4 min read

Learning to Walk

This newsletter is going to be different from the other ones I usually send. This one is going to be kind of (very) personal. If you’re a new subscriber, don’t worry: HERE’S THE THING will go back to being recipes and short stories and essays very soon! But some stuff is going on right now and I’m going to tell you about it, because it’s what your subscription dollars are helping me with.

Sometimes, my legs don’t work.

I don’t know if you know this, but legs are pretty important to the process of walking around, which happens to be a frequent pastime of mine. For a long time I walked around without really worrying about whether or not my legs would work, because they did work, all the time, without causing trouble about it. But over the course of the last year or so, they’ve started changing their tune, and now there are times when walking around on both of them isn’t an option.

Usually, it’s my right leg that’s a problem, but occasionally my left leg gives in to peer pressure and causes a fuss too. (I would say ‘kicks up a fuss,’ which is the usual turn of phrase, but kicking isn’t really on the table when there’s Fuss a-brewin’.) Fuss looks like this: uncontrollable muscle twitches, bright sharp pain, and then: it’s Noodle Time.

I know what you’re thinking. Geez, Sarah, this sounds like a pretty serious problem that should be treated by a medical professional! Well, don’t worry! Several doctors have assured me that this problem isn’t real, or is only related to stress, or is caused by menstrual cramps, or can be solved by eliminating something from my diet, probably, have I tried that? (Yes, I have.)

So, while I’m doing the extremely rewarding, easy, and affordable work of finding a doctor who will give me any medical treatment at all, I’m stuck with the Mystery Legs. I bought a cane last September because it seemed like the right next step to take, and I've spent the intervening months looking at it out of the corner of my eye. I have been entertaining an extremely sound and well-thought-out theory that maybe if I don’t look directly at the cane or acknowledge my health problems, they will go away and everything will be fine.

As no one could have predicted, that plan hasn’t been working out and problems have been steadily escalating. My right leg went on strike yesterday and we haven’t been able to reach an agreement yet, so today, I made the hard decision to call in a scab who I know will cross the picket line: the cane.

This was my first time using a cane, which is somehow surprising! Looking at a cane, I’ve always thought ‘I pretty much know how to use this, I’ve probably done it before.’ I think I’ve been on crutches before, and I know I’ve been injured as many times as befits a person with my immense capacity to ignore the reasonable limitations of their body. But this was my first time using a cane, and as it turns out, I didn’t know how to use it at all. Am I supposed to swing it along with my leg? Or do I put it down just ahead of my leg, so I can lean my weight on it ahead of time? Is it the right length for my tiny, busted body? How high do I raise it if I want to shake it at a passing skateboarder?

Six blocks of Trying To Figure This Shit Out later, I almost have the hang of it. By the end of that trial run, I settled into a nice steady three-part gait: cane, bad leg, good leg; cane, bad leg, good leg. I think I am doing the thing wrong, because my shoulder feels like the joint is made of gravel. Shitty gravel, too, not that nice gravel fancy people use to line their driveways. I’m talking clearance gravel. But when I first learned to walk, I did that wrong, too. I fell down at least once, and I probably ached for the first few days as unfamiliar muscles got used to doing the job of getting me from one end of my life to the other.

Listen, guys, I’ve written about four hundred different endings to this newsletter, and all of them have been awful. That’s because this isn’t a clean narrative. It’s ongoing, and it’s getting better and worse, a little at a time or a lot at a time. I don’t know how it’s going to end. I don’t know if I’m going to figure out the cane, or if it’s going to turn out that my shoulder complex can’t handle it because whatever’s wrong with me is also wrong with my shoulder. Or maybe I’ll finally find a doctor who will help me with this, and I can put the cane away forever! Maybe.

Whenever I can’t come up with a good ending to a story or an essay, I ask myself: what emotion do I want to end on? And the emotion I want to end on here is, this sucks, but I’m doing it in the hope that maybe sometime soon, it won't suck.

So that’s it. That’s where I’m leaving this for now, and I’m just going to hope that a decent ending writes itself over the course of the next months and years of trying to sort out my legs and my spine and the rest of my body.

This sucks. But I’m doing it.