Wednesday, August 5, 2020

That One Day in July

I won't lie.  Since the pandemic started, I've been on an emotional rollercoaster, feeling uncertain, sad, and anxious.  However, one day, a few weeks ago, back in July, sticks in my mind. It was kind of a mess for me, and, honestly, I got more than a little depressed.

I had so much to do that day. (Don’t I always?)  I had a ton of emails and text messages that I wanted to work on, but the internet was completely out, and I couldn’t use my iPad’s data plan either because it was all spent up.   Why, you ask? Because of the fact that my internet connection had been unreliable all month, so I had to use my data plan in order to do my work work online. 

I love to watch Democracy Now! while I have my breakfast most mornings to get some news and relax while I’m eating. (Yes, yes, I know, this sounds totally counter-intuitive, especially considering all of the absolutely horrendous things that are happening in the world today.)   However, because of the stupid faulty internet connection, I wasn’t able to watch Democracy Now!

Fortunately, Brittany called Tek Savvy and everything got straightened out... that is, until the next day. (But that’s another story.)  Fixing the internet took awhile, and Brittany was also helping me do the laundry,

That morning, I was training a new person how to do the basics:  assist me with getting out of bad, eat breakfast, get washed and dressed. You know, the regular stuff people do every day without having to really think about it. And, with my regular employees, the people who know me and my daily routine so well, I don’t have to think about it either, unless I’m doing something out of the ordinary. 

I like the trainee, I really do. They’re kind and respectful, and try hard to please me.  And that was part of the problem.  They were trying way too hard this day.  Even though it was their fourth time training and I had repeatedly told them over a two week period to please not hover over me or treat me as if I were a delicate little flower, they continued to do these things.

Because the trainee kept asking me every few seconds if I I wanted another bite of pancakes, I. became too anxious to to finish my breakfast.  Instead., I suggested that they take a break for an hour, to get lunch or something. I had tons of computer work to do anyway.  When the trainee came back fifteen minutes early, I asked them to please take my debit card and go to Loblaws and buy a small birthday cake.

It was late by the time I got washed and dressed, and Brittany and I had to hurry over to Hair of the Dog to pick up the mac and cheese we’d ordered and then run over to Allan Gardens.  We were going there to celebrate Motria’s birthday.

I always love driving in my power wheelchair, zooming around, looking at all the different people and the beauty of the summer season.  Driving around, even for a short jaunt, removed all of the pressures that had been weighing on my mind that day …  for a while at least.

Brittany and I stopped at a set of lights for a period of time that was long enough for us to see one homeless man kick another homeless man, who was sitting beside Tim Horton’s mumbling to himself. The kicker yelled out, “That’s for stealing from me! You fucking asshole!” He ran off immediately afterwards. The man who had been kicked didn’t seem to be badly  hurt.  He mumbled, “I didn’t deserve that, did I? No.  Well, maybe…. I can’t remember….”

The lights turned green and off we went. We never spoke about this incident, but I kept thinking about it for the rest of the day.

 Brittany and I found Motria, and the three of us sat in a a beautiful, shady spot in Allan Gardens.  The foliage was lush and green, and the flowers were so incredibly colourful and vibrant.  There was such a a wonderfully wide variety of everything as well.  

During the early evening, whenever the conversation began to make me feel a little uncomfortable, I simply focused on the beauty of the flowers that surrounded us and thought about how I’d paint them.

As the three of us noshed upon macaroni and cheese, sweet potato fries, Prosecco, and, later on, chocolate birthday cake, the conversation was mainly about our dreams for the future.  Where would we be in five to ten years? 

Ten years, I mused. I’d be 72 by then.  Despite the longevity that ran in my family, would I still be alive?   And, if so, would I still be bidding farewell to people I love because they sought out greener pastures?  Would I still be training new employees, some of whom I’d have an immediate connection, others painstakingly longer?

Brittany was talking about how much she hated the city these days. It was too crowded and expensive, she said, and the growing number of condos was taking the very charm away she’d been attracted to when she moved here ten years ago.

Recently, one of Brittainy’s uncles had offered her the house that he lived in in up north.  It was an old house that had been in their family for generations, but he was tired of taking care of it.  Because it was old, the house needed a lot of work done to it, which would cost money. Brittany sadly admitted that she wasn’t able to afford something like this at this point in her life.  Plus, one of her sisters who had two small children might decide to to take the house anyway.  And yet, that pull to go back home and live with her family, in a beautiful, secluded town in Ottawa, was still very strong within her.

I hated myself for the knee-gut reaction I had in response to this news – even though Brittany had told me the same thing the week before! My stomach clenched and I felt like running away and crying, The song “Don’t Speak” repeated in my head.  (It wasn’t the first time that this song had haunted me since the pandemic had begun and I was sure that it wouldn’t be the last.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love Brittany and wish her all the luck in making her dreams come true.  It was just that for the past four months there were a couple of people who had decided to leave and go into self-isolation and I’d had to scramble to find other people to cover the shifts and train them.  Indeed, two more people were going to leave my employment next week and I wasn’t 100% sure if I was going to be keeping the newest employee. My anxiety levels were off the chart!

Motria and Brittany then started chatting about how wonderful it would be to just go away somewhere by themselves for a few days, preferably near a body of water. 

When they asked me where I’d go if I could, just for a few days, I dodged the question by commenting on how lovely it was to see monarch butterflies in Allan Gardens.  I hadn’t seen one around in years.

Sadness, regret, and envy welled up inside of me.  There have been so many times, especially during this bloody pandemic, when I wished that I could just go away by myself, just me … and yet, I always came back to the realization that this would never be possible. To live my life, I will always need assistance from people.  That’s just how it was and will be, forever.  I love my employees, I do, and most of them are my closest friends, and yet, just like the people who had left my service, I felt the same kind of pull to go out on my own and try new things and have adventures.

When I go on my semi-annual trips to London, England, I always take three or four employees with me. I book the flights and the flat, and I consult with everyone about which shifts they’d be able to take. (Of course, for my own benefit I always try to to match up the right person with the activity of the day. (For example, Megan was the best person with whom I could go pub-hopping and stay out late.  If I wanted to buy new shoes at Irregular Choice or clothing at Collectif, Brittainy was the one who shared my enthusiasm.) 

I’d say that for 99% of the time, I’m happy with the way things are.  It’s just that within these four and a half months I’ve been juggling so much, much more than usual. People  talk about how PSWs get burnt out with this type of job, and that's a valid concern - but what about the Self-Managers, the people like myself who keep the shifts in order, keep track of the payroll, make sure that all of our employees are content, as well as trying to live our best lives? 

I knew that I would get over these negative feelings, I always did. On that day, though, I was feeling particularly low and burnt out and frustrated.

As we were packing up the leftovers and getting ready to leave, I did what I always do: I pasted a smile on my face and buried my feelings way, way down.  I took a few pictures with Motria and the beautiful flowers, and then hugged her goodbye.  There was no reason for her to know how unhappy I was. I didn’t want to ruin her birthday celebration.

Brittany and I started to head home after that.  On the way, I noticed that the homeless guy was still sitting outside and talking to himself.  Brittany was far ahead of me, probably dying to get into the coolness of my air-conditioned apartment. (It had been so hot and humid outside, even in the shade.)  She hadn’t seen the car almost hit me as I was crossing a small side street.  I could see that the driver wasn’t looking where he was going, so I stopped. When he did see me, he stopped.  I decided it was safe to carry on, but the driver also started to move forward. We played this crazy game of Chicken one more time before a guy behind me bellowed: “Hey, jackass!  Stop and let her cross the road!” 

So, I did. I crossed the street and silently the man behind me.

Brittany was at the front door of the apartment building waiting for me.  When I told her that a car had almost hit me, she said, “Well, that’s Toronto drivers for you.”

In that moment, that single tiny moment, depression washed over me once again and the thought I had been toying silently with all evening long exploded in my mind.  Go, just go. Drive off in any direction and keep on going.  Where?   For how long? I had no idea.  It was just a fantasy.

I followed Brittany into the building and upstairs. As I sat in my apartment, I began to unwind and think how nice it had been to sit outside with Motria and Brittainy at Allan Gardens.  Despite the heat and humidity, it had been a beautiful day.  I had loved all of the sights and and sounds and scents. The food, drinks, and cake were all superb.

I smiled at the memory of hugging Motria.  She was one of of my oldest and dearest friends.  She was more like a sister to me. 

I smiled at the memory of the guy behind me on the street who had yelled on my behalf at the the the driver who wouldn’t let me pass.

Ok, I didn’t have the perfect life and I couldn’t do things exactly how I wanted – but wasn’t that true for most people?  And yes, I still felt sad and regretful that so many friends had left, and more would most certainly leave in the future.  I still had many friends by my side, either in my employment or some who were just a text/email/phone call away. 

Not only that, but I had strangers on the street who had my back.