Part 1: oh-shit moments, frodo, and side-walk-salt.

It’s cold. My joints ache as I walk through the snow. The summer is the time for the joint. The walk from my apartment to the store isn’t very far, but the sidewalks and roadways add an extra variable of difficulty. Salt. It’s a brilliant thing. More people should use it. It’s bad enough that no body takes the time to shovel the sidewalks, but no salt? That’s a cardinal sin. It’s not just me out here; there are people whose vulnerability is visually obvious. We have folks in motorized chairs, young kids and the elderly. We all migrate together wearing down the same path. And as we pass each-other we nod and wink, acknowledging the elephant of silent servitude making its way up and down the untouched (and unsalted) thoroughfare.

And that’s where I’m going. Well, me and Frodo. Frodo is my dog. He’s a rescue. When my mother kicked me out in June (oh, the summer) I was quickly faced with the paralyzing fear that passes over everyone’s mind at least once. That ‘oh-shit’ moment; maybe you crashed your car, were fired, or broke up with the love of your life. You don’t know exactly what happened, or how to fix it, but somehow you know that your comfort and safety are gone. I moved in with my older brother a few months ago. I was excited. I had been living in a small basement apartment with my father for too long and so the thought of living on my own was so inviting that I couldn’t think of a single drawback. After a few days of relatively complete isolation, I quickly discovered what the mighty gods of the ‘oh-shit-moment’ were trying to tell me : I will be alone. So I got a dog. I found a rescue on-line, sent out an email and took a phone call on the bus about adoption.

And that was that. Then came the equally stressful task of choosing a name. Questions about authenticity, creativity, and humor filled the dark recesses of my mind for many days. Eventually, I settled on nerdy, creative and unique. My main justification was the potential future payoff: the wedding. Frodo: the ring-bearer. I’m sure someone’s thought of it before, but hey, it’s better than calling him Steve, or Charlie.

I talk fondly of road-salt, Tolkien lore and Frodo, and to many it must appear that save for a few loose threads, my life is precisely average. And although that’s a fiction I too like to fill up on, it’s not necessarily true. My life is average in many ways: I’m young, I’m white, I’m middle-class. Physically, other than standing quite tall, I imagine I look what ‘normal’ looks like. I wear normal clothes, say normal things and like normal things. But in other more important ways, I’m very abnormal, and very far from average. I look tall, and bold, and strong, but hidden just very superficially below the surface is a dark secret. This secret makes me sad. It gives me pain. It prevents me from the precisely average life we’ve all come to expect.

I’m ill. One of my genes is missing a C or a G, or a T. Remember when I said summer was the time of joints? Yeah well, C’s and G’s and T’s are the things of joints. People don’t notice the alphabet running through their cells keeping everything trimmed and tight and normal. You lose an A or a C and your life could be over; who knew.

When I lie down this disc in my back presses against a nerve, rendering ‘bed-ridden’ completely out of the question. The facets in my neck fight for position and often align atop a nerve root; compression, headache, posture; compression headache posture. There is no spin density or resonance equation that could tell the story my arms could tell with a single swift abduction. I’m in pain, and it’s getting worse.

I’m very lonely. Other than Frodo I really have no one. All the important parts of my life gone: my health, my friendships, my future… and now my salt, too! I take more medications than I can count to treat more symptoms than I can remember. I have a neck thing, an arm thing, a heart thing, a stomach thing, a spine thing. But unfortunately I have a friend thing, and a family thing, too.

When I’m alone during the day, and it’s just me, Charlie, my neck and the bag of road salt I move from room to room in case of emergencies, it’s the normal things that plague me. Not having friends makes me feel more empty than any pain or any dislocation ever could. That my family doesn’t call me, or talk with me about these peculiarly abnormal things, makes me feel more isolated and powerless than my infrequent ambulation makes me a marathon runner.

It’s the normal problems that stand between my happiness and me. We all think freedom comes in a glorious, flashy package of self-moderation, boldness, adventure, risk and virtue. My life may not be glorious and flashy, but I am bold, and this is an adventure (one full of risk), and sustaining myself has required self-moderation and the (often fruitless) cultivation of virtue. But I think we can all agree that I’m not really free. A car can drive, but it needs gas (well, it needs a lot of things… but the metaphor needs gas). That dependence on fuel is true of everything; we need it for our lives and we build it into the accessories of our lives.

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