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Yes, I Take the Elevator and No, I'm Not Sorry About It

I want to justify myself.

I¬†want to scream because I shouldn’t have¬†to justify myself.

Instead,¬†I wait for lobbies to empty or slip into elevators right before they close.¬†It’s easier than dealing with stares and side glances. The slim slivers of¬†judgment, thin as a fingernail moon. She should really take the stairs, I imagine them saying, their advice ripped¬†from the slick pages of Men’s Fitness¬†and Shape.

How¬†do I explain it? How do I tell them that there’s a difference between the¬†exhaustion they feel after a long week and ‚Äúmultiple sclerosis (MS) fatigue?‚ÄĚ Do they want to know¬†about the dull stiffness that falls over me like a heavy woolen blanket? Do¬†they care that some weeks the malaise of mind and body knocks me flat? I wish¬†they knew about the hurt that radiates from bones and the tingling in the¬†bottom of my feet, MS’s little calling card ‚ÄĒ the one that reminds me that, no¬†matter how good I feel, the assassin in my spine hasn’t gone anywhere in the 12¬†years since I was diagnosed.

It’s¬†difficult to help people who don’t have a chronic illness understand what life¬†is like with one. Their bodies are still allies after all, not enemies. They’ve¬†never been betrayed by their own immune system. But for the ones who want to¬†learn, I tell them, ‚ÄúIt’s a lot like ‚ÄėMortal¬†Kombat.’‚ÄĚ

Gen¬†Xers, those of us who spent our tender, nascent years in arcades and in front¬†of game consoles, get the joke immediately. Younger folks usually do too, but¬†there are a few who stare at me, needing further explanation. ‚ÄúI have only so¬†much energy to use each day, and I have to decide wisely where to spend it,‚ÄĚ I¬†say. ‚ÄúIt’s like watching the health bar on a fighting game.‚ÄĚ

For¬†those of you who never sacrificed your allowance, quarter by precious quarter,¬†to the voracious belly of a coin-op machine, ‚ÄúMortal Kombat‚ÄĚ was the consummation of all things gaming. With its five-button control scheme and blood-soaked finishing moves, it was vital to¬†those of us who prowled the mall in the late ’80s and early ’90s. A way for the¬†less athletically inclined to show dominance and carve out a place in a social¬†hierarchy of our own design.

Each¬†Saturday, we’d line quarters up on the lip of the screen, our initials¬†inscribed on each with a black Sharpie stowed behind the machine. (Currency¬†defacement laws be damned. This was serious business.) Then ‚ÄĒ like¬†crocodiles ‚ÄĒ we’d wait, killing time on other, lesser games, until our coins moved to the front of the queue. And for a few precious minutes, whether we were Liu¬†Kang, Raiden, Scorpion, or Sonya Blade, we would curse, thrash, and combo¬†ourselves into a frenzy, all the while keeping our eyes on that precious red¬†and green health bar that decided whether we were fodder for another fatality¬†or had won the round.

Today,¬†it’s not roundhouse kicks or lightning bolts that reduce my life force to zilch.¬†More mundane tasks are usually to blame.

Running¬†to finish a project on time sucks a little away. Walking across a parking lot¬†baking in the Georgia sun costs me some, too. Long days. Waiting in line. Poor¬†sleep. Stress. They all exact a price. For many years, I could run myself¬†ragged and recharge at home, but these days I need to still be in the green¬†when I cross the threshold of Casa de Hughes. Why? I have a husband and two¬†precocious boys we’re adopting from the foster care system to take care of. It’s¬†a second full-time job, and it’s just as demanding (if not more so) than the¬†one where I earn my cheddar each month.

If¬†skipping the stairs means I’ll still have the energy to cook a decent meal or¬†play outside with them, so be it. A few stares are worth it if I still feel¬†like myself at day’s end.

So¬†yeah, I take the elevator. And no, I’m not sorry about it. It’s not a game.¬†It’s my life.

And¬†I’m going to win.