I’ve been thinking about these musings for a while. They’ve evolved so much in the nine years during which I’ve been writing them. At first, I sent out WWI poetry on Memorial Day Weekend in 2008. Then, I started describing what I saw around me and seguing into a memory evoked by the events of my present world. I ended with a return to the mundane or pleasant surroundings in which I found myself at the moment. My friend Dave Littlehales mocked me once by saying that he knew I would finish by describing my hand clutching a cold mug of coffee.
Last night’s unrelenting neurological pain finally eased this morning, but not before it, too, triggered the rise of a memory long buried in the depths of my subconscious. It’s neither horrible nor fabulous; it’s just one of those days that a child experiences which twists the neuro-pathways and sends them skittering in a newly forged direction.
I can’t say how old I was when my mother first started taking me to doctors. A terrible childhood illness kept me in the hospital for tedious stretches but I don’t remember that. My first memory of unusual medical activity must have happened when I was eight or nine. . .
I’m standing at one end of an interminable hallway. My mother huddles on a chair in a small room beside a wooden exam table covered with a starched sheet. Someone stands over her. At the opposite end of the corridor where I wait, a man in a white lab coat gestures to me. “Okay, sweetie, now come towards me.”
I do as he asks. I know why I’m here: I don’t walk like everybody else, except my sister Adrienne. She’s taken a lot of guff from our father for how she walks. But I’m different: He treats me with tenderness. I wish he would do the same for her. I shudder with an unpleasant memory; rage and punishment.
Other people make fun of me, especially the boys in my class. They stagger behind me acting like monkeys, swinging their arms and pitching forward halfway bent to the ground. The girls titter behind the folding doors of the cloakroom. I take as long as I can adjusting my coat on the hook but eventually I have to acknowledge that I’m there and I am listening to them. My movement toward the rows of desks sends them into hysteria. They knew; they knew all along that I would hear.
The doctor hasn’t laughed, not once. He moves smoothly himself. He’s lean and trim underneath his doctor’s garb. His wiry hair clusters in curls around his head. A gentle light shines from his eyes.
“Come towards me,” he repeats. I realize that I’ve paused in the center of the hallway, lost in thought. I hurriedly start forward but he shakes his head. “No, just walk like you always do,” he corrects me. “No hurry. Just walk toward me, there’s a good girl.”
I hear my mother sigh.
A few minutes later, I’m back on the table and the doctor taps my knees with his red rubber hammer. He pricks my calves and asks if I can feel the sharp point. “Yes,” I admit. “Good, good, ” comes the answer in his soft voice.
He turns to my mother. “When you get home, have her walk barefoot in water, then across concrete. Measure the gap between the balls of her feet and her heel.” They talk about medicine; my mother shakes her head.
“She’s too young,” she replies. “Can’t you give her some exercises? Do you know what caused it? Can you do anything?”
The doctor smiles at her. I think, ‘Don’t smile at my mother like that,’ but I’m not sure why it bothers me. I tell myself that his smile might be for me. It’s the kind of smile you give children when you think they won’t understand you. But my mother is the smartest and strongest woman I know, except maybe my Nana.
We leave the place, my mother and I. I don’t feel as though my mother has gotten any answers. We take the bus home, trudging up the hill from the bus stop to our house. My mother sinks into a chair on the porch, her pocketbook trailing to the floor of the porch from her arm. Her eyes look far away. I sit beside her. We stay that way for a long while.
Yes, Dave: My coffee grows cold in the mug on my desk. Outside my window, the sun has brightened the sky to a pale hazy blue. In the uncleared gutters, baby birds cry out for breakfast. The dog barks, just once, but I know she too wants food. I briefly close my eyes and picture my mother’s face. She wears sorrow like a badge of honor. I’ll never forget that day, nor the sound of traffic from the window of the bus as we rode home.