Friday, November 16, 2012

Do you think about legacy?

When clearing out my parents' condo I was thrilled to find a copy of a short novel my Uncle Bob had written. It was typed on onion skin, and written as he started out a long career of teaching English—my guess is it's at least 50 years old. My aunt (his sister) told me that after submitting it to publishers he "papered the back of his bedroom door" with rejections before giving up.

Given that I could paper a house with the rejections I've received in the past decade of novel submissions, I was eager to read it. My uncle never knew me as a novelist—when he died, he knew me as a dance critic. I remember complaining to him once about how little money I made in this role. With a look of bewilderment he said, "Criticism isn't about money, it's the ability to influence. You have that."

Does a novelist have the ability to influence? I think my lit-loving uncle would say yes, but I'll never get a chance to talk to him about it. So this manuscript he'd never mentioned, read by the niece novelist he'd never known, felt like a secret conversation.

When sharing work at the writing retreats I host for women in northern New York State, at the lake where my uncle and other extended family members spent summers throughout our lives, we explore the ways writing always reveals things about its author. This novel was no different in the ways it revealed my uncle.

Teaching was more than employment for my uncle; it was a way of being. He befriended his students, and often hosted groups of teenaged male students on his island during the summer. The practice inspired lifelong friendships; one former student and frequent lake visitor delivered the eulogy at his funeral, recalling the wonder of coming to the lake for the first time and seeing so many stars. My uncle's novel evokes such a mentorship between a college creative writing teacher and a student whose reclusive demeanor, coupled with his writing assignments centered on boat repair, suggests a troubled soul. The teacher, like my uncle, goes above and beyond the dictates of his role as teacher to see if he can reach this student.

One of the troubling attributes the student shares is too keen an interest in making a quick buck, the teacher discovers when visiting him at his summer job on a large lake whose shoreline is riddled with commercial interests. While the teacher wants the student to stay in college so he might find rewarding work that will support him, he fears for his student's soul with regard to money. This is where our family's lake roots make a cameo appearance. My uncle wrote:

Bob's island

With summer coming on, Cam thought of the lake in the mountains where he had spent every summer of his life. It was a small lake, filled with islands, and lost in a great forest far from the noises and confusions of civilization. Life there was simple and earthy, full of sunlight and the smell of pine needles by day, and the sound of whip-poor-wills and bullfrogs at night to sing and squawk one to sleep. There was absolutely nothing to do of itself—no amusement parks, no power boats, no Hilltops—but the summers were always full of fabricated joys, made from the love of being with other people and laughing and enjoying their company, and keeping busy together dreaming up things to do. Cam couldn't picture Jim in such a society, where he would be completely dependent upon friendship with others for sustenance. Yet he felt that if Jim were introduced to such a way of life, and was nurtured, he might find in it what he didn't have—he might find that a sense of humor was priceless, that a good laugh could wipe away the memory of many tears, that knowing many people and being accepted by them was the only real victory in life, and brought out all one's unknown, unguessed possibilities. Cam wished he could show Jim a new standard of values. It was so difficult to sell such things sight unseen.

The way my uncle wrote of our family's legacy at the lake moved me. Since his death, my husband and I extended that legacy considerably by tearing down the rotting, hundred-year-old camp and rebuilding it in a way that should ensure it will outlive its predecessor. I have broadened the legacy by inviting women writers to join me there, and many of them have chosen to come back year after year. My uncle left his island, pictured above, to my cousin named Bob—as if to perpetuate the sense of timelessness he valued there, he ensured that it would still be "Bob's island" long after his death.

Maybe it's this background that impels me to think about legacy, spurred on perhaps by my first husband's suicide. But I wonder: how will the world be a different place due to my presence here, and due to my choice to be a writer? The answers will never be mine to know, but the question itself is enough to inspire me to strive to make a difference.

How about you?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How do you get back up there? Part 2

Today is the one-year anniversary of my triple ankle fracture. In an 18-month period that has included my father's death, moving my mother into assisted living against her will, taking on her power of attorney and health care duties, the sudden death of my 21-year-old nephew in a car crash, and the selling and clearing out of my parents' condo—all while trying to meet volunteer commitments and edit for paying clients, of course—this was the single most stressful event.

So I did what I always do—wrote my way out of it. Here, at this blog. It helped, but as physical therapy began it became increasingly difficult to fit in blogging. I had to reassess.

My number one concern was to get back to novel writing. I was so close to the next level of success with my novel; an editor at a major publishing had taken interest and an agent seemed truly interested. I couldn't turn my back on it now. But with what time, exactly, would I pursue this? Doctor appointments and family obligations were seriously biting into my days. A friend suggested I put the blogging on the back burner for now.

I did just that, which is why you see such a date gap between this and my last post. Yet especially on this one-year anniversary of Hurricane Irene, while sitting in the camp where just outside I had lain for a half-hour awaiting the ambulance, I felt nostalgic. I wanted to finish sharing my journey.

After I moved back to Doylestown I transferred to a new orthopedic surgeon, who opened my bandages to inspect the leg. This meant that I would see my foot for the first time in four weeks.

I did not recognize this leg. Look at that calf muscle atrophy! The skin on my calf was wrinkled. I couldn't even will it to contract. Nothing. It hung there like pudding in a skin sack.

The color was remarkable. Guess which one was broken?

Although repeat x-rays showed that all the hardware was still in place, my doctor was concerned when I told him the hospital's physical therapist had suggested that, while in my soft bandaging, I flex and point to the extent of my ability. This would help control swelling, the therapist said, and I did as I was told. As you can see, the swelling wasn't bad. This new doctor preferred complete rest and put me in a hard cast for the two remaining weeks of my six-week, non-weight-bearing immobilization.

I chose green, the color of renewal. I needed all the metaphor support I could get. I didn't realize how much I'd love the hard cast. It allowed me to do everything with less fear that I would twist my ankle inappropriately, from cruising around on crutches to turning over in bed. Here was my sweet editing set-up.

After two days of planning and dry runs, I even eased myself into a nice hot tub, the cast hanging out the side. My first moment of true comfort since the fracture.

But I was tired and more dependent on others than I ever care to be again. It took me half the day just to tend to basic needs. I felt shut out out of my former writing world.

So it was a real treat to have Dave drive me to Surf City to lead a three-hour workshop with the Long Beach Island Writers Group. After, Margaret Hawke hosted us overnight. I climbed their outside stairs on crutches and the inside stairs on my butt. The experience was restorative, reminding me of who I was—but the logistics and the effort to execute them were exhausting. Once I got home I slept on and off for two days.

Time came for the cast to be removed. They were going to use this. Dear god.

With complete rest my ankle was now healed—and as fat as a spaghetti squash. Even now I feel nauseous looking at this picture.

When I (gingerly) set my foot down, I found it was so swollen I couldn't get my toes to touch the floor.

I will not ask you to slog along through the painful weeks of physical therapy, where each new impossible task was eventually met. Let's skip to January, when I was able to resume my normal fitness center workouts with the elliptical and weightlifting. By late January I tolerated a three-mile walk. In general, though, my ankle hasn't enjoyed long walks—it gets sore and sloppy—so preventing weight gain has been a bit of a problem. Running, always a trick because of shin splints, will now forever be off the table.

But I have achieved other accomplishments that make me feel competent again:

• In December I signed with literary agent Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency! She is now trying to sell my novel while I write the next.

• In June I did an easy hour-and-a-half hike through the woods with my writing retreaters. Warning! Uneven surfaces!—but I triumphed.

• Last week I swam the 1-3/4 mile length of Trout Lake in northern NY State.

• Yesterday, the day before my one-year anniversary, I did a shorter but more difficult hike to the bluffs at nearby Cedar Lake.

I balanced on an unsecured log bridge.

My less-flexible ankle made it up—and down—rocks. The scar that covers the metal plate is fading.

In this past year I have regained strength. Flexibility. Balance. But most importantly, I've climbed back up to the place where perspective resides. From this vantage point I can look back at my life—even this past year—in gratitude; I can look forward with relish; all the while believing that in this very moment, I'm just fine.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

How do you get back up there? Part I

When I finally got back to my townhouse with my fractured ankle, this is what I encountered:

Anyone who’s had to step away from a vibrant life—to birth a child, to heal from illness or injury, to bury their dead—understands the metaphor this photo represents. My life as I’d known it was hidden at the top, out of reach, and I stood on one leg at the bottom. My energies had been diverted to concerns of human survival: how to get food and water. How to move safely from here to there in my vulnerable state. How to find some small enjoyment while managing the pain.

How to get to my third floor office and check my e-mail.

Reaching for any aspect of my former, happy life was a strain. My writing, teaching, retreat hosting, editing—that life was all about self-actualization. No wonder I wasn’t feeling like myself. My fall during Hurricane Irene shattered that life as well as my ankle. Circumstance now required that I hang out at the bottom of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Over the next few months, I’d have to find a way to climb back to the top of the pyramid. For now, however, the stairs were enough to face.

Fifteen risers, to be exact. Times two.

That first night home I handed my crutches to Dave, turned around to sit on the bottom stair, and went up on my bum. I made it halfway up before having to stop and catch my breath. As Dave hovered below, spotting me (more likely, should I have slipped, I would have clipped him in the knee and taken us both down), I muttered a quick prayer of gratitude for my general state of health and fitness before continuing up.

When I woke the next morning I did the math. If Dave brought me breakfast in bed, and if I only had to use the bathroom once during my morning computer work, and if I edited downstairs in the afternoons and stayed there until bedtime, I’d only have to do six sets of stairs per day. I’d leave the crutches at the bottom of the stairs to use on that floor, and the walker at the top for use on the second floor. When I got to the third, I’d crawl the fifteen feet to my computer.

My new life.

One morning while I was working in the loft my son Marty came for a visit, and Dave, downstairs fixing lunch, sent him up. We spoke for a few minutes and Dave called up that lunch was ready. An awkward moment passed—no one had yet witnessed my loft evacuation plan. I said, “Marty, I just want to warn you that I’m now going to sink out of my chair and crawl to the stairs.”

I couldn’t imagine the feelings it would stir in me if I’d ever had to watch my mother crawl.

I got better at doing stairs on my bum, over time; the human body and spirit have a capacity to adapt that never fails to amaze me. My triceps strengthened, my heart accommodated, and my palms hardened into a protective surface that eventually allowed 10-12 sets of stairs a day:

See those spots at the heel of my hand? Those are my rug calluses.

Have you ever had to adapt to new circumstances in a way that changed your body? Share your oddest sports injury or overuse syndrome.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

One-footed emotional balance

While I'd missed the tour of the assisted living facility—its floor plan was great for seniors, but too much walking for the recently wounded—two of my sisters determined it was a good fit for my mother. If we moved her in by the end of the month, she could lock in a lower monthly rent. "The siblings"—all five of us, including my brother in Denmark—decided this was the route to go. We had just two weeks to get her moved. From that point on everything seemed to happen in fast motion.

This put considerable stress on my mother, who had only recently returned home to a condo that no doubt felt quite empty. We'd kept her busy in the weeks after my father's death in the spring; she saw a lot of family and friends at the lake this summer, especially during the week of my dad's memorial; and as the summer waned she'd had a nasty adrenaline surge to recover from as her daughter/caretaker lay screaming out in the rain, requiring an ambulance and then surgery. Now, recovering in the convenience of her one-floor living, that daughter was no replacement for my father's constant adoration.

One day she broke down crying. I'd seen my mother cry maybe three times in my life prior to my father's death; since then her tears came readily. She said, "I'm trying to be good about all this, because you all think I should move. But I need time. To..." She couldn't go on.

"To grieve Dad's loss," I offered. She nodded.

I told her I wished that we could give her that time. I remembered the advice from when my own husband died: don't make any major life changes while you're actively grieving. I'd stayed on the farm another twelve years. But my mother's memory decline had been relentless since my father's passing. Some of that might be temporary, due to grief, but the result was clear. She needed more support.

We were at a loss as to how to provide it. If she were in a wheelchair, we could bring someone in to bathe her and make a hot meal. If it were only that she couldn't drive, we could hire a driver. But how do you support someone whose daily life constantly confuses, whose medications overwhelm, whose diet is degrading, and who needs a sane sounding board for most every decision? We felt she needed the support services of assisted living, so I once again told her so.

"But I need to be here," she said tearfully. "Around his things. I can't take all this with me."

This woman had looked me straight in the eye before my first wedding and demanded that there be no tears. I now wanted to put down my head and sob right along with her, but choked it back. I laid my hand over hers and said, "I know. But we'll make sure you take enough."

Unable to put weight on my fractured ankle and still struggling with the walker and crutches, I could do so little for her. But on my last day there, before Dave came to pick me up and take me home, I sucked up the pain and accompanied her from room to room in her condo. We catalogued all the furniture, lamps, and artwork (there was a lot of that; my Dad was an artist) and, on a clipboard, divided items into three categories: things my mom hoped to bring with her, things she hoped would stay in the family, and things that could be sold at auction.

Once she got going she wanted to plow through the whole six-room, two-bath condo (yes, there were even multiple artworks in the bath). I worried that these emotional decisions would overtire her.

"Do you want to rest?" I'd ask.

"No, I'm fine. Do you need to rest?"

Frankly, I was exhausted after the first two rooms. Physically and emotionally. My ankle was throbbing; this was the longest it had been dangling down since the surgery. But I popped another pain pill and pushed on. Undertaking this task seemed to energize her, and I would not stand between her and its completion. By the time we reached the living room I sank to the floor and stretched my broken ankle out in front of me. And when it came time to move to the bedroom, rather than strain that overused ligament on the outside of my "good" hip to stand, I crawled on my hands and knees, pushing the clipboard along in front of me like a trained dog.

By the end of the day we had finished cataloguing the whole condo. The next day, when Dave picked me up, he dropped off the three colors of bright Post-Its I'd requested so my brother-in-law and nephew would have no trouble identifying the items that needed to be moved. The next day another sister arrived; using the list I provided she went through the condo and affixed labels to every single item.

I left knowing I had pushed myself to do what I could. The sibs were really pulling this together, with an extraordinary team effort that continued over the course of the final preparations that next week. E-mails flew between us. Everything was set. It would go like clockwork.

The day before my brother-in-law and nephew were slated to move the furniture, I called my mother, sensing she might need another pep talk. But she was already in a great mood, and asked how I was doing. After my report, she said, "And oh, have you heard my good news?" It had been so long since I heard such enthusiasm in her voice!

"No," I said. "What good news?"

"I'm not moving after all! I'm staying right here, in my condo. I just finished throwing away all the tags Nancy put on the furniture."

I reeled as if I'd just been sucked inside a cyclone; she'd knocked me completely off-kilter. There had been no e-mail chatter about a change of plans among the sibs. And all our work, gone! "How? Why?" My recent surgery had sapped my powers of speech; I was now monosyllabic.

"Someone called me and said I didn't have to go. And I never wanted to move anyway."

All I could think to do was hang up quickly and tell her I'd be back in touch. Then I quite madly started calling my sisters to find out what was going on. I left messages everywhere then simply had to wait it out. My mind and gut churned in turmoil.

One of my sisters called back in an hour. She followed up with my mother and got back to me—apparently, to the abnormal short-term memory loss that instigated her doctor's initial diagnosis of dementia, we could now add the symptoms of creative memory and wishful thinking. It had never occurred to me to suspect anything of the sort; as evidenced in her comment before my wedding, my mother had always been frightfully direct. While I ran and hid, my sister was able to face my mother down and straighten her out.

Her husband and son did indeed move my mother's furniture the next day, completely winging it—and they did an amazing job.

And I learned that "winging it" was not at all in my post-surgery emotional lexicon. Moving about on one leg was not just a matter of physical balance; I'd been thrown for my own loop. I needed rest, away from my mother, in my own home and with my husband, to restore a desperately needed emotional balance, as well.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Perspective at the great 55

Oprah, at 55:

Bill Gates, at 55:

Martina Navratilova, at 55:

Golum (age unspecified):

Kathryn Craft, age 55:

What do these stellar 55-year-olds have in common?

Those of us who want to preserve our youth must stay in the game. Train our eyes on the prize. Keep moving, even when it hurts. Get out among other people. Follow our bliss. To that end, I'm pictured above, still gamely trying to convince myself I could pull off my fall writing retreat at the lake, despite my ankle fracture, just because I could perch on these stools long enough to chop up ingredients for chicken salad.

I always schedule my fall writing retreat for women on the first weekend after Labor Day—my birthday weekend. Part of this is because the lake has grown quiet but the weather's still good. But it's also pre-emptive: my birthday is the one day of the year that I fear major disappointment.

Maybe it's because, growing up, I'd usually get back-to-school clothes and school supplies for my birthday. (As did my other siblings. On my birthday.) Maybe in another way my mother raised my expectations too high—she'd make me anything I wanted for dinner and dessert, and my answer was always the same: standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, and a dark chocolate cake with seven-minute frosting.

But then came the year in college when we had my birthday at the lake and she bought me a Sara Lee pound cake. In light of her compete lack of elbow grease, I thought, She doesn't love me any more.

I think I've been running from my birthday ever since. During my first husband's slow decline into the bottle, each of my birthday gifts was more extravagant than the last, even though I suspected—and eventually knew—he couldn't afford them. Dave, always paying attention as to how not to disappoint me, over-corrected: he usually takes me out to dinner and gives me a card. In order not to feel left out, I only sometimes give him a gift on his birthday. For two mid-lifers typically steeped in gratitude and joie de vive, we've turned into a couple of non-celebraters.

So I've been happier, in recent years, entertaining a group of women writers at my summer home, doing what I love to do in the place I love the most. This year, though, as the following portrait by my son Jackson shows, my fracture took front and center. No retreat. No husband, either—the day before my birthday, Dave dropped me off at my mother's and drove the additional hour home. I didn't see him again until a few days later. When he brought me a card.

My birthday wasn't a complete bust. One sister, newly arrived from Boston to take my mother to visit an assisted living place the next day, picked up a nice dinner and bought a yummy mocha cake. Another sister, who went along on the assisted living trip, stopped by a drug store to buy me a tee-shirt and some cushy grips for my walker.

But my favorite part was when Dave arrived later that week with a package from my best friend. I'd always cracked up when she'd tell me how pathetic her husband was when he didn't feel well: he'd sulk on the couch in a sweatshirt, its hood up like some sort of signal that said, I don't feel good. Comfort me. We'd laughed about it many times over the years.

She knew exactly what I needed for my birthday. After her gift arrived, I had a whole new "55" look to sport:

Readers, help Dave and I out here! How do you like to celebrate your birthday?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One floor—or three? Ask once, or thrice?

In my last post I said that Dave was driving me "home."

That wasn't quite true.

I wanted to go home. I really did. Living with my mother (and her dementia, and her grief over the loss of my father) at the lake all summer, while juggling a heavy workload, had stretched my patience (and, apparently, my ankle) to the snapping point. She needed more support than any of us had realized, and fearing her inability to live alone upon her return home, my siblings and I decided it was time to move her into assisted living.

This is not an easy conversation to have with a parent, nor one best initiated by phone, so the task fell to me. Explaining our need to move her was tough, considering that my mother would probably place such a confrontational heart-to-heart somewhere lower than toenail removal on her bucket list. Plus, she didn't want to go. I'd said, "The only other option is if one of us took you in, but frankly, I don't think you like any of your children enough to survive that." She said, "No, I don't." (Score one for Mom for lobbing back some equally confrontational truth.) These conversations wrung me out—over and over and over, since she could never remember the rationale—and sapped what pre-fracture energy I had.

Now that I was just a week post-surgery and in significant physical pain, I had no energy to spare. More than anything I wanted to hang out with my husband. Relax. Soak up a positive vibe in an atmosphere that felt a tad more sane and a lot less tense.

But to do that, I'd also have to choose vertical living that in no way supported my current, non-weight-bearing needs.

We hadn't wanted another vertical home. For 27 years I'd lived in a farmhouse in which we utilized each of the four floors. But you only have to fall down the steep twisting stairs once, and hit the stone wall at the bottom, to own the truth that this isn't the safest choice for an aging body.

So when Dave and I identified the borough of Doylestown as the place where we could enjoy the walkable, small town life we now desired, we sought there the age-in-place comfort of single floor living. But in this town of old Victorians and newer town homes, the only one-floor options were 1) ranch homes that came with mowing (after mowing four acres at the farm all those years we were quite done with that), or 2) 55+ communities well outside the bounds of that small town walkability. We caved on the issue of one floor living in favor of the lifestyle that living in the borough would provide, and determined to make good use of the town home association's gym to keep arthritis at bay so our knees could handle all those stairs.

Of course knees didn't end up being the first problem. Who knew that less than two years later, my fractured ankle would assert a critical need for a one-floor layout?

And guess who could offer me that?

My mother.

I was thankful for the opportunity to rest up at her condo before tackling our Doylestown stairs. But her memory impairment (or the grief, or both?) made it so that she could not anticipate any of my needs.

I had to ask for everything. One. Item. At. A. Time.

Despite the fact that I simplified my meals, and ate the same thing every day to ease her grocery shopping burden, this is how many requests I needed to make for breakfast alone:
"I'll just have one of my yogurts, please."
"That's all?" she says.
"I'll eat up some of that granola, too, if you want."
"No, not the Triscuits, that granola you bought. The one you didn't like."
"You put it over the fridge."
"I know because I watched you."
"No, that's the one you like. Never mind, I just didn't want the other to go to waste."
(She does not "never mind.")
"No, the one in the taller box with the red writing. The Kashi. Thanks."
[sound of granola hitting bowl]
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mom, I can't eat a whole bowl. I just wanted to sprinkle a little on top of the yogurt. Like I did yesterday. Thanks."
"Could I have some juice too, please, so I can take my pills?"
"Now I need my pills. I'm so sorry, they're in by the bed. And while you're there can you grab the extra pillows so I can prop up my leg?"
"Thanks for the pills. And whenever you can get to it, I could use those pillows. I'm sorry you need to make an extra trip."
"Kathryn, for crying out loud. I'm sorry, too, but there's nothing to be done about it."
She plops down the pillows on the couch where I sit and goes to the kitchen table to eat her own breakfast and read the paper. I've clearly harassed her enough.
Meanwhile, I watch news. It depresses the hell out of me. She is not watching it, she's reading the paper, but this frugal woman who followed me from room to room all summer, flipping off lights at the camp that I'd have to flip back on moments later but with my hands full, blares TV news during all her waking hours. The sound keeps her company.
A half hour later she comes into the room. She takes in my yogurt, its sprinkle of granola, my juice, my pills. "You haven't eaten anything," she notes.
"Um, could I please have a spoon?"
"You are so polite," she snaps.
My mother needed support while awaiting her move. She needed help with medication and bills. I needed help washing my hair.

Neither of us treasured our dependency.

But for twelve more days, we were stuck with each other.

(Know anyone interested in single-floor living in Macungie, PA? My mother's condo is for sale.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Newly handicapped on Rt. 81-S

Nine days post-surgery, Dave drove me home. For the seven-hour trip from our summer home in Northern New York State to Southeastern Pennsylvania, I sat with my left leg stretched across the backseat of my mother's Camry with my broken ankle propped up on a pillow. The night before I'd taken a muscle relaxant—one tiny pill—to help me sleep, and I still could barely stay awake. This was probably a good thing. I would need all the strength I could muster for our mid-trip bathroom break.

We stopped at the Whitney Point rest area, located between New York exits 9 and 8 on Rt. 81 south. We've always loved this location. As you can see from the photo above, it overlooks the gorgeous valley that runs west of Rt. 81 from just south of Syracuse almost all the way to Binghamton. My little cockapoo Max had always given it two paws up (or at least, one rear leg). Relief would not come as easily for me.

At first everything looked great. The rest area had been redesigned in recent years, allowing cars to pull much closer to the front doors. According the the architects' website:

To rectify the inadequacies a new building was built to include the necessary components to provide for present and future needs. The new and upgraded facility includes increased parking for cars and trucks along with improved services for elderly and disabled persons. In addition, the facility contains multiple public restrooms, which are handicap accessible. Other amenities include seating areas and vending machines as well as public telephones and tourist information displays.

We were able to park right in front, beside a labeled handicap spot. At this point I was still painfully and effortfully hopping along with my walker—I didn't think a public place would be the best place for my first experimentation with crutches since an eighth grade ankle sprain. A ligament on the outside of my right hip was feeling the strain, as for more than a week now I'd relied on that one leg for everything. While my arms were generally strong from working out—thank goodness!—my wrists were not used to bearing my weight. I was heartened that it looked to be just a car length or two to get to the door. I could do this.

The interior of the building was spacious. A real beauty from tiled floor to wooden vaulted ceilings. One of my best friends is an architect, and I have a healthy respect for all aspects of design. But I also believe in the old maxim, "Beauty is as beauty does," and this was never truer for me than during my recent induction into the world of the temporarily handicapped.

The ladies room is just beyond the frame of this photo, at the near right side. By the time I made it halfway from the entrance doors to it, I was ready to collapse. I needed to stop and rest.

Despite a design so spacious it could have held enough pews for a small church service, I could find nowhere to do so.

Let me point out the only seating: see that wooden corner in the foreground corner of the photo? That was the one and only bench—I'd have to hop twice as far to get to it. What was the point? Turning back held no special allure, because I needed to use the restroom. I felt stranded. Shaking and sweating from the effort, I had no choice but to carry on.

I turned the corner and through the doorway, relieved that my trek was almost over.

It was not.

I now faced a long open hallway—one longer, it seemed, than my trip from the car door to the entrance. Clack. Clack. My efforts with the walker became dangerously uneven as fatigue set it. "Rest area"—what black humor. There was nothing restful about it. I presume this design had to be ADA compliant, but it did not take into account a full range of human needs. I finally reached the end of the hall and made another turn into an anteroom with a baby changing table. One more turn...and I face a long corridor of toilet stalls, the very last of which was the handicap stall large enough to accommodate both me and my walker.

I almost cried. My 80-year-old, 115-lb. mother, who was already done, said, "I waited for you." That was incredibly sweet, but there wasn't a blessed thing she could do to help me. I needed Lou Ferrigno to sling me over his shoulder and carry me.

An older woman with a cane stood at one of the sinks washing her hands. She turned to me and said, "I know. Welcome to my world."

I had to move on; my supporting hip was cramping. I made it down to the handicap stall and took a seat, as much to rest at this point as anything else. When I finally thought I could stand, I reveled in the joyous presence of sturdy handholds to help me get up—that right hip ligament had about had it, and I still had ahead of me a long return journey.

I went to the nearest sink to wash my hands. There were no towels or dryers in sight. My mother pointed them out—to get to them, in a separate section, I'd have to backtrack.

To hell with that. In addition to the extra effort, other women had wet the floor with water from their hands while getting to the dryers. It didn't look at all safe for one who had to rely on hopping, or using a walking aid. An aid whose use, of course, required dry hands.

So I wiped my wet hands all over my pants and began the long trek back to the car, looking to all the world as if I hadn't made my destination after all.