I sprained my knee last week, the knee that doesn’t have any cartilage in it anymore and that no longer completely bends or completely straightens out. Seriously, devastatingly crunched it, my leg folding like a jackknife as I fell straight down on it.
It’s been hard to walk since then. I conserve all my steps, saving up reasons to walk to the kitchen or out to the garage. The first two evenings after it happened, I didn’t take Buddy for a walk. But on the third night I forced myself to do the evening walk with him. I don’t know how many walks lie in Buddy’s future, but I do know that when he’s gone, I will regret every one of them not taken. But today it really, really hurts, and I’ve been looking into Buddy’s face, wondering if he (and I) can forgive me for skipping it.
For many years my elderly neighbor has taken several walks a day in our neighborhood. I used to think that maybe she was bored and had little else to do. Or maybe she didn’t get along with her family and the walks were her way of just getting out. In time I came to think she kept moving because it kept her alive.
I’m ashamed of this, but I used to avoid her. She caught me too many times, working in my yard or unloading my car, and she would insist on talking to me. The trouble was she spoke only Chinese. She would open up with a paragraph of animated speech and then look at me expectantly as if waiting for my response. I would always shrug my shoulders, shake my head, say “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Then she would launch into more talk, and I would say again, sorry, I don’t know. We would go back and forth this way a few times, her stepping closer to me with each round, talking happily. She would give me no polite or graceful way to extricate myself and I always ended up just walking away from her, feeling wretched that I had to be rude in order to break away.
So I used to avoid her. If I was about to pull into my driveway and I saw her walking near my house, I kept on driving around the block. If I was walking the dog and I saw her down the block, I would pretend not to have seen her and cross the street, sometimes also reversing directions just to avoid the discomfort that her speaking to me always caused.
And then about a year ago I stopped seeing her around. Weeks, then months passed with no sign of her. I figured she must have died. Eventually I got out of the habit of scoping around for her when I left the house.
But today I saw her again and I think I understand why she hasn’t been out and about. She needs help to walk now. A member of her family was with her, supporting her with an arm to keep her steady while she took faltering steps. They stopped in front of my house and looked into my living room, as if she was considering coming over to say in Chinese, “Hey, what’s up, long time no see!” But really she was just taking a tiny rest before resuming. And I swear the oldies song by Matthew Wilder started playing in my head: “Ain't nothing gonna break-a my stride. Nobody gonna slow me down, oh no. I got to keep on moving.”
So now it is impossible for me to look Buddy in the face this evening and say, “Sorry, hon, not tonight,” because if that ancient old woman can keep putting one foot in front of another no matter what, my sprain is a piddling excuse.
But you can bet I’m going to be looking both ways for her again before Buddy and I proceed.
Portait of love