My friend Karen is moving to Las Vegas. She's going to be the new Marketing Team Leader for one of our stores out there. I'm happy for her; it's a move, and it was time for her to make a move. But I will miss her furiously, even though I rarely see her anymore.
When I had just had my leg amputated, my boyfriend was in the midst of a semester at an Ivy League night school and working full time in the city to support us both while I took off time to be sick and waited for payments from the disability insurance for which I used to pay extra under our current benefits plan (all of which came late, and a few hundred dollars of which never did show up). He still does both, attend that night school and work full-time to pay our rent, but back when I was ill and recovering, this meant that he really couldn't always come with me to every doctor's appointment. I couldn't drive myself yet. I'm a bad driver under the best of circumstances, and I really had been debilitatingly unwell for months, plus we couldn't afford to adapt the car for me just yet. However, I couldn't bear the thought of him completely sacrificing the semester, and also he couldn't always get a day off work whenever I needed him for a few hours.
My friends, many of them coworkers, all pitched in to help. One of the people who helped the most was Karen. She or her brother Ronn, whom she roped into the Sara Project because she felt it would be good for him and because she wasn't always available, either, (dratted having to work for a living!) drove me to most of my prosthetist appointments, which were far away in Manchester, New Hampshire. I owe these two, but especially Karen, a debt I can't pay. They not only ferried me about, but kept me company, a vastly useful and wonderful thing when one must wade through extremely personal, complicated, and emotionally taxing medical stuff in between long periods of sitting and waiting for results. Karen has always been adept at making me laugh. Sometimes I cried with fear and frustration, and she comforted me. Much of the time, though, we actually had fun.
The first time we went up, as we were searching for A Market in order to obtain some kind of good goop for socket fitting, Karen and I passed a confectioner named Van Otis Chocolates. We made a note of the location and resolved to go visit before we headed back south for the day.
It was December. It had snowed a whole heaping lot earlier in the week, and then the night before it had poured rain. By the time we arrived, the sidewalk in front of Van Otis had not been plowed. There were both veritable icebergs and enormous pond-like puddles, and sheets of slippery ice. A sensible amputee would have said, "Oh, you go ahead without me." or "I don't like the looks of this; let's go home and try this another day."
A sensible amputee's friend would have said, "Why don't I just go in without you?" or "Let's go home and try this another day; I want you to be safe."
Dammit, we wanted chocolate! We BOTH wanted chocolate! We were women on a mission, and we just weren't going to take no for an answer!
HA HA HA!
Karen parked close to the corner. I got out of the car and into my wheelchair, which immediately bogged down in slush on ice. Fine. Whatever. I got up onto my only leg and, with virtually no discussion ("Should I...?" "Yes."), Karen moved the wheelchair three feet to a place where the sidewalk was clear, and then handed me my crutches. Holding onto my waistband and giving me kind of a wedgie, just like a professional physical therapist, she helped me navigate the intervening block of solid-frozen snow-ice a foot tall and eight inches wide, a four-inch deep puddle, and an inch of ice covering everything else, then plopped me back into my wheelchair. And when we got to the store, there were stairs to navigate! I crutched my way up the stairs, and Karen carried my wheelchair up after me.
The themes from Rocky and Chariots of Fire played in our heads as we shopped (and sampled). And you know what? It was totally worth it. The "world-famous" and "award winning" Swiss fudge is something truly amazing. I can't even describe it. I also love the wintergreen patties (in thick dark chocolate), which have just the merest hint of a frosty bite quickly overwhelmed by creamy butteriness. A solid milk chocolate penguin lollipop lost his head and then his torso in about four bites in the car. And my boyfriend gave good marks to the milk chocolate cashew patty (which had caramel inside) which I somehow managed to bring home uneaten, which was good since I had bought it for him.
I learned early, but have had strenuously reinforced through my amputation experience, the certain fact that every life is a collaborative effort. I am extremely grateful for the collaborators who have helped create and maintain my own. Karen is one of the best, and I will miss her presence in this cold climate. Nevertheless, I wish her every good thing in this life, including a brilliant future out west, and would have her know that should she get sick of baccarat and showgirls, of bizarre architecture and the stunning desert landscape under its enormous sky, Van Otis, the crappy weather of New England, and I will all be waiting to welcome her back anytime.
So long, Karen. I could not have gotten this far without you. Happy trails.