By Robert Williams

Sometimes it can be a scent, song, sound, or sight that reconnects you in the present with an event that occurred in the past. After seeing a pair together in the swimming pool at La Fitness. I traveled through the time machine of the mind.

I’m not sure how he was in relation to the young woman, who appeared to be in her early twenties. The pair struck me. Not only struck me but triggered my mind back to when I was in a low place in the valley of life. My mind so easily drifted to that time when I could not walk on my own. I mean I could not stand on my own two feet.

I watched the couple in the pool at LA Fitness as I finished my own therapy. I had stepped outside of the sauna to cool down. I had completed half of my workout, the cardiovascular walking on an incline of eight and some light weights. The next half of my workout would take place in the sauna, whirlpool, and swimming pool.

It seemed to me that they were playing “patty cake bakes a man as fast as you can.”

In the water. Childhood game. I couldn’t take my eyes off the two. I didn’t want to be nosy. The young man had taken his companion by both her hands and walked in reverse guiding her every step of the way.

The bright lights reflected off the water as I stood and peered at the pair.

The gym has always been a safe space for me to get away from the ordinary. I am a long-term member of LA Fitness; I frequent the gym as often as I can. The swimming pool, sauna, and whirlpool are part of my ongoing healing and therapy. They help with tightness, tension, and stiffness in my joints and overall body.

As the young lady struggled to ambulate, I thought of my own inability to ambulate twenty-three years ago. I was in a hospital setting straddled between two brown wooden parallel bars. Learning to walk inch by inch, day by day. Time collapsed, and I gasped for breath, my eyes watery, and tears rolled down my face.

I walked away, turned my head, and wiped off the tears. My mind went completely blank. The young lady put a great deal of thought into every movement before she did it. It was painstakingly difficult. Watching her was agonizing for me. What a jagged memory and tender act. Those devices flashed, flooded, and fueled my mind. The flat silver medical cane with a grey rubber coating, silver crutches, a walker and wheelchair. I was there but I’m here. I said I was there, but I am here. Each fragile step she took in the pool was less than a fraction of an inch. Each step was hammered in fear. She looked up and I said to myself how was I going to do it? I remembered. I just did it. How was I going to get there? These questions zipped, whirled and washed through my mind. The pair finally made it to the four light blue steps to exit the pool and that was a job in and of itself. I cheered them on without them knowing it.

The young man was rich in patience. Someone had been patient with me also. I didn’t get where I am today on my own. Money can’t buy that kind of patience. Its internal and intrinsic value. Priceless. I mean this young man moved at the pace of his companion. He was careful, cautious and moved with precision. I watched his rhythm. As he exited the athletic pool, he stopped with a firm seriousness and a warm smile. I have twenty-three years of lived experience with a permanent hip injury, imbalance, and a limited range of motion. I have not seen a single person after my injury that moved with that same peculiar, precision and slowness. As the pair passed by me. I moved to the side and allowed them enough space.

The young lady never looked up, but the man did. I shook his hand and said I survived a near-death accident. Not only that but I flatlined and had been revived. He said I see you walk with a limp; I said yes, I was far worse off, I came a very long way. I wasn’t defeated in the valley of tragedy.

It used to take me damn near 30 minutes to get from the driveway to the front door, to walk up two cement steps.

I utilized what I had at the time. Patience, crutches, a girlfriend who patiently waited, and fear. During that time, I cried on the inside, but appearance would not have you think that. I rarely revealed what I was going through and honestly, I don’t think I could express what was going on internally at that time. I was reasonably rotten, rough, and tough. I was also blemished, bruised, and broken. I depended on crutches and carried the weight of a stiffened leg, along with a fused hip with no motion. I lived in fear with my entire right side of my body. From the waist to ankle. I leaned on my left side because to be able to walk depended on it. I used the crutches to step up, step down, to get in and out of cars. I remained close to cement walls in case I lost my balance and fell. When I made it up the next set of steps I would stop, pause and look at the ants’ circle and dance around the rubber stopper at the bottom of the silver metallic crutches. No one knew the fear that cut, coursed, and communicated with that old wooden stained floor. The floor needed to be stripped, sanded, stained, and shellacked again. The floor was faded in some areas, some spots stood out more than others. I was just like that floor, I needed to be polished, refined, stained, and shellacked to be brought back to life again.

My injuries had slowed me all the way down. This was the U-turn of life. I was always on the go, In and out of the house on the fly. I was now living in reverse. Childlike movements, baby steps or less, but I was alive. My right leg was like a heavy limb that hung from a tree attached to my body. My leg was severely numb, stiff, and heavy. A dead weight, and it was as dead as the unexpressed, unmentioned, emotions that weighed me down. I could never forget the injuries or scars because they were part of me, permanently tattooed into my flesh without the ink, but by blood. I grappled with thoughts that gripped and seized me. How the hell did this come to be? Fate, fear, and fatherhood were on the line.

I could not bathe myself. I could barely sit up at times. I would break out into hot sweats. My upper body drenched, I randomly had to change t-shirts. I would call out to whoever was available at the time. Sometimes no one was around, and I was okay if it was just fear, anger and tears. Pressure and pain pursued me daily, day after day, morning, noon, and night. I was summoned to change my life and it was a deliberate fight. Many nights I called my girlfriend at that time during the middle of the night to hear her voice. She was always active with work and higher learning to better herself. Then there was this amalgam of feeling shattered, broken, and torn apart. After talking with her I would slick my teeth, hang up the phone, draw in my mind and start to think I must hold my own. I think that was the spoiled, self-centered part of me that I developed in my early stages of life. Everything was centered around me. I made it out alive at twenty-three.

I had talks with myself, Robert, this is your life forevermore. I divorced my old body for this new one.

The old body communicated, crisp and clear through the injuries. Lack of movement translated into being still, sit down, slow down. The cocoon of safety that I was wrapped in had been exposed. A tender wound open. Parts of myself had been preserved for the present. Over the years I reimagined myself repeatedly. I was forced to embrace the new body because I could not change the old, it no longer existed.

Nothing about my life is easy, but I damn sure make it look easy.

Before the young lady left the poolside, I decided to ask the man who accompanied her what happened. He was slow to speak. In a soft voice he said that he did not know what happened to her, but one day, she woke up that way. A disconcerting, throbbing, and unsettling feeling penetrated my body. He said they went to several medical professionals, and no one could tell them what was wrong with her. I looked at her as he spoke. I took notice of her buried smile.

I recognized the discontent that layered her face like makeup, the unspeakable fear, and the dissatisfaction of the present.

As I tried to balance my eyes with hers, I looked away and sort of sighed. The right words didn’t flow from my brain. Hardly am I ever on empty when it comes to offering encouragement. You’re in the right place and do things at your pace. I was moved by the rising steam, the bubbles, and the hot temperature of the whirlpool. I held onto the silver rail and took three steps down, spotted a location to sit and I sat against the jets. The bubbles beat against my back. The discomfort melted, tension eased up, and the mind calmed down.


5 October, 2023