Then There is a Mountain

From East Toronto, ON
East Toronto

Sat Dec 18 2021


A bowl of granola should do the trick. But it doesn’t taste like anything. Has the sense of taste abandoned me? I turn to the coffee maker which has just heaved its final, brew-completed sigh. I pour a mouthful into a mug, swish it around to cool it, and take a sip. Not even a suspicion of the tongue-curling bitterness for which my roommate Dave’s custom blend is legendary. I have a moment of panic in which I foresee the loss of the remaining three senses. Best not to linger there. Enjoy at least the pleasing crunch of the last bit of granola.

As I’m finishing up, Dave emerges from his room all dressed to go out even though it’s his day off.

“Seems to me,” he says after our exchange of good-morning pleasantries, “that you’ve been cooped up long enough. What do you say to a walk this morning? It’s too nice a day to waste inside. You game?”

“Sure,” I say, even as I’m taking stock of how I feel: still weak and tired, and now also a bit freaked by the smell and taste loss. And, as has just come to my attention, my legs are feeling kind of stiff. But that’s just the thing a brisk walk is good for, I tell myself with half-convincing logic. The bright sunshine, though, trumps all doubts and hesitation. I double down on my resolve and add, “I’d love to.”

I can sense Dave tamping down the impulse to dash down the three flights of stairs that separate our apartment from the great outdoors. He probably notices my white-knuckle grip on the railing, and that I’m not treading the steps with the youthful abandon I normally reserve for any and all adventures. He is therefore probably holding back out of chivalrous courtesy. I’m grateful for the gesture. Today, by unspoken decree, we proceed at a more sedate pace.

I can’t say that the exertion is limbering up my legs. In fact, the further we go, the more sluggish they get. Two blocks along, it begins to feel as if I’m trudging through heavy, wet snow — heavy, wet snow that gets whipped up to knee-deep crippling as we approach Bathurst. I can’t keep this up. “I have to sit down,” I say.

Dave pans the vicinity as if the intensity of his gaze can conjure up a bench, a bus shelter, or even a tree stump.

“I mean right here and right now,” I say as I slide down against the hoarding that hides the devastated landscape that was once the proud and cheeky Honest Ed’s Emporium. Dave, now caught between gallantry and alarm, abandons his scouting and settles beside me on the sidewalk.

“Just give me a few minutes,” I say. “And then we’ll have to head back.”

He looks shaken as I try to describe the snowdrift analogy. “You sure you don’t want me to call a cab?” he says.

I tell him I think I’ll be okay and we sit in silence for a few minutes. Then, at a nod from me, he stands up, reaches out a hand to pull me up and we brace for the journey back. I hook my arm into his, not caring how much we resemble the carefree couple we are not. I won’t make it home without leaning into him.

Then comes the mountain. It presents itself in the guise of those same stairs I descended with relative ease about an hour ago. With Dave’s help, I have conquered the snow drifts but that feat did not prepare me for the fearsome tug of leaden weights that now cling to my ankles. I manage to lift my right foot onto the first step and grasp the handrail to pull myself up. My left foot refuses to follow. My legs are going to buckle if I don’t act quickly.

“Hold me!” I gasp.

Dave gets a firm grip around my shoulders, steadies me so I can draw my trailing foot even. One small step up the mountainside; one giant leap into an alien world of … disability?

I take a few panting breaths. “It’s no use,” I say. “There’s no way I’ll make it all the way up. Help me sit down.”

“What do we do now?” says Dave.

From deep within the vaults, an old memory kicks in. Yes, I was once a toddler, a resourceful toddler who could figure things out for herself. No one taught me how to climb stairs. I just did it with the abilities at hand at the time. I listen carefully to the instructions from my preverbal 13-month-old self: Push butt up to next step; pull feet up behind … Push butt up to next step; pull feet up behind … Repeat, repeat, repeat …

Three flights of 15 steps each. It hurts, it’s hard, it takes forever, but it works!

Dave is waiting for me at the top landing as I make my final push. Once again, he helps me stand up. He ushers me into the apartment and surrenders me to the sofa. As a final act of gallantry, he swings my legs up to join the rest of me on the soft cushions.

In a few moments, Miep, my cat, ambles over from her sunny perch by the window and jumps up to join me. I wonder how much longer old age and a thyroid condition will allow her to perform these gymnastics as I make space for her to snuggle in the crook of my arm. Valiant trouper that she is, she breaks at once into a serenade of gentle purring that sends me adrift into merciful, blissful, and even happy slumber.

Excerpted from Between the Notes; How Long COVID Paused my Life

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