Then & Now
I watched the Super Bowl at a friend’s this year―perhaps you saw my video. It was the fourth (including my own) house I’ve entered atop my behemoth Permobil M3 wheelchair. I don’t often name inanimate objects, but “behemoth” is the best and only adjective I’ve found to describe it. And in T&T’s house last weekend, it felt especially appropriate.
Theirs is not a small house by any means, but my chair makes hallways, doorways, and bathrooms seem like they were designed for a different species. Because, of course, they were. Upright homo sapiens, a genus that now excludes me.
My parents drove me to their house in the wheelchair-accessible minivan I bought in the summer of 2020. Packed into the back was the 82-pound, foldable 12-foot aluminum ramp I bought on Wayfair only a week before. Further supplies included two automotive jack stands to provide extra stability at the ramp’s midpoint (an extra precaution despite its advertised 600-pound capacity), a power drill and a couple of screws to secure the ramp to the platform (an option that won’t always be there, however necessary), metal straws, a fork and spoon, and because I’d be spending the night, my electric toothbrush.
You didn’t know I spent the night. T&T live 45 minutes to an hour from our house, or more accurately―since they in fact live at the northern edge of the biggest city in the state, and we’re several miles down a dirt road near the southern border of Chittenden County―we live kind of far from them. Asking my (apologies in advance) elderly parents to drive out there twice in one day is already a lot; a post-game 11 pm pick up would be a nonstarter.
T&T (I’ve chosen to call them T&T to maintain relative anonymity; if you know, you know.) have a very comfortable convertible sofa with a thin, memory foam mattress on the main floor. I’ve slept there a handful of times. Each time in the past, on a Sunday or weeknight, I’ve had a manual wheelchair and accompanied T to his shop in the morning. After he made me a hearty breakfast; I have to drink water and eat breakfast in the morning.
Most recently he hoisted me into his jacked-up Tundra and lifted my little lightweight transfer chair over his head into its ridiculously hard to access bed. But when accompanied by the Behemoth, I’m tethered to one mode of transport―my van. So, we waited for my chauffeurs to arrive on Monday morning.
All of this just to move me from one place to another. I know this is relatively new―it’s only been a few years―but I find it hard to relate to my memories. The mind can be surprisingly quick to adapt to new circumstances.
I sold my house and car in the summer of 2019. Prior to that, living on my own in Monkton (about 10 minutes farther than my parents’), I often drove up to T&T’s. I didn’t need to ask for a ride or to stay overnight; I didn’t need any special equipment. I just got in my car when I wanted, and left to drive home when I wanted. All I needed was a hand up the (handrail-less) steps to the back door.
Getting a car means freedom to so many teenagers―myself included. And at sixteen I could walk and run, ride my bike and take the bus. Even so, buying a car and finally (finally, after waiting a full semester to get into the school’s driver’s ed program) getting my license, I felt like I could do anything, like I wouldn’t have to ask anyone for anything ever again. And, of course, that’s what I wanted more than anything. To be my own man.
It turns out that can be lonely, but that’s another story. From that moment on, I felt like a fully-formed adult who could do anything and go anywhere he wanted. (Obviously, I wasn’t, but an aside on teenage male immaturity would run many pages.)
My only point is that it used to be so easy. And now it’s not. There are so many steps and variables in simply moving my body from place to place. It’s like when you were a kid going outside in the winter. The boots, hats, and mittens, overall-style snow pants and heavy jackets; there was so much to do before Mom would let you go play in the snow. You longed for the summer when you could just run out the door on your own. Of course, my circumstances are much worse than that, but as a kid, standing by the closet with your brother for what seemed like forever while Mom checked all her boxes, well, that seemed a cruel torture.
Also, I just booked flights for a short trip to Los Angeles. Bought a collapsible power chair because air travel with the Behemoth was looking nearly impossible. More on that later.