On Wednesday, Edith and I hung out in Camden ( Amy Winehouse country) at a famous British coffee shop called Starbucks while Edith tried to patch my tires with crazy glue. It was fun to sit by the canal without a wheelchair and people watch. Alex, a psychotic Caribbean man gave Edith further evidence of my weirdo magnet status. He was compelled to sing horribly to me and tell me that I shone bright like the Caribbean. Jilted by me he turned his attentions to Edith who he rightly found to be beautiful but alas for Alex, he didn’t have any more luck with her than with me. Camden is a little like Canal Street in New York. Learned about Banksy the graffiti artist who makes Keith Haring look like Charles Schultz. His stuff is truly amazing.
The wheels of the chair were so trashed that I decided to push the chair as an ersatz walker over the roughly cobbled sidewalks. I had a bit of a meltdown because I realized that I now need my leg braces to not fall as my ankles are shot. I had 2 falls that day and I felt the need to cry a bit. I stumbled along a little further until Edith stopped the chair and said “okay, at the risk of losing our friendship….get in the chair.” We laughed and I got in the chair. Truth is, I will take lots of chances if I’m on my own but not when I’m with someone else who will have to pick up the pieces. That’s not fair.
This was no vacation for Edith. I was having great trouble with both my hands and legs, I was waking up every couple of hours, it was challenging getting my chair from place to place – she had to deal with the brunt of all of it. She dismantled and put the chair back together several times a day, she lifted it over innumerable curbs, she helped me in and out of chairs, cabs, toilets, she helped me up and down stairs ( and I’m so much bigger than her, I could crush her…if I fell on her that is), she made me breakfast, did my stretches, buttoned buttons, put on jewelry and held me in the middle of the night on Wed while I sobbed uncontrollably. Truth is, I can’t say her name or even type it or think of her face right now without having to fight back the tears. Somewhere along the way I pulled a thorn out of a lion’s paw or something – I don’t know what – because I have the best group of friends in the known universe. I am one lucky sod.
Thursday was the Globe – one of the highlights of the trip for me. Now intellectually I know that the theater is all of 11 years old almost to the day, but emotionally, I felt the history of the original Globe and imagined the real Groundlings with their beer and hazelnuts and I was so deeply moved. The play was delightful as well, as was walking along the Thames, across the Millennium Bridge to St. Pauls. I felt bad at one point when I rather casually mentioned that I may not be alive by the time of the 2010 Olympics and kind of blindsided Edith with that little factoid. She looked like I feel when I get new information about this disease – like someone just knocked the wind out of her. I do need to be realistic though. There is not much time left for elaborate trips like this – they’re physically challenging for me and for my companion. And physical realities keep encroaching. That’s just a fact.
So it takes me a long while to write these blogs nowadays and I tend to stop to give my hands a break. I’ll start the voice activated software soon though I’m afraid it will be tough too because of my annoying tongue. Anyhow, I just took a break and read my daily Writer’s Almanac email and wouldn’t you know it featured one of my favorite poems, which I excerpt here now since it seems germane with respect to the last paragraph. It’s by Mary Oliver and it’s called The Summer Day. Here’s the second half:
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
My other highlights of London include Indian food and hijinx. Our hosts Kenji and Julie went with us for an Indian food, which was SUPPOSED to be my treat but Edith and Kenji’s mom beat me to it. It was the best Indian food I’ve ever had and the company was great. Julie wears Charlie perfume which is fitting somehow ( Kinda young, Kinda now, Charlie, Kinda fresh, kinda WOW, Charlie). She’s an energetic dynamo, cheery, empathetic, generous and good natured. She’s in banking but you’d never know it. Kenji is literally an international man of mystery. He has the softest voice of anyone I’ve ever met and his broad smile does not come easy but it’s lovely. He’s lived all over the world, he has a wicked sense of humor and he clearly adores his wife. At one point during dinner Edith left to go the bathroom and I tried (unsuccessfully) to tell them how amazing she was without losing it. I lost it and Julie reached over and grabbed my hand while Kenji said “Don’t cry. She’s really not that nice.”
So after dinner we had our first rain of the trip so Edith needed to push the wheelchair which doesn’t like rain. I asked her to cross the street to the Kings Head Pub where several men were drinking outside under the awning.
Edith: You’re not going to…
Carla: Oh yes I am. Wheel me right up to them. (to the crowd) Excuse me gentlemen, I have an announcement. I am from the US and I’m dying and my friends have given me some tasks to fulfill while I’m here, one of which is to have a snog with a British man. Is anyone here willing to help me out?
Swarthy guy: You picked the wrong pub. Most of us aren’t British.
Pasty-faced guy with glasses: I’m British.
Carla: Will you snog then?
Pasty-faced guy with glasses: Sure (he proceeds to try to dislodge my fillings with his nicotine flavored tongue as Edith and Julie laugh uncontrollably.)
Scruffy and equally unappealing British guy: Are you sure your friend didn’t say shag?
Carla: Why are you offering?
Scruffy and equally unappealing British guy: (somewhat nonplussed by brazen redhead with fatal illness in wheelchair): Naw, just checking, really.
We departed, Edith and Julie still laughing and Kenji saying “Well, I guess we’ll never set foot in that pub again.
I almost forgot to buy the condoms for my international collection so I stopped in at the airport pharmacy and got Boots condoms. The humorless lady at the counter asked me “What airline are you traveling on today?” I replied “Virgin…but not for long with my Boots Condoms!” She didn’t laugh.
Someone sent me an email message offering to talk to me about their “Christian World View.” It irks me when people think that because something has saved their life it’s going to save yours if they sell you on it. Truth is, I don’t need Jesus (though I’m sure he was a hellofa guy) because everywhere I look there are miracles – the way the sun shines through the roof of the Globe, the ancient brick buildings telling their stories, Edith’s laugh, my son writing “biting a British man…that’s disturbing”, the ingenuity of friends and their crazy ideas, the love and generosity that greets me every single day. The whole world is a beautiful temple filled with art so inspiring it will both break your heart and send the broken pieces soaring to the heavens like helium balloons.