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A Love/Hate Letter to Silver Bullet, My First Wheelchair

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The Silver Bullet, lovingly named after one of Stephen King’s characters, is what I call my wheelchair. It was the best and worst present I have ever received.

Some days, I am grateful to sink into its black plastic seat, tears springing to the corners of my eyes because I am thankful I can stop walking and that I can still take part in the world.

My family and I started playing basketball outside in our driveway, with me, in the wheelchair when I couldn’t handle walking deliberately for any longer. When I was angry and slammed the basketball at the hoop I scored the most points. I’m still not very good at maneuvering quickly, so sometimes you have to wait while I piece out coordination.

My kids came over recently to grill out and we had a blast, such a different day than the usual rut we had fallen into since I had gotten sick.

I felt 75, with the grandkids coming over, gathered around the TV, cajoling peeps to put down their phones for cripe’s sake. But these were my children and I felt prematurely old.

We trooped outside instead.

Once, on the court, in the summer, our shirts blowing, we were exuberant, all of us surprised and delighted at making our own fun and that we could still find a way.

My wheelchair was instrumental in these moments.

Before the Silver Bullet, I would have had to slump down on the steps and watch, strenuously striving to keep my hope alive that I was still valuable, that I was not the downer, the one who had changed everything.

Other days, I glare daggers into it. Unreasonable anger laps at my consciousness. I hate you. I sneer at its reflective wheels, happy I can’t see my snarl. Since we keep it in the garage, my husband will sit in it sometimes and this spikes my anger unreasonably. I know this.

My husband loves me. He would never hurt me. It is like the F-Word. I give it power. He loves me with or without the chair and so why does it matter?

I convince myself it doesn’t. Mostly.

Silver Bullet is a tool. But I wish I could take my health for granted. I gave it too much force to hurt my heart. It sits there on the cold concrete floor, I hurl virtual blades at its smooth surfaces and imagine my body blowing up to the size of She-Ra and then tearing the Silver Bullet apart. The tiny screws would fly and plink off the ground, spraying up like droplets in the rain.

But I need it.

I visited California and met my publisher for the first time because of the Silver Bullet — a dream I have had since I wrote a book at the age of 4 about a potato chip getting married.

My daughter pushed me through crowds of oblivious people at the airport, her sweet tone frosting at nimrods rooted without a care to the middle of the hallway. Not moving at our approach. Take it to the wall! I want to scream. But don’t. Instead “Excuse us, please.”

She took me to the ocean and the shops peppering the shore. “Do you smell that? It’s the ocean,” I say as we near the water. My eyes lighting up! I can feel the joy in my face as I swivel to look at her while she pushes me down a steep hill. “I don’t smell anything,” she replies and then her nose crinkling… “Dead fish?” My girl. I roll my eyes and turn around as we roll on. Thank you, Silver Bullet for this moment!

When I sit in the first-class seat, a splurge I do not care about since I am a virtual shut-in and joining the throng of herded cattle on the flight down rendered me incapacitated and ill, I feel almost normal. It was the first time I had flown since getting sick around April Fool’s Day. (Worst joke ever.)

I am a different kind of special for once. No one has a clue about the real me while I sit there in the window seat and fiddle with the movie screen.

Will the real Mrs. Jastram please stand up? Oh, nevermind. I will always remain sitting, I guess. Doing this new tightrope balancing act as I weigh the option of placing my foot on the ground is enervating, worrisome courtesy of everyday vertigo. I have been seasick for over three years.

I talked to my brother-in-law about the Silver Bullet, and in his nonchalance, he reasoned, “Would you feel bad if you broke a finger and had to wear a cast?” Wow! Was he minimizing the Silver Bullet! Dammit. Or was I maximizing?

Each day, I am human. Living with my human thoughts and my human intensities to wring emotion and worth out of my life. Did I feel less and more because of my chair? Mental vertigo.

One truth was certain. I was giving the Silver Bullet power and it could be used to reassure or depress me.

It is a tool, an inanimate object no matter its loving endearment and I simply have to sit in it and gel with the joy in my heart.

I had to move past crying in a stranger’s driveway as I grieved and celebrated the purchase. She was kind, but asked, “Is it for you?” I nodded with a crumpled, hot face and said, “Thank you.”

I had to see it as a helper and not a hindrance.

But to do so meant also accepting the reactions of people. It meant confronting how much I missed the old me that I did take for granted. My old body I never used to take to Pilates. My old body that I thought I had all the time in the world for, to build up, to amaze me, to treat gently… And then I found out my time had run out.

I’m mad at myself for not being a fortune teller who should have known. I’m mad at everyone else for their chance to play fast and loose with their vitality. And then I am mad at being mad.

This is the definition of madness.

I am faced with the reactions of other people and wiped out from the constant reinforcing of my own temerity to ensure inside me will remain intact. And I didn’t want to realize what can be ugly and hurtful. I didn’t want to justify treatment and how I feel invisible, less than. I don’t want to advocate and then feel like a hypocrite because I am just a person, wheeling around in the same ol’ skin we all have. Meat casing with feelings. Rejecting pity. Wearing vulnerability like an itchy shirt. Sorry/not sorry for this fact that sticks in your throat. I just happen to be sitting.

I am not strong every day, but I work on it.

Silver Bullet and I now agree to disagree. He knows me as a crank and that sometimes he simply needs to shut up and get the job done. As well as he knows on better days, I can decorate him (he adores the thought of girlie twirlie swirls surrounding his spokes) and that I burst with gratitude that he is there to cart my tired ass all over the place.

Wherever I want to go. Silver Bullet is there to expand my limitations and allow me to engage with people instead of condemning me to sit inside and listen to other people as they walk the world, while I wonder how I will have a life.

I send my energy upward and reassure the heavens I know it could be worse. I say thank you as I peer into the sky. I’m still alive.

But I am allowed to weep sometimes, in the infancy of illness. I am allowed to not be the happy patient, plastering on a smile for the benefit of others and their discomfort. I am allowed to be silent as I ponder what the hell happened. How this vision came to fruition and manifests as the exact opposite of what I anticipated I would grow to be.

You are allowed to do the same, to live however you feel.

What I have learned is that I would rather spend my time zipping in the valleys, giggling as my husband runs with me through Target to the amazement of some and the audible chagrin of others (screw you!) than spinning my wheels in a ditch.

Follow this journey on SickBiz.

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Getty image by Elena Nichizhenova.

Originally published: January 1, 2018
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