September 23, 2019
This past weekend marks two months since Sandy’s stroke. We think it happened Friday, July 19, when she experienced numbness in her left arm as we drove to Pennsylvania. The next day she went to the ER, was admitted, and spent six days in the ICU. Since we’ve been home we’ve tried sporadically to walk, but the heat and general tiredness usually got to us. Each morning she checks her blood pressure—it’s up, then it’s down.
We’ve moved forward. This week we got out nearly every day, around 5:30 AM. It’s pitch dark. I wear a headlamp, she carries a flashlight. We head up our street, past the homes of neighbors we know and then those borderline-shabby rentals at the far end of the block.
Sandy has gotten stronger, now able to climb the Paxton Street grade without stopping. We turn right onto Colby Drive, the main street through this neighborhood. During morning rush-hour drivers cut through from Old Bridge Road, the six-lane east-west artery, to Minnieville Road, the north-south spur, so they can jump on I-95.
On Colby we can hear the whooshing of the fast movers in the I-95 high-occupancy toll, or HOT lanes. As we walk, traffic is light but steady and fast, no one actually drives 25 MPH. They don’t want to see pedestrians. We’d like to hike the street but stick to the sidewalks.
Walking is recommended for older folks as a way of maintaining basic fitness, losing weight, or just airing out brain cells. It burns fewer calories than running or more intense fitness programs, but let’s face it, walking is easier. You don’t need special gear or even sneakers. You can walk on a treadmill at a gym, which quickly gets monotonous, and no one sticks with monotonous exercise. It’s better outside.
When you walk you can talk. We rehash last week’s trip to Georgia and South Carolina, what we enjoyed, what we didn’t. The subject of where we would go if we fixed up the house and sold it always comes up. We visited Easley, S.C., a cute place with a nice downtown and its own walking trail, but otherwise another spot on the map that didn’t grab us.
I mention Educated, by Tara Westover, which our daughter loaned me. I finished it in two days, it’s that kind of book, the memoir of a young woman raised in a fundamentalist Mormon family who didn’t go to school but haphazardly educated herself enough to pass the ACT and get into BYU. She earned a PhD at Cambridge, but over time became estranged from her possibly disturbed parents. The book has won rave reviews, but also raised some questions: after all, a memoir may settle scores, but still is only the author’s view. Then I ask: how do you write a memoir at age 32?
I’m still running. On Saturday I volunteered at a 12-hour trail event at Prince William Forest Park, near Quantico—runners follow a 6.5-mile trail course as many times as they want for as long as 12 hours. I signed people in, then ran a nice loop myself. On Thursday I went six road miles with our THuG running group. We start together but they move out ahead, I chug along. I could train harder, but my mind is on other things.
After a half-mile we make a turn onto Minnieville, the traffic roars by. We got onto our favorite topic, ideas for going somewhere after my kidney surgery, now set for October 10. We talk about leaving town almost as much as we talk about doctor’s bills. We’re invited to a cousin’s wedding in Virginia Beach on the 26th. Then I want to visit my cousin Eugene and his wife Jean, who live on a farm on Long Island, N.Y. Just this week they sent me a jar of their homemade strawberry preserves with a card: “Take care of yourself and each other. Love and God Bless.” Meant a lot to me. We started eating the preserves. Exquisite.
So we’ll look at that. Then I got the idea of driving to Niagara Falls. It would be about eight hours, probably nine for us. Or Baxter State Park in Maine, where we could see the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail; my idea of symmetry, since we saw the southern end two weeks ago. That would be around 15 hours, or several days round trip, the way I drive. But it’s already fall, driving into snow country in late October might not be smart.
Dawn starts to paint the sky as we move up Minnieville. The earth still is dark, but the trees and houses on the east side of the road are silhouetted sharply against the pink horizon. The sky above is deep blue, the moon still is bright, but the blueness fades to a pastel as it meets the early sunlight. The early chill is gone, we’ve probably gained ten degrees. Sandy ties her jacket around her waist, but I’m still in my hooded sweatshirt.
We pass the commuter parking lot at Tackitt’s Mill, where the “slugs” gather to catch rides to the Pentagon and Crystal City, heading for their cubicles. Cars are lining up. I “slugged” for something like 25 years, Sandy for five. Those are bittersweet memories. Retirement is a financial rat race, but it’s infinitely nicer than the rat race in the bowels of federal contracting. We pick up our pace.
We cut across the Tackitt’s parking lot and turn onto Old Bridge to face rush hour head-on, a parade of hundreds of cars, headlights in our faces, inching up the hill. Our talk shifts a bit, how are we doing, what’s the plan for the day. We hardly ever have one, but the chores pile up. Some days we get to Mass. I have to weed-whack the backyard, maybe paint the bathroom cabinet—little things we used to put off. The big thing: we got the walk done. Tomorrow, another chance to walk—to think, plan, maybe make life better.