When Independence Slips Away
I understood it would happen eventually. Now, ‘eventually’ has arrived.
I recently returned from a writing residency on the high desert of central Oregon, a magical place couched between a ridge of low mountains and a dry — in the summer — lake bed. The buildings are situated near a pond with shade trees where all variety of birds visit in droves. Sunlight travels through the arid air like a wand, changing the landscape’s shapes and colors minute to minute. Writers and artists are invariably inspired by the place, and I have gone there on my own four or five times in the past and done some of my best work. This time I went with my husband, and we stayed together in a spacious one-room cabin equipped with kitchen and bathroom. I wasn’t sure if sharing the space would be optimal for writing, but we carved out corners of privacy for ourselves and both wrote a lot.
What I didn’t realize before we went was how this trip would be a kind of turning point. While there for only four days, I realized the startling truth that I am no longer able to live on my own.
Let me clarify. I can still drive. I can still walk, albeit unsteadily, often with the aid of walking sticks. I can still climb stairs and shower and dress myself. But the little things I can’t do — none of them monumental by themselves — have accumulated and crept up, and as we drove away, I realized it was unlikely I’d be able to return on my own.
What are these deficits? I can no longer lift and carry certain things: a suitcase, my computer, a saucepan, the ventilator I use at night. Things slip out of my grip easily. My husband handed me his water bottle to take to the car, and I had to say, No, too heavy. There’s the matter of opening things. Twist-off caps are usually impossible, peeling off cellophane wrappers too, as well as prying open certain Tupperware containers. Zippers and buttons sometimes elude me. It can be comical, my husband assisting me as if I’m a child. I have ceded the cooking to him and, while I might scramble myself some eggs, it would be a slow process. I rarely open the refrigerator these days. And, when I eat I sometimes choke and need a “cough assist” machine to clear my windpipe. In the midst of a choking episode I need someone to bring me that machine.