I had never taken, so much as heard of the R train before. I’d spent the last year coddled by the B train along Central Park West. It’s the ride that shoots you down to Chelsea from 116th street—a ride that’s only supposed to take 28 minutes. But now I live an earshot from City Hall and the R train is the only one that would bring a person from regulatory to vintage, from working class to hipster, from municipal to the Lower East Side. I hobble sometimes as I tread the city streets. It’s got a lot to do with what shoes I am wearing but really it comes down to the state of my feet.
See, I suffer from foot drop, a condition that plagues both of my feet with neuropathy. I walk well at times (when I’m wearing inserts). Bilateral AFO’s, they’re called. Ankle-Foot Orthoses. However, there are moments when I need to personally shed the AFO’s and flop through the City streets in my neon-colored Steph Curry high tops, but it comes with repercussions. First off, it tires me at an exponential rate, and second, moving while flat-footed through the world opens up a Pandora’s Box of assumptions that are awfully untrue. Appearances shouldn’t dictate how one is perceived, and though it’s 2016, they still often do.
Meanwhile, across the street, a mother tightly clutches her child’s hand beneath the cross light. The orange and analog hand changes to a ghost-white outline of a walking pedestrian. We are meant to cross the street now, or miss our window to pass each other and interact as city dwellers do, then wait, again, for another set of minutes before the next opportunity to safely cross arises. I step a few yards closer to the other side, and now we are both steps from the middle, from one another.
Let’s magnify the situation for a moment.
For some people, I believe that an increase of speed means sacrificing accuracy. Just the same, walking in a perfectly straight line personally means I have to be methodical, painstakingly slow. I’ve inhabited a new modality of transportation that’s stepwise – and I’m forced to feel incongruous from my fellow pedestrians. I note the mother moving to the inside, creating a sort of purpose-filled wall of difference between the oncoming individual (me) and her child. As we pass each other I feel her icy stare moving up and down my body, and her wide, unblinking eyes are loud enough so that I am clear on her message, that I am different and should not be permitted to walk the same path as the able-bodied individual…
"Check ignition, and may God’s love be with you."
The mother abruptly switches sides with her son, nearly swinging him to the outside line with one arm. She proceeded to stare directly at me purposefully, with some type of intent. As though her eyes were saying, “This is our crosswalk, and see what you made us do, our family has to reorder our pattern of walking to accommodate you.”
Of course, this is merely my hypothesis, and neither I nor anyone else will be able to discern a person’s thoughts. But as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and in this instance, I was puzzled as this woman seemingly rearranged her whole pattern just to exclude me, have me further feel as an outsider would.
More often, there are times when I am carrying a walking stick (a cane) and I’m using this verb, "carrying," to express that it is an action more so than an accessary as canes, or walking sticks often are. You would see that I don’t feel I need it. One side of my body is not typically weaker than the latter and I am disabled only from beneath the ankles.
With as much stride as I can convey, I trudge onwards and down the flight of concrete. As I move deeper underground towards the MetroCard fob, I near an entrance into the City Hall station of downtown Manhattan. I just want to access my way without a call to disruption. An interruption that may narrow my window or redirect my course is all that I am seeking to avoid.
As the R begins its approach into the station, my fellow pedestrians and I all began to anticipate which subway car we might enter through: Would it be from the rear or closer to the front?
We’re all huddled and still spread out along the entryway of the station, closest to the card-fob, as no one chooses to move further, up or down, in either direction along the platform. I step ahead of the masses, and now I’m standing six inches or so from the ledge. As the train chugs closer along the tracks, a gust of New York City tunnel air sweeps up from the polluted ground below and wafts closer to our faces. I feel its momentum across my chest, its faint attempt at edging my body backwards and away from the track, but there I remain defiant of anxiety and force.
Why am I compelled to stand this close? Am I testing fate? After coming this far, am I a fool to risk a slight misstep or a shove in the wrong direction, thereby putting a period at the end of my life’s sentence? My altered body, it’s different from the normal state it once possessed in the past, but it is my head that perhaps hasn’t changed. Of course, my actions alone convey a wholly different human being, careful, poised, and perhaps even a bit reserved. The incessant need to push a given limit–I can’t help but feel that these limits were meant for transcending. To test them would mean to diverge from them, even one day break from them.
"Ground control to major tom your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong."
What went wrong in 2009 that left me paralyzed from the ankle down? It feels silly, even a little bit as I’m writing this to say. "Oh hi, yes I’m OK – Don’t worry, after all, everything has passed but I’m still OK. Just paralyzed from the ankle down."
Yeah, that’s me now. A person who woke up in the hospital, not as a million little pieces, but instead just two, symmetrical, fleshy stilts. Hell-bent and rigid, like unwavering appendages. If these feet weren’t meant for walking, what the fu*k is the point of all of this?
Am I supposed to laugh?
I didn’t just run from addiction, I sprinted and hid in a dark corner. What did ensue, the result of all this, it culminated in a debilitating, or a harrowing new phase that’s become a reality. My feet today—they offer me nothing. As a human being still, I have to clip toe nails, and make sure to wash in between my toes now and then, but it isn’t a mutually beneficial relationship. There’s no reciprocity on the part of the things which hold ground and physically put me shoulder-to-shoulder with all of my counterparts.
So, what’s left to do?
As Maury Ballstein of Balls, models has said, “you put one foot in front of the other, and move ‘em!” What’s one to do, though, when that instruction doesn’t seemingly fit the bill?
Italicization's referenced from David Bowie's "Space Oddity."