I’ve been steadily working on documenting what occurred to Rich’s and my life, following our accident in May 2019. It’s been difficult to document because after a year or so, you realize things may not get any better. Rich’s leg isn’t going to magically grow back and his memory isn’t going to return. However, things do get better. Slowly, surely, and with a little help from my therapist.
Another delay was that I took a writing class, which kinda’ put a monkey wrench in the process. For the class, I wrote a 2,000-word essay, which I wanted to weave back into the story. But how! It took a few months to weave in the story, and get back up on the horse and start writing again.
The saying “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” is a lie. Why else would people turn to alcohol, drugs, risky behavior, suicide, and in my case, uncontrollable screaming, naïvely believing they can suppress their disappointments, pain, and burdens. There’s no magic lozenge when you’re indiscriminately being jabbed by an ethereal fist that precisely knows where to aim.
With each jab, the façade fell away. Like a shattered porcelain vase that’s been repeatedly reassembled, over time, the pieces no longer match, and no glue was strong enough to repair the breakage.
Our accident hopelessly fragmented my already fragile psyche. Unlike others who’ve weathered atrocities and injustices, I didn’t have a close-knit circle of friends and family. I’d always been very independent, and the one to provide support rather than vice-versa.
Not being religious, I didn’t have the faith to relinquish control and tumble into the ethereal arms of love and acceptance, thanking a divine deity for the opportunity to experience another day. And while it would be advantageous from a mental health point-of-view, to forgive, make amends, and accept the outcome, I couldn’t.
I cringed at the ease in which wrongdoers can cleanse themselves, professing their devotion, sing a lullaby of faithfulness and then blissfully go about their daily lives, oblivious to the harm they’ve caused.
I couldn’t absolve the woman that recklessly and mindlessly turned left into Rich’s and my motorcycle, persistently insisting “We came out of nowhere” and it was us who hit her, despite the impossibility of that delusion. And no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t accept the loss of Rich’s leg.
I’d moved forward from my fractures, ignoring the twitches and stings, and cramps that awakened me early in the morning. I heard my joints creak and pop when I worked out, but didn’t care because I didn’t have the luxury of taking it easy. There was too much I needed to do. There was no time for pampering myself or making excuses because my body ached or didn’t want to cooperate. My anthem was push through and gag down the burgeoning reality that I needed to further step up and help Rich with his daily activities and chores that he used to do effortlessly.
Cracks in the foundation
Two years after the accident, having been sequestered at home, my distressed was mostly hidden from the outside world. I was home bound partially because of COVID-19, and partially because I worked from home during the week, and on weekends, I chose to work around the house rather than be disappointed when Rich couldn’t keep up with his prosthetic leg.
I was constantly posting pictures on Facebook, which led people to believe that everything was hunky-dory. They didn’t see my impatience, my fury, and my crying. They were oblivious to my storming out of the house and disappearing for hours. They had no idea that I’d walk, until exhausted, tears streaming down my face as I try to figure out my next steps.
In May 2021, realizing my emotional health wasn’t getting any better, I started counseling. After months of phone calls and emails, I was assigned a therapist with a Southern California phone number. It made no difference since my sessions would be virtual.
I was extremely nervous for our first meeting. It didn’t help that I had to install a video-calling app on my phone. As soon as Rich got back from his appointment, he also installed the app, so I could practice using it. Even so, the functionality of the app was sketchy, adding to my anxiety.
Nevertheless, within minutes of connecting with Dr. B, I thanked karma for matching me with someone who I felt an instant connection. While most therapist are quick to ask questions and rarely if ever share any details about their personal lives, Dr. B had no hesitancies, chatting about her life as if we’d just met at a cocktail party, making small talk while sipping lemon drops.
Throughout our initial conversation, I had to remind myself the silver-haired woman in a pink button-down shirt, with a distinct German accent, filling the screen of my phone, was tasked with helping me move through the stages of acceptance.
She shared how she’d met and married an American soldier when she was 18, and then dashed to America despite objections from her family. Now 80, widowed for a decade, and living south of Seattle, she lamented the loss of her husband, beseeching me to see the positive and realize being with Rich was better than being alone.
When I didn’t acquiesce, she scolded me. “Do you think some dream man is gonna’ waltz into your life? Why can’t you accept Rich’s disabilities?”
I hate the word disability, I mused, hearing, but not ingesting her advice. I hate that Rich insists on parking in disabled spots. I hate that people stare at him when he walks like an old man. And when they inquire, I hate that he shows them the wretched metal and fiberglass that now forms his leg.
“Julie,” as if to slap me through the phone, “you said that Rich and you only have one brain. You can’t live without each other.”
“Yes,” I sigh, acknowledging what she said, but more preoccupied with how she started the sentence. I so rarely hear my name, especially to wake me from my dungeon of defeatism where I like to dwell.
“Julie, you have so much to live for.”
“Maybe,” I thought to myself, wearing my professional face, the one that hides boredom, disguises dislikes, and squashed my true feelings.
“Do you still love Rich?”
Silence. “Do I dare say what I was thinking? No.”
I wished we were at a cocktail party, and I could break away to powder my nose. But this is no party. There’s no dance music and tasty treats. It’s unpleasant. Shucking my current torments as if they’re oysters and shaking lose my decades of suppressed resentment towards my narcissistic mother who commandeered most of my life.
The anger towards Rich is seated in my long-held belief that I wouldn’t be emancipated from my mother and her endless demands until she died. And now, just a few years after my mother’s death, I’m saddled with caring for Rich. Adding to this distress was the disappointment in myself for not being more tolerant and understanding. Why couldn’t I just be happy to be alive, and satisfied that I get to spend time with Rich?
But I couldn’t.
Or more truthfully, I don’t want to let go of the dream of what could have been our lives together. So, like a three-year-old, who doesn’t get her way, I continued to act-out, accomplishing nothing, but further driving a wedge between Rich and me.
My emotional outbursts had become like epileptic seizures, nearly impossible to anticipate until they happen. And then it was too late to reel them back in until they’d run their course, or I’d become too exhausted to continue the tirade.
Since the accident, I’d been in a constant state of mental and physical exhaustion between working full-time at a demanding job—thankfully from home—and doing all the cooking, housework, most of the gardening, trip planning, and helping Rich with simple tasks like which plates to use for meals and location of items in the kitchen.
Adding to the miasma
In early 2021, Rich had to take a more active role in managing his father’s estate with the unexpected death of Ralph, his half-brother. Decades earlier, when Ralph was nineteen, he broke his neck when his all-terrain vehicle tipped over, leaving him a quadriplegic. Since the accident, he’d been living in his childhood home in Anaheim, California with his father Ed who was his primary caregiver.
Upon the death of his father in 2002, Rich became the executor of the estate, and Ralph’s mother, Donna, stepped in, making most of the decisions, including hiring a full-time, live-in caretaker and paying the mortgage out of her retirement.
For five years, Ralph’s care went along swimmingly, until Donna passed away, and then her husband, Ted, started paying the mortgage. For many years, Ted would drive from Bullhead City, Arizona to Anaheim to oversee Ralph’s care. However, his trips became more infrequent, and consequently, the house fell into disrepair.
When Ted passed away in early 2016, Ralph’s care was on life-support with his caretaker more interested in smoking pot in the garage than caring for Ralph. Additionally, Ralph was being hospitalized more frequently for bedsores and other health issues.
Rich’s brother, Philip interceded, firing the caregiver, and assessing the condition of the house, which had broken plumbing, collapsed floors, mold on the walls, and carpeting soaked with dog pee.
Their sister, Georgene, offered to move in and take over Ralph’s care. With Rich busy with work, and a few years later, impacted by our motorcycle accident, there was little Rich could do besides keep track of the finances, pay the bills, and take Georgene’s word that Ralph was receiving quality care.
As the years clicked by, the relationship between Georgene and Rich became more contentious with her resenting taking care of Ralph, and not being satisfied with the monies she was receiving to do so. Prior, to moving in with Ralph, she’d been living with Pat, a man she’d met when they both worked at McDonald’s as teenagers. He’d become very successful, having started his own business. They reconnected in 2002, and for ten or more years, Georgene traveled the world in style, staying at luxury resorts, taking cruises, and eating at snazzy restaurants.
When Pat met another woman, he asked Georgene to leave, agreeing to pay her a salary for five years Plus, he bought her a condo.
While Georgene was caring for Ralph, she was getting a salary from Pat, rent from her condo, and monies from the state as Ralph’s caregiver.
During this time, Rich was using Ed’s survivor benefits to pay the mortgage. Every month, he’d see a deposit in Ralph’s account, and would subsequently send the money to the mortgage company. However, in late 2019, Georgene tormented Rich into having this check sent directly to her.
For nine months, she forwarded the money to Rich to pay the mortgage. In October 2020, she stopped sending him money. Since the house was in Rich’s name, he had refinanced it to get a lower interest rate in 2007, he was obligated to pay the mortgage out of his own piggy bank.
Ralph’s death in February 2021 was a plot point, necessitating Georgene move out of the house, and the house be promptly sold. The request stretched into months with Georgene refusing to budge until Rich, fraught with frustration over her excuses, sent her a formal eviction notice.
To help her afford other housing, Rich sent her $11,000 to reimburse her for expenses she claimed to have paid out of her own pocket to care for Ralph. The money came from our bank account with the understanding that we’d be reimbursed after the Anaheim house sold.
Up until the morning of our accident, Rich had been fanatical about tracking the finances of three trust accounts, four houses, and half a dozen checking, savings, and retirement accounts. If something fishy happened in one of our accounts, Rich would know within the day.
The accident, however, turned orderly accounting into a jumble.
With Georgene’s eviction imminent, Rich and his brother Phillip made plans to fly to Anaheim to oversee the sale of the house. Concurrently, I started looking over Rich’s shoulder to view what he was doing. While I knew zero about Quicken and had never interfered in how Rich tracked our finances, I knew the basics of accounting, having suffered through mandatory courses in college.
I immediately saw issues with Rich having transferred money from our accounts into the accounts for the Anaheim house with no “debit” recorded in the column indicating the money would be paid back to us. Additionally, the $11,000 Rich had paid Georgene wasn’t listed as a debit. In fact, he couldn’t even remember that he’d sent her a check for $11,000.
At first, I exercised patience, showing him how the transfer of funds should be recorded, but he kept saying he’d fix it later. I resorted to creating tables, and eventually diagrams to show him how to record the transactions. Complicating the records was two liens against the Anaheim house, which would need to be paid when the house was sold.
The largest one was owed to Ted, who’d paid the mortgage for nine years. Rich absolutely couldn’t figure out why this lien existed, even though the records were a click-away in Quicken. And then he kept thinking that all the monies went to Ted’s son and grandson, instead of remembering that he too was one of the named heirs.
Discussions and later shouting matches about the finances of the Anaheim house went on for days with it coming to a head on a Friday morning when Rich transferred $10,000 of our personal money into the Anaheim accounts, believing he needed the money for his trip down to Anaheim!
By late afternoon, I was in tears, having resorted to using stacks of books to show how the monies had moved between various people who’d contributed to the upkeep of the house and mortgage throughout the years. No matter how much I diagramed and used objects to show the flow of money, Rich couldn’t grasp the concepts, and grew more confused.
When he went outside to do something, I quickly changed clothes, hopped in the car, and drove to Anacortes, a picturesque town, 45 minutes away. I spent several hours trapsing up the backside of an overlook, and then down a road into the town. Exhausted, I drove home after many hours, walked into our office, booted up Rich’s computer, and made the adjustments to the accounts.
The next morning, I noticed he’d transferred another $14,000 from our accounts into the Anaheim account.
Explosion of tears
The realization that Rich was struggling to keep track of finances, investments, and the various estates for which he was the trustee, something he’d expertly done for decades was the final blow. While I’d been able to successfully pick up the slack of managing the house during his recovery, I wasn’t prepared to take over the finances.
More aptly, I didn’t want to take over the finances. I was distressed that Rich was not only struggling with accounting, but could be making irrational decisions about our investments, such as randomly transferring funds from account to account and not remembering what he did from day-to-day, and sometimes minutes earlier.
He’d always taken pride in his ability to manage family members’ accounts and make wise investment decisions. I didn’t want to take away his ability to continue doing so, and I hated questioning his judgement. But what choice did I have?
The week following my mad dash to Anacortes went relatively smoothly, and Rich seemed to have a better handle on what needed to take place after selling the Anaheim house. While, I had my doubts, I squished them down and was happy when the day of his trip arrived and it was time for him to pack, and drive to the airport in Bellingham for a late afternoon flight to Seattle, and then Orange County.
Rich has always been a marginal packer, choosing a couple pairs of underwear, two shirts, and a pair of pants for a weeklong trip. I’ve learned to slip extra clothing into his bag. Knowing it would be unseasonably warm in Southern California, and he planned to visit a couple of people when in town, I crammed into his suitcase an extra pair of shorts, a tee shirt, and a nice, collared shirt.
One of the few benefits of dealing with someone with memory loss is that you can easily persuade them. Rich had planned to take his laptop computer so he could check his email since he refused to put email on his phone. Knowing it would be difficult for him to juggle his roller suitcase, computer bag, folding walker, and a small carry-on bag, I recommended he put his laptop in his suitcase. He was okay with the idea, but then it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen the power supply and cables for the computer.
As I raced around the house, trying to find the power supply, he decided to repack his suitcase and wondered why there was so much clothing. I assured him that I hadn’t added anything extra. After thirty minutes of frantic searching, the power supply was located, in a zippered pocket inside the suitcase. Jeepers!
It was a relief when he finally headed out the door, filled with trepidation about what he’d find when he arrived in Anaheim, but also relieved the long wait to assess the condition of the house, and hopefully list it with a realtor was a day away.
I was equally looking forward to spending time alone, and just focusing on my needs. Coincidentally, I had the next day off, which I was planning to spend biking around Port Townsend. It would be the first time I’d been on a bike in over two years, outside of a quick circle around the neighborhood a few days earlier to ensure my nearly 30-year-old Trek bike was still operational.
Biking an analogy for my life
As a toddler, I had a tricycle, which I probably pedaled around the block. It wasn’t until I was eight or so that I got a bicycle. It was a Huffy Stingray with a glittery, long, skinny, padded seat, and matching sparkly rubber grips at the ends of the outstretched handlebars. I remember being thrilled with the bike, but wasn’t given many opportunities to ride it since my mother kept me cloistered at home doing cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, and accompanying her on errands.
My brother used his bike considerably more than me since my mother didn’t want to stifle his social skills, reasoning, he’d have to earn a living one day, and support a wife and children. Me, on the other hand, was expected to get married, have kids, and convince my husband to buy a house with a mother-in-law apartment.
It wasn’t unheard of in my family. My great-grandmother, Dora, was cared for by her daughter Mae, who lived with her until her death. Mae’s younger sister, Bertha lived with her son, Louie. They died within days of each other, found by the authorities when the neighbors hadn’t seen them for several days and their dog kept yapping.
My mother, the same generation as Louie, expected me to give up my life to support her relentless, narcissistic needs. Ironically, my mother felt I was the selfish one for wanting to have my own life.
Back to my bicycle trilogy. My swanky Stingray didn’t last long, owing to me outgrowing it. Years later, my mother splurged and got my brother and me ten-speed bikes at Kmart. While I yearned to ride my bike, once again, I was relegated to daily, seemingly never-ending chores, while my brother could do whatever he wanted.
Nevertheless, whenever my mother disappeared with her “secret” lover, I laced up my sneakers, hopped on my bike, and zoomed up-and-down golf course paths, often going to the snack bar to buy forbidden snowballs, Twinkies, and other goodies.
The backyard of our Southern California house abutted an 18-hole golf course. It could have been an idyllic childhood, instead, it was more akin to indentured servitude.
Because I infrequently biked, my skills were pathetic. I struggled to ride up a slight slope, liberally applied my brakes when going downhill, believing I’d crash, and struggled to pedal once I slowed or stopped.
It wasn’t until I wasn’t my thirties that I truly learned how to ride a bike. At the time, I was dating some guy whose name I can’t remember. Thinking back, I met him through a personal ad in the Willamette Week, a funky alternative paper in Portland, Oregon.
I’d written a plucky ad, which garnered lots of letters from perspective suitors. I responded to most of the letters and opted to meet a handful. I also wrote to a couple of intriguing prospects, including, “some guy whose name I can’t remember.” His ad, which I found pasted in one of my diaries, read:
ADDICTED TO SNUGGLING But, my dog’s fur is wearing thin… can you help? Professional SWM, 6’3”, 36 athletic, college grad, traveled, zest for life, feel the best is yet to come. Are you charismatic, intelligent, humorous with a healthy coat of fur? We should talk.
After exchanging letters and calls, we met. Indeed, he was tall, athletic, and charming. Unbeknownst to me, he was also self-absorbed. A few weeks into the relationship, nameless boyfriend (NB) convinced me to invest in a mountain bike. At the time, I knew nothing about bikes and the Internet with informative articles and customer reviews, had yet to be invented. I was therefore at the mercy of NB, who drove me to a local bike shop.
He wanted me to a buy an over-the-top mountain bike. The considerably more bike-savvy salesclerk recommended I test ride a Trek, which had a smaller, lighter frame. It was love at first pedal.
The bike felt effortless, melting away the initial sticker shock of spending over $800 for the bike and upgraded shocks and accessories. It was small enough to fit in the back of my ladybug-cute Red Corolla station wagon, and light enough for me to carry up the stairs to my second-story apartment, where it resided in my bathroom, beaconing me to take a spin through the forested trails that abutted my apartment complex.
Regrettably, my adoration for the bike didn’t translate into riding aptitude. I wobbled, swerved, franticly braked, and plopped my feet on the ground to prevent me from falling. Even so, I loved riding my bike with the feel of the wind in my hair and freedom to go from the street to a trail, and then back to the street. With time and determination, I was convinced I’d end up a bike warrior, clothed head-to-toe in spandex, a racing brand emblazed across my chest with aerodynamic cycling shoes that snapped into my pedals and clinked on the ground when I walked.
A few weeks after getting my bike, NB planned a trip to a mountainous area with single-track trails. There’s a big difference between a normal bike trail and single-track. The latter not only test your physicality, but courage. I was terrified. The trails traversed through clumps of rocks, over bare roots, through tall grasses, swerving through switchbacks, and up-and-down seemingly 45-degree slopes.
I’d pedal for 60 seconds, hyperventilate while circumventing exposed boulders and roots, wobble from side-to-side, and then thrust my feet down, breathing a sigh of relief that I hadn’t fallen (yet).
Meanwhile, NB was zipping around on more technically challenging trails, oblivious to my tribulations.
Because NB drove a sporty Datsun 280Z with space to hold only his bike, we’d taken my car. After several frustrating hours of trying to ride on narrow, rugged trails, I returned to the car to await his return. To this day, I regret I didn’t put my bike in the car and simply drive away.
When NB returned from his exhilarating bike ride, he loaded his bike into the car. I laid my bike on top of his. After returning to his house, he immediately unloaded and washed his bike, insensitive to the fact the outside and inside of my car along with my bike was caked with mud, and I was nursing numerous bruises and achy joints.
Our relationship lasted another month or two, until I wised up. He claimed to have made money in the stock market, and hence didn’t work. He spent his days riding his bike and bumming around. One particularly rainy evening, after working all day, I battled through rush hour traffic to arrive at his house. He’d just returned from a bike ride and wanted me to get back in the car and drive 10 miles or so—through the same exacerbating traffic—to retrieve food he’d ordered at Boston Market while he took a shower and relaxed.
In retrospect, I should have gotten the food and simply driven home, but I obliged, and the next day, I told him I never wanted to see him again.
Throughout the years, my bike has been ridden in Oregon, Texas, and Washington, alongside Rich on coastal and mountain trails, through cities, farmlands, and neighborhoods. Despite having been a confident bike rider prior to our accident, I was tenuous in June 2021, when I ventured to Port Townsend on my own. Rich was in Anaheim, tending to the sale of his childhood home, where his brother had lived.
Early in the morning, I scooted my bike into the back of my Honda FIT for the short trip to the Coupeville ferry. After boarding the ferry, and securing my bike, I settled into a comfortable seat, and then burst into tears, recalling how Rich and I had frequently biked around Port Townsend. I felt so lopsided without him. Only my internal dialogue to keep me company and share the experiences along the way.
While I wanted to be strong, I failed miserably, calling Rich who was still in his hotel room, dreading what he’d find when he visited the Anaheim house. We spoke briefly with his attentively listening and appeasing my anxieties and imagined impediments.
I’m renowned for making mountains out of molehills, especially when the horizon is straight ahead with barely a dimple in sight. After our call, I stepped outside. The ferry had yet to leave, so I walked over to the railing by the pilings. At the top was a messy collection of twigs and dried grasses with four young blue herons, stirring with the morning light, breaking through the fog.
It’s special to see one heron, let alone four babies who looked back at me with bewilderment, groggy, waiting for their parents to return with breakfast.
It was also a sign of hope and gratitude. Hope in that whenever I see a heron, I think it’s going to be a great day. And gratitude for the gift of seeing the herons.
They’re magical, balancing their sizable bodies on slender legs, gingerly taking each step, careful not to disturb the bog beneath them as they hunt for tasty morsels, their long, graceful necks, forming an elongated “s” with a thin orange beak at the tip.
I’m amazing at their feathers, dark to light dove gray on most of their body with a flourish of curly white feathers dancing at the base of their necks. Curlicues of black feathers, like ornate hats, bobble on the tops of their heads.
When they take to flight, they unhurriedly flap their magnificent wings gliding over the water or land, their long legs, and feet, stretched out, creating a breathtaking silhouette from the tip of their beaks to their knobby toes.
The vision of the four herons lightened my mood as the ferry breezed across the sound. As we approached Port Townsend, I went down to the car deck to stand by my bike. Another bicyclist was there, an older man in grungy clothing with a mop and bucket, and other items strapped to his dilapidated bike. It would have seemed rude to just stand there, pretending I was enthralled with a ferry ride I’d taken dozens of times before.
“I’m hoping I don’t fall off my bike,” I commented, expecting him to say something supportive. “I haven’t ridden in over two years.”
He grunted, turning my direction.
“My husband and I were in a motorcycle accident. He lost his left leg, and mine was broken in five places. He’s dealing with the sale of his brother’s house, so I thought I’d give my bike a spin.”
“Hmmm, I rode motorcycles for decade. Went all over the place. Never got in an accident,” he offered oblivious to my trepidations. “People are crazy out there. They don’t watch for motorcyclist. That’s why I traded mine in for a bike.”
Looking at the state of his Goodwill-quality bike, his motorcycle must have been barely operable to make such a foolhardy trade. The frame was battered and rusty and tires mismatched and worn. “We’d barely ridden our motorcycle.”
“That’s the problem,” he concluded. “Your husband didn’t know what he was doing.”
“No. He started riding motorcycles when he was a teenager,” the hair on my neck now slightly raised. “A woman turned left into us as we were going down the highway.”
I relished his uncomfortable pause. It wasn’t the first time I’d relayed our story. And it wasn’t the first time that the initial response was we were at fault or shouldn’t have been riding a motorcycle.
“Oh, where did it happen,” he muttered.
I shared that we were riding on the state road, which runs across Whidbey Island. He was familiar with the road and then offered his condolences. Changing the subject, I asked why he was going to Port Townsend. He had a boat in the marina, which was being hauled out. He planned to spend the day cleaning it. The bucket and mop cinched to his bike instantly made sense.
We spent the last few minutes of the trip conversing about Port Townsend and life on Whidbey Island, before he rode of on his bike, and I hesitantly got on mine.
I’d like to say my trek around Port Townsend was sterling, but I was wobbly on straightaways, huffing and puffing up hills, and insecure going down inclines. Determined, I made my way to Fort Worden, a few miles away.
When Rich and I started dating, we camped at Fort Worden several times. The last time, Rich was concerned that he was going to be laid-off from IBM. Sure enough, a few days later, he got a call from his manager that his job was being eliminated, but he was first on the list for a position in Austin, Texas. A week later, he flew to Texas, landed the job, returned home to inform me that he had 30 days to pack, list his house, and relocate to Austin.
That night, we jointly proposed to each other at a little Mexican restaurant in a strip mall. And the rest is history.
Since returning to the Pacific Northwest, we’ve ventured to Fort Worden several times via car and bike. It’s a beautiful complex with a picturesque and historical lighthouse protecting the Strait of Juan de Fuca, camping sites along the lengthy sandy beach, old gun battery, and turn-of-the-century barracks and ornate cottages and houses circling a vast, grassy parade ground.
The blimp hanger at the fort was where Richard Gere and Louis Gossett duked it out in the movie “Officer and a Gentleman.” The hanger is now part of an art complex and theater. Other parts of the fort have also been repurposed with the addition of a woodworking school, conference center, resort, and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. It would be idyllic to spend a few days at the fort in one of the houses, sitting on the porch in a rocking chair, reading a book.
Truth be told, I could do the same thing in Coupeville—especially since our house overlooks the Puget Sound—but the idea of reading a book when I could be working in the garden, cooking, or doing housework is verboten. That’s why I have shelves of unread books, waiting to be cracked open.
In the meanwhile, I had vistas to conquer and a need to relearn how to ride a bike.
While I rode okay on flat and slightly hilly areas, I struggled to chug up hills or struggled to start going once I stopped. And in the back of my head, I kept thinking, “I’m going to fall or get hit by a car.” It was challenging to reprogram my brain from fear and trepidation to confidence.
At one point, while riding on the sidewalk along the main road, and seeing several bicyclists in a designated bike lane, I tottered, thinking I shouldn’t be riding on the sidewalk. Instead of slowing, getting off my bike, and stepping down off the sidewalk, I tipped over, fortunately, into some vegetation along a parking lot. My heart pounding, I righted myself, and gingerly started peddling once again, this time in the bike lane.
By the time I got back to downtown Port Townsend, I was more than happy to park my bike, and walk on two flat feet and two wobbly legs. I spent the next few hours wandering through the many boutiques, art galleries, and books stores, enjoying the view across the sound, and contemplating whether I should find something to eat. But queasy from bike riding and adventuring out by myself, I opted for the granola bars and fruit I’d stashed in my backpack.
I was looking forward to going home, and chilling out, but when waiting in line to board the ferry, a mid-aged woman, asked if anyone was going to Coupeville or Oak Harbor. I stupidly said, I was going to Coupeville.
A slender, older woman with short black hair, dressed in blue seersucker capris, canvas shoes, and a knitted white shirt stepped forward. I’d seen her in the ferry terminal, scribbling on a notepad, a floppy floral hat on her head with a large canvas bag full of produce at her feet.
“Where do you need to go in Coupeville,” I inquired regretting my altruism.
“Anywhere is fine,” she shared, “The ferry gonna’ be late, so I’ll miss the bus.”
Made sense, but it raised another question. “Where can you catch the bus,” knowing few buses run on Saturdays, especially as the day approached evening. “Do you have the time schedule for the buses that stop in Coupeville?”
“No, but you can drop me off anywhere.”
While the idea of dropping her off anywhere wouldn’t inconvenience me, I recognized that if she missed the last bus, she’d have to walk many miles. After she followed me onto the ferry and I’d secured my bike, we wandered up to the passenger deck to enjoy the 30-minute ride. The entire time, she hadn’t stopped talking, chattering about the bus service on Whidbey Island, sharing how she’d walked to the food coop in Port Townsend–to buy healthy foods—and lamenting the difficulty of finding another place to live.
Tired, I just sat back and listened, thinking she reminded me of a gangly Ichabod Crane with long slender hands and fingers, constantly in motion with nervous energy, crossing and uncrossing her legs, and leaning forward to emphasize a point she was trying to make.
To break up her diatribe, and gauge whether her claims of being a compassionate person were marginally accurate, I commented that it was the first time I’d ridden a bike in nearly three years because of serious injuries. My tale of woe whooshed over her head as she plunged back into her oration, expounding on how she lived with her handicapped parents but had to find another place to live in a couple of months since her brother was moving into the house to take over the care of their parents. She evidently didn’t get along with her brother, and the house was too small to accommodate four adults.
She envisioned someone from the Whidbey Island Naval Station vacating their house and allowing her to live there while they were stationed elsewhere. Or she wanted to live in a mother-in-law apartment with her own room, kitchen, and bathroom. She wasn’t interested in sharing a residence and didn’t have enough money to afford an apartment that cost more than $700 per month.
She also shared that she had her own online business. She wasn’t presently taking patient, however, since she lived with her parents.
“Oh? What do you do?”
“Reiki? Don’t you have to do that in person?”
“No, you can transmit energy over the internet,” she assured me, obviously not noticing the skepticism spreading across my face. The only vibe I was getting from her was her oblivion to absurdity of transmitting anything other than bits and bytes across a network, especially when she clarified that she specializes in treating pets.
If I wasn’t so tired, I would have burst out laughing.
Lolitta, my bratty Siamese, barely tolerates being held. I can’t imagine her holding still for a Reiki session with a miniature headset over her ears, so she can absorb the positive energy.
Curious about virtual Reiki, I probed some more, asking whether she’d treated anyone over the Internet. She launched into a lengthy narrative about her mother who is ill-tempered and has difficulties walking. A few weeks earlier, her mother had fallen. When the paramedics arrived, Ms. Reiki practitioner retreated to her room to send positive “life force” energy. She claimed that her mother started laughing and admitted Reiki was healing.
For the rest of the trip, she never stopped babbling, providing a discourse on the same themes: Finding a place to live, dealing with her self-absorbed parents, imminent arrival of her scorned brother, need to eat organic food, and prospect of launching her online Reiki practice.
As we near the opposite shore, I felt as if I was inconveniencing her when I said I needed to go down to the car deck to retrieve my bike. She continued talking about her issues, uninterested in anything I had to contribute and still insisting that I could drop her off anywhere.
As we drove towards Coupeville, I watched the bus pull away. She had no idea whether it was the last bus of the day, so I said I drop her off at the transit center in downtown Oak Harbor, ten or so miles away. The center was deserted when we arrived, and since Oak Harbor isn’t very large, I offered to drive her home. However, getting her to shut up long enough to tell me where to let her off was challenging.
It reminded me of the frail Old Man of the Sea that Sinbad the sailor carried on his shoulders for months until the old man guzzled some fermented juice, falling asleep and tumbling off Sinbad’s shoulders. The difference was the man was a woman, and the means of transportation, my car.
Finally, she indicated her house—or rather her parents’ house—was a few blocks from the parking lot of an abandoned car wash. I stopped, and she reluctantly got out of the car, gathered her groceries, and offhandedly thanked me for the ride.
I quickly exited the parking lot and headed up the street to Taco Bell for some comfort food, which I enjoyed as I drove home, satisfied that I’d survived both my bike ride and my verbose rider’s ramblings.
Huffing and puffing on a different bike
A few weeks after Rich returned from Anaheim—his brother’s house miraculously purchased within a day—we visited with Stacey and Shawn, driving to Port Rustin, north of Tacoma for lunch.
Located on the South Puget Sound, the site was formerly the Tacoma Smelting & Refining Company, founded by industrialist W.R. Rust in 1890. A hundred or so year later, the 67-acre site was considered by the Environmental Protection Agency as one of the most polluted in America, contaminated with arsenic and lead.
Clean-up started in 1993 with the demolition of the plant’s smokestack. Fifteen years later, developers started building condominiums, commercial buildings, and public spaces. I was in awe of the development, which was more akin to something you’d find in a Scandinavian country with community spaces, sidewalk cafes, walking paths, and attractive landscaping.
I was excited to explore, but Rich was struggling to walk because his stump had shrunk and was wiggling inside his socket, causing discomfort. Although Rich perpetually has excuses for why he can’t walk better. Even when he doesn’t have discomfort, he’s resistant to improving his mobility by exercising, taking long walks over rough terrain with the assistance of his trekking poles, learning how to walk downstairs one-foot-after-another, and purposely lengthening his stride, even if it feels awkward at first. Instead, he makes excuses and expects me and others to adjust.
It was no different at Port Rustin.
After eating lunch at a super cool waterfront restaurant, Stacey rented a four-person trolley—with fringe on the top–so we could tour the area. After shuffling places in the trolley, Rich opted to sit in the front, where his primary role would be to steer rather than pedal. Shawn also sat in the front.
Stacey and I in the back provided the pedal power with Shawn struggling to pedal because of the angle, and Rich complaining that his socket was falling off. With so much weight in the trolley, it was surprisingly hard to pedal even on level paths. Tired, hot, and slightly cooked from the high sun, I was glad when we headed back.
As Rich stepped out of the trolley, he exclaimed, “My leg fell off.” I wanted to cry with embarrassment as Rich unzipped and pulled down his pants to pull the socket back up onto his stump. Fortunately, Stacey came to his aid because I was mortified, seeing Rich in his briefs, balanced on one leg with his stump flapping back-and-forth as he tried to fit the socket back on.
To make matters once, Rich was convinced he could put the socket back on without having alcohol to squirt on the liner, which acts as a lubricant. Previously, I’d purchased small squirt bottles for Rich to fill with alcohol and keep with him. But he didn’t want to be bothered.
On one hand, Rich wanted to be treated like an adult. On the other, he didn’t do what was necessary to tend to his needs and plan for eventualities. Stacey, thankfully, had a small bottle of hand sanitizer, which is primarily alcohol. Rich hobbled to the bathroom and used the sanitizer to successfully swizzle on his prosthetic.
Issue resolved, we decided to walk around a bit. Spotting a woman with a prosthetic leg, I rushed up to her, “My husband has a prosthetic leg,” pointing out Rich. Eager to gather information on her recovery, I implored “How did you learn to walk?”
The woman smiled, sharing that she sees a physical therapist several times a week. She’d hadn’t been walking long because she was also using hand crutches. “My therapist pushes me. She’s super busy, so I’m grateful I get to see her.”
I inquired further, disappointed the therapist was located several counties away. There was no way, even if he could get an appointment, that Rich would travel 3 hours for physical therapy. Nevertheless, I was hoping he would internalize the need to see a therapist. He’d visited one a few times, but the therapist had no experience working with amputees, so his assistance was minimal.
Unfortunately, Rich isn’t the type of person to research exercises and independently do them himself. When I’d printed out exercises for amputees and showed them to him, he promptly discarded them, saying her couldn’t do this or that with his current prosthetic.
Stacey and Rich also came over to talk with the woman, but Rich was oblivious to her words of advice to find and work with a good therapist to master walking with a prosthetic. Disheartened, I was in a funk for the rest of the day.
Paddling through the tears
Two years after the accident, my emotional outbursts have become like epileptic seizures, nearly impossible to anticipate until they happen. And then was too late to reel them back in until they’re run their course, or I’d become too exhausted to continue the tirade.
Recognizing our marriage was never going to last my outbursts, and I was getting worse instead of better, I’d started therapy in late April 2021. It would take six months until I learned how to quiet my anger and start to move forward from the disappointment of Rich’s limitations—both physical and mental. In the meanwhile, I spent most days teetering between calm, agitated, and livid.
Looking back, I know what triggered my fury in early July when we visited Bremerton to spend time with family. It was an instant message sent by Stacey, sharing where everyone was gathering, a rocky beach minutes from her house. “Shit,” was all I could mutter under my breath. I’d forgotten to bring a swimsuit. At least, I reasoned, I brought Rich’s shorts, Crocs, and the plastic sheath for his leg. I’m always thinking of his needs and putting my last.
Perhaps if we weren’t running late, I could have spooled in the emotions, but they were already festering, aching to escape, percolating as minutes ticked by, waiting at the unrelenting red lights in the blazing sun, the air conditioning failing to provide cooling, let alone a burst of oxygen as I hyperventilated with dread.
The dread of pretending I was having a great time when in fact, I was miserable, yearning to go in the water, but recognizing, as the faithful wife, I should keep Rich company on the shore. And at the same time, angry that we’d been invited to an event that was taking place at the water.
Water! The enemy of prosthetics.
Prior to the accident, we’d reserved a balcony room on a world Cunard Cruise but cancelled it because most of the stops were in tropical locations. What was the point of going to Fuji, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa if you couldn’t go into the water? Even sliding into a swimming pool could be crushing with people staring at Rich’s unsightly stump.
When I shared these thoughts with Dr. B, she scolded me.
When I shared these thoughts with Dr. B, she scolded me, “You must accept what you can’t change. Your life is different. Not over.”
Once again, I nod in agreement letting the words pierce, but not penetrate my obstinance.
Dr. B couldn’t see the fallen tree trunks you need to scamper over to reach the beach. She couldn’t see our four grandchildren splashing in the water or their parents relaxing on an inflated raft and venturing out on paddleboards. She couldn’t see the rocky shore or feel the afternoon heat, beaconing me into the water.
She doesn’t feel the pain when I initially see Caitlyn, my 6-year-old granddaughter in her unicorn swimsuit with matching tutu, rushing towards the car when we drive up or Rich struggling out of the car, initially confused where to park.
Bryan, Caitlyn’s uncle, is smiling happy to see us, eager to help us bring things from the car, but I’m completely overtaken by the tumult in my head. I can’t see Caitlyn handing me a rock she found. I can’t see the possibilities. I can’t let go and accept.
I growl at Bryan, “I so want a divorce. He turned to me, smiling perhaps in the futile hope it’ll quiet the demon brewing inside. Everything felt hopeless as we ventured closer to where everyone was gathered.
Stilling smile, or perhaps biting his lip, Bryan couldn’t muster a comment.
“I can’t do this any longer,” I snapped rushing ahead, and tossing the bag with our clothing and a camp chair down by a tree. “He makes no effort.”
Hearing the commotion, Stacey and others hurried up the embankment. By then, I was unstoppable, ranting and crying. “What’s wrong,” prodded Stacey, always the peacemaker and level-headed.
“I want to go home. Give me the keys,” I shouted at Rich. He had no intention of handing them over, knowing, I’d probably drive home. He’s adept at ignoring my tirades, knowing they’ll blow over, and he just needs to wait them out.
“Give me the car keys,” I screamed, trying to wrestle them from his hand.
“Calm down. What’s wrong with you,” he shouted back. “Grow up. You’re making a fool of yourself.”
“I didn’t bring a bathing suit,” I babbled through the tears, finding his Crocs and the plastic sheath, and tossing them onto the ground, knowing full well he’d never go into the water. He’s terrified of getting his prosthetic wet, which is why our double pedal kayak continues to sit idly in our garage.
“What’s the use,” I cried, eyeing the steep log strewn bank down to the water and concluding my day would be spent segregated on chairs, underneath the tree, watching others have fun.
“You knew we’d be at the beach,” shouted Stacey, clearly disgusted with my outburst.
“Yes, but I didn’t think we’d be in the water,” I reasoned. “I don’t want to go into the water if Rich can’t.”
“You can go in the water,” offered Stacey who was willing to drive home and get me a bathing suit.
“I have extra clothes,” I stammered.
During this entire tirade, a slender twentyish man with coffee latte colored skin, and light brown, shoulder-length dreadlocks were skating back-and-forth on the pathway. He had a serene face and was eavesdropping on the ruckus.
I’m intrigued by people with dreadlocks, believing they’re have magical powers, unflinchingly allowing their hair to twist into long strands that reflect their journey through life. They can’t entirely wash out the detritus from the day. It becomes woven into their locs.
After I’d calmed down a bit, and having a good cry on Stacey’s shoulder, sobbing, “I want my husband back, I want my husband back,” Stacey urged me to realize, “You can’t have him back. You must do what makes you happy, which in turn, will make him happy.”
Too tired to object, I retrieved my skort, tee shirt, and Crocs, and walked to the bathroom to change, tears streaming down my face. On the way, I saw the skateboarder sitting underneath a tree. I was drawn to him, believing he could provide some perspective on my life.
The night before, I’d seen the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha.” The lead character Chyio has blue-green eyes, indicating she has lots of water in her personality. Like water, she can adapt to the ebbs and flows of life.
As I got closer, I noticed the skateboarder’s eyes. They were topaz. Extraordinary, impossible to overlook, and like Chyio’s a rarity among dark skinned people. I pause for a few seconds stilled by his beauty. I stammered, saying his eyes were like water. He thanked me. I then explain my outburst, looking for signs of disapproval, but he had none to offer.
Instead, he offered his condolences, and then said, “Do your best.”
I ponder this statement for the rest of the day as I joined my grandchildren, walking along the shore, looking for crabs, playing on the float, and asking about their lives.
Sawyer, a few days into his sixth year, said he liked my bathing suit, even though wasn’t, and wanted to know why I was crying. I explain that I’m sad for Rich. He nodded, not truly understanding my distress. To him, Rich’s leg is fascinating, a robotic limb, not a hinderance.
Later in the day, Stacey decided to teach me to paddle board. I was nervous at first, and understandably wobbly, but caught on quickly, and was soon paddling far from the shore, enjoying the exhilaration of gliding around the bay, and seeing an occasional jellyfish lolling beside the board.
After resting, I took the board out again, this time more confidently. Too confidently because I wasn’t paying attention and tipped over. I decided to swim back to shore, one arm holding onto the board. Bryan and Sawyer, on another board, zipped over to see if they could assist, but I was okay. I was doing what made me happy.