"We can bring my dog," she says.
"It will be fun!" SHE SAYS.
Sure," I agree, "That sounds awesome."
For context, the last time we went to the park, we spread out a picnic blanket under a tree and I fed a sugar cookie to her sweet little Maltese as it fell asleep in my lap.
As an additional disclaimer, I absolutely adore this friend of mine. We've been friends for about ten years now and she is one of the sweetest, kindest people I have ever encountered. So this post is in no way a criticism of her. In fact, I'd venture to say that this post is more of a criticism of ME - because I should have seen this coming, and I probably should have said something earlier on in the situation. Buuuuut I didn't...so here we are!
Right after my friend suggests the park idea, she texts her mom to ask if we could take the Maltese with us. A few seconds later, her phone buzzes.
"Oh," she says, "My mom said that Bailey hurt his paw, so it looks like we'll have to take my Standard Poodle instead!"
That was warning sign number one.
When we pull into her driveway to pick up her dog, we decide that I'll wait in the car, but about a minute later, my friend calls to me.
"Hey," she says, "actually you should come in! It might be a few minutes longer than we thought because my mom has to get the dog ready, and she wants me to change into my running shoes."
That's about when I realized I was getting in over my head.
In the kitchen, her mom is fastening the leash and collar onto the 60-lb Standard Poodle that is going to accompany us to the park.
"Aww, hi Lily!" I say, scratching her dog around the neck. Then I turn to her mom. "She seems so calm!" I say. (my dogs usually get ridiculously excited as soon as we bring out their leashes)
Her mom laughs. "Ohhhh, she looks calm NOW, but just you wait! This one has tons of energy...she can jump over five foot walls!"
Then her mom hands me a paper bag.
"Here, I got some water for you girls because it's 90 degrees outside today and I don't want you to get dehydrated. I put in two bottles of water for Lily because I know she'll be exhausted after this."
SO. Quick recap on the situation I'd somehow managed to get myself into: I am standing in the middle of the kitchen, holding a paper bag with four water bottles -- two for the soon-to-be-exhausted Standard Poodle that can jump over five-foot walls. My friend is upstairs putting on running shoes, and the dog is "getting ready" like this is going to be some Olympic event. Meanwhile, I've somehow managed to overlook the fact that it is NINETY DEGREES OUTSIDE.
Once we get to the park, Five-Foot-Wall-Scaling Standard Poodle leaps out of the backseat of the car with all the grace of a pole-vaulter and sets the pace for our walk.
Side note: I've got two speeds: CP regular and CP "fast."
Standard Poodle speed is not in my repertoire.
So I'm struggling hard to keep up and my friend is leisurely strolling along on the cement path in front of us, trying to make conversation, and I'm trying not to be socially inept but all I can think at this point is:
"CEMENT. THERE'S CEMENT EVERYWHERE."
We pass bench after bench after bench, and each one seems to taunt me.
"So what do you want to do tomorrow?" she muses.
Sit down. Sleep. Movie marathon.
"Oh, I don't know!" I say, attempting to sound cheerfully nonchalant and trying hard to keep the breathlessness out of my voice. "Did you have any ideas?"
"Yeah, I was thinking maybe we could go into the city and walk around all the shops, and then maybe we could go to the beach!"
"That sounds fun!" I reply, but inside I'm dying at the thought of walking ever again. "Or...or...maybe we could go see a movie," I add hopefully, praying that my voice sounds sufficiently casual. Or anything that involves sitting down.
We continue walking for what seems like forever and my friend looks the same as when we first arrived, but I can feel that I'm getting flushed and I start worrying that my exhaustion is showing all over my face. If my friend notices, though, she's too polite to say anything.
Instead, she points to the ocean view to the right of the cement path. "Look at this viewwww," she marvels. "Wowwww."
Meanwhile, I'm glancing surreptitiously to the left. Look at these benchesssss, Wowwww.
Secretly, I can't help but think that the farther we walk away from the car, the farther we'll have to walk back. I already can't imagine doing this all over again. As we continue down the cement path, I realize that I'm starting to feel lightheaded, and with a pang of horror I imagine my friend having to pick me up off the cement path after I've collapsed from heatstroke.
Here's where a reasonable human being might pause and say, "I HAVE A CONDITION. I KNOW THIS HAS SOMEHOW NEVER COME UP IN THE TEN YEARS THAT WE'VE KNOWN EACH OTHER, BUT THE REASON I WALK WEIRD.... THAT'S CEREBRAL PALSY. AND IT MEANS THAT I CANNOT WALK INDEFINITELY ON CEMENT AT STANDARD POODLE SPEED ON A 90 DEGREE DAY AND SURVIVE."
But I couldn't. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, the words just wouldn't come. I had two options: explain about cerebral palsy to my friend of ten years - OR - pass out on the cement. And I was choosing to pass out on the cement.
"Oh it doesn't seem like we've gone that far!" my friend exclaims, looking over her shoulder at the ten billion miles of cement we'd just traversed. I say nothing but inside I'm dying.
I hear my surgeon echoing in my head."You've got to be mindful because your leg is going to be uncooperative for another year or so."
That's when I see it: HEAVEN. (AKA a shaded area with picnic tables)
"LET'S SIT THERE, THAT LOOKS AMAZING!" I say, and I can't keep the desperation from creeping into my voice.
"Oh yes! This is such a cute little spot, good idea!" my friend says.
I slide onto the bench and experience a sense of relief that completely defies description. The burning sensation that was taking over my legs (especially lefty, who's still recovering) starts to recede, and I pull out a water bottle from the paper bag I was holding and drink.
I finish most of its contents in one gulp, and then I offer a water bottle to my friend.
"No thanks!" she says cheerfully. "I'm all set!"
|The ocean view from the park|
For twenty glorious minutes we sit and admire the scenery (and I can finally appreciate the view that she marveled at earlier) and talk about life. I probably should have seized this opportunity to talk about CP - but again, the words just wouldn't come. On top of that, the entire time, I find that I'm worrying about how I'm going to manage the walk back, so eventually I decide it would be best to just get it over with.
"Do you think we should go back now?" I say (in spite of the fact that walking all the way back is the last thing I feel like doing).
"Sure!" she says. "Let's go forward!"
"Wait," I say. "Forward? As in...away from the car?" I can't quite keep the panic from my voice.
"Yeah, the park makes a circle, doesn't it? Let's do a circle to get back to the car!"
YES THE PARK MAKES A CIRCLE. A LITERAL FIVE-MILE CIRCLE.
(I know this particular circle well because my brother used to run races around half of it when he did track in high school.)
"It's five miles," I say. "How about we just go back to where we came and then if we decide we want to go farther" - please God, no - "we can walk past the car in the opposite direction."
My friend agrees to this, cheerfully, and meanwhile I'm attempting to mentally prepare myself for this journey of walking all the way back, and maybe even MORE.
We continue back - and the sun is still beating down on us ferociously - and I'm silently agonizing as my legs try to accommodate Standard Poodle Speed. Eventually, the car is in sight and I'm quietly rejoicing...keeping it cool on the outside but inwardly partying....and then my friend says, "So at the bridge" - right next to the car, right next to MY FINISH LINE - "let's turn around."
No. No no no no no.
"You mean, like...go back?" I ask. "I'm...I'm a little worried about getting sunburned," I say, trying anything but admitting CP at this point. "The sun's pretty strong."
"Yeah," she says, "but it's getting to be the late afternoon so it's probably dying down."
I'M DYING DOWN.
We turn around.
A few minutes later, I try again: "I don't want you to be late for dinner"[at 6 pm, two hours from now -I'm getting desperate].
Finally, my legs just CAN'T anymore. My CP is protesting full-force and I can feel my coordination getting worse. Every step takes deliberate concentration, and even with conscious effort, I can feel that my movements are becoming increasingly clumsier.
"I THINK WE SHOULD GO BACK NOW," I say.
"Oh, we are going back!" she replies cheerfully, and at this point I'm confused. She points to a car in the far distance. "That's the car."
I know for a fact that this is not our car. That car has been my finish line for this entire ordeal. I could identify it from a hundred miles away.
"No, that's not the car," I say. "We are going in the opposite direction of the car."
"Really?" she says. "Okay...well...if you're sure, let's turn around. But if we're wrong then we're going to have to walk all the way back here!" (She says this kindly, but inwardly I'm panicking at this possibility)
We turn around and - THANK YOU GOD - after what seemed like miles, we finally reach the car. I've never been happier to sit down in my entire life.
Then she turns to me and says, "Maybe tomorrow we can come back and walk the entire circle!"
NOPE. NOPE. NOPE.
"How about we just come back and have a picnic instead?" I suggest.
"Ooh, yes, that sounds great!" she replies.
(inward sigh of relief)
I wonder why, after all these years, it's still so hard...how can I write about CP so openly here, and yet it seems I'd sooner pass out on cement than talk about it with a friend whom I've known for ten years. I know she wouldn't have judged me - she's one of the least judgmental, kindest people I know...and it's visually obvious that I've got a disability, so it's not like it would be a huge surprise.
If I'd had a sprained ankle or a broken leg or something of the sort, I would have easily been able to say, "I don't think I can go for a walk in the park today" - but somehow, it's a million times harder to say, "I've got cerebral palsy...there's something wrong with my brain, and I don't think I can go for a walk in the park today, or tomorrow, or ever."
And I did go for that walk - somehow, my legs managed to do it, but it wasn't leisurely. It was panic and dread and "how did I get myself into this" and "should I say something" and "why can't I tell her" the entire time.
Just the other day, I had just finished up tutoring, and the girl whom I tutor (who is kind of like a little sister to me) was silent for a minute, deep in thought.
Then she said: "Do you remember the mile run from when you were in high school?"
"Yes," I said. I remembered that run. I remembered standing on the sidelines in gym class and watching it, at least. I didn't tell her that I was always exempt from it, because as we know, Complicated Cerebral Palsy Conversations are not my thing.
"It was a bad day for me today. I took fourteen minutes to run the mile and I was one of the last people to finish. Everyone was watching me and laughing at me," she said.
"Hey, I think fourteen minutes is pretty good!" I said. "It's a lot better than I could do."
"Really?" she said. "How long did it take you?"
"I don't remember," I said (see: Complicated Cerebral Palsy Conversations). "But don't be sad about fourteen minutes. I think it's awesome that you ran that mile and you finished even when they were laughing at you. That takes a lot of strength."
I think it always takes strength to persevere through difficulties, and it takes even more strength to admit that we have difficulties.
Someday, I want to get to a place in my life where I can comfortably admit that, for me, a walk in the park isn't always a walk in the park.
Sometimes we struggle. Sometimes life is difficult. And that's okay.