Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
~Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733
The end of summer is almost here. And this year, summertime has been, for me, disheartening, to say the least painful, and fraught with difficulty. A visiting relative even suggested I drove down the long stretch of road to hell, my wife and kids firmly packed in the backseat with appropriate roadtrip games, such as the alphabet game.
I’m imagine the alphabet game right now: that game where you choose the right-hand side of the road, and someone else the left, we each look for letters of the alphabet that appear on signs until one of us reaches Z.
Sigh. Thursday, September 22, at 10:22am is the last day of summer 2016. I took a job at a t-shirt factory. We don’t actually make t-shirts, we just print pictures on the shirts. The job is fun, but after the first few weeks, I woke and thought I had broken my left foot. I didn’t, but the pain sent me hobbling to my doctor’s, and I hadn’t even noticed, but the foot was bent to the left in a way that feet should not bend to the left. My doctor referred me immediately STAT “Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200” to an Orthopedician. The Orthopedician guy took x-rays and reported I had very little cartilage remaining in my left ankle. I got a temporary air-cast brace, which is what began all this 20 some years ago when I fell from that bridge and broke my leg in several places because they gave me back then an air-cast. They’re making an Arizona Brace for me right now—
In the midst of all this left foot arthritis, the doctors ignore me concerning my right foot.
“Hey, the right ankle kills too. Only, just not as bad.”
Please, someone with a degree and a white coat listen to me. Really, my complaint hasn’t changed since I first began having chronic pain in both ankles and legs in my mid-twenties. Only the doctors have changed; the pain finally visible enough for them to hear me, for them to tell me the pain is not all in my head. At least this time around I’ve been validated.
“No, the pain is not in your head. It’s real.”
I spent the Fourth of July sitting in the knock-off LazyBoy chair in the living room listening to the fireworks my kids and wife went to see while I drank raspberry lemonade wine coolers to deaden the pain and watched reruns of Star Trek The Next Generation.
All three of my sister-in-laws came to visit. I grilled chicken. We had seafood. My wife ran them all up and down the Seacoast. They went to the beach. Visited Fort Constitution, ate some pie in York, Maine. I stayed out of the way at home with my cane. To get out of the t-shirt factory as quickly as possible, also because I have a degree and feel just a tad entitled (though I know I’m not) I applied for fifty-some adjunct and full-time community college teaching positions. Almost every place turned me down. I received well-written, very polite letters that I felt were personal attacks against my credentials and capabilities, but mostly I read into those rejections with arthritic pain at the forefront of my mind. The ones that didn’t turn me down, of course, never sent rejection letters. I was also turned down for PhD programs. Short stories and poems were rejected. And I bought an air conditioner because the house grew stuffy and humid. I don’t know if the pain had gotten to me or the amount of rejection I faced or the pressure to keep putting food on the table or what exactly, but I sunk into depression.
What I forgot to look at was all the great stuff happening. I finished the rough draft of my novel. People stepped up to fill my blog with posts—in fact, I have a backlog of guest posts to put up because of the concern and caring of others. I have a great great job at Great Bay Community College, and as the academic calendar gears up at summer’s end, I get to implement new course designs. I decided to apply for an MFA because I have always always wanted to, and I’m watching my wife go into her second year of grad school without her having to have a job—which is how I did grad school. My landlady said okay when I told her I was only getting two paychecks over the summer and rent would have to wait. I’ve managed to keep my daughter in ballet. I have kept the lights on, ran the AC with abandon. Climbed Garrison Tower. Downloaded Pokemon Go for my son. The t-shirt factory has given me a chair.
I’m not sure what I exactly expected after graduate school. A house I owned? A big bank account? No worries about my kids making new friends? What I expected certainly wasn’t arthritis and certainly wasn’t a factory job, but I wouldn’t have life any other way either.