definitely underestimated the twins’ intellect, and perhaps I can use more practice.

As my six-year-old cousin begrudgingly accepted my weak answer and we continued to my car, which was parked in a handicapped spot, she continued, “Aunt Meredith, you are very lucky that you were able to park in a handicapped spot. There are always so few handicapped spots and people sometimes use them who really aren’t supposed to, so then people like you who really need them can’t use them.” At this rate, my cousins will be ready for that neuroscience lesson by age seven, and I’ll be ready to teach it.

Today’s Inspiration is Brought to You by the Letter “P”

Today’s Inspiration is Brought to You by the Letter “P”
South Peachtree Creek Trail

South Peachtree Creek Trail
Used with Permission from The Path Foundation

“P” stands for “Park.” Google defines “Park” as:

noun

1. a large public green area in a town, used for recreation.
“a walk around the park”

I knew that these lush green places called “parks” existed in Atlanta; I drive past several parks on my way to work, but it’s probably been over 10 years since I voluntarily stepped foot in one (excluding the kind of “park” that has rides and life-sized cartoon characters…and those places are neither lush, nor green…but I digress). A “large public” area that people “walk around” is the last place that anyone who has difficulty walking wants to go.

According to Wikipedia (so of course this must be accurate), Atlanta has 343 parks, nature preserves, gardens, and public spaces totaling 3,622 acres in all. That’s 3,622 acres I would have avoided at all costs:

  • 3,622 acres full of kids trying to learn how to ride a bike that can potentially plow me over.
  • 3,622 acres of lush grass that’s potentially hiding big rocks I could trip over.
  • 3,622 acres to travel until my knees feel weak and I lose my balance.

A surprise trip recently conceived by my hubs, to what I thought would be a small local dog park we’ve frequented in the past (for the record, I also don’t count a fenced-in area of soiled mulch to be considered a “Park” in the context of this post), began my experience with Atlanta’s 3,622 acres of parks…and it was magnificent!

On a beautiful 55 degree Sunday in January, we took Little Red Jet and our dog Butters to The Historic Old Fourth Ward Park, just one of the many parks I’ve passed on my way to work. As we strolled along to check out the beautiful frozen waterfall and skate park built with funds from the Tony Hawk Foundation, I realized I had found a new sense of peace—I was able to just enjoy nature and talk with my husband without having to stare at the ground in fear that I might trip on the tiniest rock or unevenness in concrete.

With 17 acres under our belt, we continued our exploration of the remaining 3,605 acres by visiting Mason Mill Park this past Sunday, once the weather peaked to a warm 68 degrees (yes, I’m attempting to make the Northern readers jealous). Once again, it was a peaceful experience, though I noticed a couple observations I’m inclined to share:

  • What’s up with women putting on full makeup and cute outfits to push baby strollers around ~50 yard circular concrete paths while holding their Starbucks lattes?  Just go to the mall.
  • Anyone in Atlanta not at church on a Sunday must be playing tennis.

We were about to give up on Mason Mill Park after strolling around the ~50 yard path and past the tennis court two times…until we came across the South Peachtree Creek Trail entrance hidden on the opposite end of the parking lot. Now THAT is lush and green!

Though we weren’t able to travel too far down the trail (Butters was exhausted), I am excited about my newly-found freedom to travel down the trail at any time with Little RJ. And I haven’t even begun to explore the Beltline!

Giving in to vanity to explore my surroundings and find inner peace is the best decision I’ve made yet. Now, if only I can find a cute pair of hiking boots to wear on our next trail adventure….

A “Crash” Course

Perhaps I should have practiced riding my new scooter around town before taking it on a work trip by myself, 3.5 hours away from home. But really, how complicated could it be? …or so I thought. I was simply focused on getting from point A to point B and had not at all prepared for the experiences that would accompany my new ride, much less read an instruction manual.

I had what you might consider a crash course in scooter riding, so I’ve decided to share a few observations and pointers based on my experiences:

1. No one is immune to “foot in mouth” syndrome. No matter the environment, whether at work or in a social setting, someone is bound to stick their foot in their mouth when in the presence of a shiny red scooter sitting in the corner. If you have such a burning sensation to crack a sophomoric joke, try not doing so in front of someone you just met. You never know who might actually be using it, or why.

2. The face of someone who realized they just stuck their foot in the mouth is absolutely priceless.

3. Do Not…I repeat…Do Not…drive a scooter downhill at full speed unless you are trying to be like Johnny Knoxville in an episode of Jackass. This is where the “crash” part of the course came in (No worries, Little Red Jet and I are fine!).

4. I am pretty sure that my scooter will not fit into the coat closet in a restaurant, but I’m willing to pay the 20-something little blond hostess 10 bucks to watch her hop onto the scooter and try driving it in.

5. Unless you want to recreate the scene of Austin Powers attempting a 3-point turn in a small space, just don’t even bother attempting to turn around in an elevator.

6. Somewhere along the way I developed some seriously thick skin…I may be growing a tortoise shell soon.

7. Driving a candy apple red scooter into a business event full of suits does not exactly scream, “I am a powerful business woman; hear me roar.” But pairing my suit with candy apple red shoes does make a pretty strong purr as a good second impression.

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