Driving Miss Tracy

I don’t have a driver’s license. It expired quite some time back already. When it did, it felt like another piece of my identity had been lost forever. It’s devastating, knowing that there is no way I can ever get it renewed.

Yet this week I became the proud owner of a brand-new vehicle – registered in my name. It says so in black-and-white on the document. Vehicle owner: Ms Tracy Lian Todd.  That’s big. There’s something about being able to say the words, “my car.” It says I’ve arrived. It speaks of dreams come true. It represents true independence. It means that I can go wherever I like, whenever I want to. Or so it should.

Sadly, I don’t have the ability to drive myself. In fact, I haven’t been able to drive a car on my own for almost 16 years now already. Being dependent on others to drive me is not always easy.  Thankfully, I have some willing drivers, most especially my dad. I’m not sure who’s been more excited about getting the new car – him or me?

The new van came about through the generosity of some incredibly kind-hearted people in the Lowveld community for whom I have no adequate words to express my deep gratitude. I’m spoilt. Just too spoilt.

It’s a Ford Tourneo. It’s big. Beautiful. White. We’ve always been a white-car family. The space inside is incredible. There’s more than enough room for me, my wheelchair, all my paraphernalia and entourage. I reckon we could even fit the kitchen sink in.

Ford1

As we drove the van off the garage floor for the first time – me in the back in my wheelchair with dad in the driver’s seat – I wished with my entire being that it could have been my hands on that steering wheel and my feet on the foot pedals. I wanted to touch everywhere, press all the buttons and feel the power. Trying to savour the moment, I inhaled deeply. There is nothing better than a new-car smell.

I wondered silently if I could still drive, had I been able to, not doubting the answer for one second.  I reasoned that driving must be much like riding a bicycle – once you’ve learned how to do it – you never forget it.  Right?

Just then, I ached to climb into the driver’s seat to prove to the world that I was still a good driver.  Perhaps, it stems from my own insecurities because women are often knocked by society for their driving skills and constantly made to feel incompetent behind the wheel of a car.  Or, maybe, it is my primal need to prove my worth to humanity in spite of my disability.  I don’t know.  But, I’ve never known a man to admit that he was an awful driver – or a clumsy lover for that matter.  I think women could learn a thing or two from that arrogance confidence.  Don’t-ya-think?

Anyway, just the mere idea of driving a car again got me thinking all melancholically, leaving me feeling like the bug on the windshield.  Doesn’t life just suck sometimes?

Daily newsfeeds on Facebook or Twitter are filled with raging status-updates from frustrated people trapped in so-called rush-hour-traffic, despite the cars not being able to move very far for hours on end.  In a sense, in those times, they probably feel as stuck and confined as I do.  And yet, I would give anything to swap places with them.

To me, owning and driving a car represents power, freedom, privacy, independence and more – everything I could ever wish for as a quadriplegic strong, liberated woman. 

I miss being able to pull up to the red-traffic-light, right next to a drop-dead-gorgeous guy in a fancy sports car, look him sassily-dead-in-the-eyes over the top of designer sunglasses, rev the engine and drop a gear-or-three before screeching off at top speed.  Yes, I can be a flirt.  But, only when I can get away – fast!

The competitor in me misses the challenge, accomplishment and satisfaction of skilfully reversing out of a difficult, no-freaking-way-out parking space or manoeuvring into a tiny, how-the-hell-did-you-do-it gap without so much as a scratch on the paintwork.

The adrenaline-junkie in me misses the flutter in my tummy as you press your foot down on the pedal, accelerating shamelessly to go just a little faster, knowing that you are already over the legal speed limit and hoping you won’t get caught.

The rock-star in me misses the wild, head-banging through an ear-splitting rock song on the stereo as the car pulsates through the traffic and the other drivers shake their heads at you in pity.

The next “So You Think You Can Dance” finalist in me misses the opportunity to do the oh-so-sexy-upper-trunk Salsa to the crooning voices on the radio.

The pop-star-wannabe in me misses turning up the volume louder-than-you-can-sing, on the more-expensive-than-your-car sound system, to drown out my horribly-out-of-tune voice as I belt out my favourite song, so that not even Mr. Simon Cowell will deny that I have the X factor.

The Dr. Phil in me misses counselling all the people with bad driving disorders using a sign-language involving a very effective middle finger.

The Oprah in me misses having deep, meaningful conversations with a most profoundly-persuasive inner-voice, which only seems to come out in the privacy of a car. Then in discussions in the real world you are left at a loss for words like a bumbling idiot.

I miss the privacy of the car as a place to express my deepest emotions – my joys, hurts or anger – and to just be me, without judgment from anybody.

I miss… Oh my word, this is driving me crazy.  Take the keys.  Quick.

And yet, I remain incredibly grateful. I have a brand spanking new van. What more could I ask for? It doesn’t matter that I can’t drive it myself. As long as I have the means to get out and about – to live a full, meaningful life, is all that matters. After all, I don’t see the Queen or Presidents of countries driving themselves. I’m part of the chauffeured elite of society. That makes me kind of special, doesn’t it? And I get special parking spots too.

If you enjoyed reading my post, go ahead and share it. Please.

**A special word of thanks to all the individuals (some of whom I don’t know) for contributing towards my van.**

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Through the Lens

Feeling tired and hungry during a shopping trip at the local mall, my folks and I decided to have a quick lunch before heading home.

It was still early and the restaurant wasn’t very busy, thankfully. I chose a table in a quiet corner, feeling the need for some privacy, after a morning out in public with hundreds of staring eyes on a busy end-of-the-month day.

Dealing with looks of amazement and staring can be difficult at times. Some days I feel strong enough to handle people gawking at me. Other days I just want the floor to open up underneath me and swallow me up. Often I wish I could just be ordinary like everybody else or have a magical ability to become invisible to hide from the wide eyes so that I can go on with my business without being made to feel self-conscious.

I know that people don’t purposefully mean to make me feel uncomfortable. Most are just curious by nature. Often they are simply marvelling at my slick electric wheelchair which certainly is impressive. Some don’t even realise that they are staring until I make a point of making eye contact with them, and then flash my brightest, bravest smile at them. They immediately look away, poker-faced and pretend that they never saw me or they blush a little and smile sheepishly, embarrassed that they’ve been caught gaping. A few will find the nerve to come up and chat to me, which is always nice.

Sometimes when my confidence is lacking, I try to fool myself into believing that they are staring because they want to be just like me. I’ll try anything convince myself to lift my chin and look the world in the eye or I would never have the courage to leave my home. You’d think that I’d be over it by now after being exposed to all the ogling for so many years. But, sometimes it still bugs the hell out of me that I want to shout at the top of my lungs: “Stop staring!”

As the waiter fetched our drinks, I was glad for our little secluded spot because the tables around us were rapidly filling up with lunchtime approaching. I scanned the menu and looked longingly at the juicy steaks, but decided that it was not worth all the constipated suffering afterwards. I didn’t feel like eating chicken and almost settled on a fish dish when I remembered that I was in the steakhouse. Whoever orders fish in a steakhouse has to be nuts. I had made that mistake more than once. So I decided, boringly, on something vegetarian and easy to eat as I’m aware of the hazards of being fed by someone else. The last thing I wanted to do was to attract more attention by having my plate end up on my lap or food smeared all over my clothing.

We were halfway through our meal when I became aware that my picture was being taken by complete strangers, without my permission. At first I thought that I must be mistaken, looking over my shoulder to double check that somebody hadn’t miraculously set up a table behind us without us noticing, even though I already knew that was impossible. I nearly choked on my food when I looked back to find all four of the people at the opposite table now directing their smart phones straight at me, clicking away. They were so engrossed in taking the pics, then comparing and discussing them, that they were still completely unaware that I had noticed them photographing me. Or they simply didn’t care and purposefully ignored me.

How dare they, I thought. At that point, I didn’t know whether to be angry or amused. I just sat there, glaring at them and shaking my head, hoping to get their attention and make them feel as uncomfortable as they made me. With today’s technology we are all at risk of being photographed or filmed by somebody unknown even without our knowledge, which is a really scary thought.

They were a family of four – parents with two teenagers, probably a brother and sister as they all looked alike with very fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair. They definitely weren’t locals as they were dressed funny, wearing socks and sandals in the heat of the day. They all had skinny white legs that hadn’t seen the sun in months sticking out the bottom of khaki shorts. Their shirts were creased, probably from travelling and I could hear that they were speaking a foreign language. It sounded like German or Swiss as far as I could tell with my limited linguist skills. They looked like typical tourists to this area, probably trying to escape the harsh European winter by coming on safari in Africa.

They continued taking pics of me and my mind began racing. Should I go over and ask them, sarcastically, if they want my autograph, I pondered. I was immediately annoyed with myself for not persevering and learning to write using my mouth. Suddenly I felt ashamed of being a quadriplegic, of being in a wheelchair and of being me. I wished with every fibre of my being that I could go up to them to start taking their pictures without asking whilst making some snarky comments about their appearance, just to get back at them for humiliating me in this way.

The waiter reappeared, temporarily blocking my view of them as he questioned if everything was in order. He had obviously noticed that I was no longer eating my food, despite encouragement from my folks to carry on eating and not worry about what others were doing. Sometimes, for me, it’s easier said than done. I didn’t tell him that I’d lost my appetite because of the rude people at the opposite table, taking pics of me. Instead, I told him that I’d had sufficient, preferring to take the rest home in a doggy bag to have later in the comfort of my own home, where the only staring eyes are the adoring ones of my two gorgeous Great Danes.

I started discussing the incident with my folks after the waiter walked away, wondering how I should handle it. Quite frankly, I was in total disbelief at the audacity of these people, unable to say anything to them, at the time, and the moment was lost when they all stood up to leave.

I was incensed at myself for not being more forthright by standing up for myself and insisting they stop taking my picture. I felt irritated at my vulnerability by allowing others to make me feel so ashamed of being paralysed and out in my wheelchair when I have every right to be. I was disappointed that I let them get to me in that way and spoil my day out.

I know that instead of feeling sorry for myself, I should pity them and their ignorance.

Picture by Dirk van der Merwe

Picture by Dirk van der Merwe

By now, my face is probably among some happy tourist snaps, shared all over Facebook and other social media. Lucky me! I am riled that I didn’t make the most of the opportunity and charge them a fee for taking my picture. I always wanted to be famous. Careful what you wish for, Tracy!

I’m seriously considering having a large, hard-to-miss sign made for my wheelchair, especially for ignorant tourists: Welcome to South Africa: The land of the Big5 and quadriplegics.

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Breakdown

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After spending a wonderful weekend in Pretoria, celebrating my birthday with special friends and spending time watching my son play cricket, we were back on the road travelling home early on Sunday afternoon.

I was sitting in the front passenger seat of my Combi, which has been slightly modified, enabling me to sit upright with support. Sexy Legs was driving and my care assistant was sitting on the backseat.

Although I was feeling a bit heavy hearted after having to drop my boy back at boarding school, Sexy Legs and I chatted away happily, reminiscing about the fun-filled weekend when the Combi suddenly started losing power. It came to a complete standstill, a few kilometres further. In my best, I-told-you-so voice I immediately admonished him for not stopping to put fuel in earlier like I’d suggested. But he assured me that there was still plenty of fuel.

Minds racing, we looked at one another for a couple of seconds. Sexy Legs tried to restart the car. And again. And a few more times. No luck.

 It was cold outside, pouring with rain and it felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere. I checked the time. It was just after 1 o’clock, so we must have been travelling for just over an hour.

Grateful to be living in an era of mobile phones, we made a few phone calls to some friends and my folks. Sexy Legs held the phone to my ear as I struggled to explain to a friend exactly where we were. I couldn’t really recognise any landmarks in the surrounding veld. Distracted by the story-sharing of the weekend’s events, we weren’t really taking note of our exact location all the time. I knew we were on the N4 highway. I also remembered seeing a sign a few kilometres back, which indicated that Emalahleni (a.k.a. Witbank) was 37 km away. So I guessed that we were approximately 30 km outside of that town. (Note to self: Invest in a GPS or be more aware of landmarks and informational road signs whilst travelling).

Hoping that I’d given sufficient information, we sat and waited. In the meantime, Sexy Legs tried to locate the fuel pump and poked around at various other things to try to establish what the problem was.

Although Sexy Legs had managed to pull off to the side, we could literally feel the Combi shuddering as cars sped by with a zoom-pause-zoom-pause-zoom, one after the other.  There is always more traffic at the end of a weekend and people travel really fast on the highway.

Despite our flashing hazard lights, very few cars even slowed down.

At that moment, for different reasons, both of us were hoping for a car to pull up behind us, for somebody to stop and come to our rescue, preferably someone mechanically-minded with the capability of fixing a car to get us back on our way as quickly as possible. For me, it was about the physical challenges of being a quadriplegic stuck on the side of the road indefinitely. For Sexy Legs, it was more the responsibility he felt as a man to meet the expectation of loved ones to get me home safely and on time.

At the same time, in sharp contradiction, I also wished for everybody to keep going past and leave us alone. For many South Africans, there is an intense, very real fear of the possibility of evil intention of anybody who may stop under the pretences of wanting to help. Also, I knew that if roles were reversed, we would also not stop to help strangers on the side of the road for fear of being attacked, which is an unfortunate reality in our beautiful, crime ridden land.

It left me feeling guilty and so sad, realising just how much we live on the defensive in this country.

Disappointingly, and gratefully, nobody stopped. We were stuck, but safe.

About an hour later, my friend’s brother, who lived in the area, arrived with some fuel, as instructed, just in case.  I was still convinced that this was the problem.

Glad to be sitting snugly in the car, I watched as the two men stood outside in the cold drizzle, bravely suffering the spray of water off the passing traffic. They peered into the engine, both looking considerably puzzled. Neither one wanted to openly admit that they had no idea what the problem was, before finally deciding to siphon the fuel into the tank.

Sexy Legs hopped back into the car as soon as they were done and tried to start the car. I think at this stage, even he was hoping that it was something as simple, and embarrassing, as running out of fuel. But the engine still refused to start. Our hearts sank.

It wouldn’t help to get a kind friend to come and collect us because it’s not easy to load me into a normal car, and I don’t go anywhere without my wheelchair which is quite bulky, unable to fold-up and won’t fit into just any car.

I called van Weten’s Breakdown Service, a tow truck company. My friend had already contacted them on my behalf, so they were expecting my call. The truck would be on its way to fetch us just as soon as it returned from the scene of an accident.

There were three choices – we could go to the closest town which was Witbank, go back to Pretoria or come home to Nelspruit. The last option was obviously the most expensive. My thoughts jumped back and forth, considering the various options.

As time ticked by, the gravity of the situation took hold of me.

I’d had a cup of Milo and my care assistant had emptied my bladder at 11 o’clock that morning. I’d estimated that we’d be home around three-thirty. But at that time I was still sitting, unexpectedly, at the side of the road, waiting for a tow truck with no means of having a pee. We’d had nothing to eat since breakfast as we intended on buying a snack along the way, when stopping for fuel, and then having a proper meal at home later in the afternoon. I had one bottle of water in the car but was too scared to drink any out of fear of not knowing when I’d be able to go to the toilet again.

Feeling helpless, emotion overwhelmed me and I became tearful. I immediately got annoyed with myself because I know from experience that tears do not solve anything. Finally, I made the decision that I needed to get to my own home with everything that I needed to carry out basic bodily functions, for my own sanity and peace of mind, irrespective of the cost.

My care assistant was still trying to dry my tears when a car pulled up behind us and a man got out. I could feel myself panic. Before he could even speak, I was wondering if he was armed and if he wanted to rob, rape or murder us. I was filled with guilt when I realised that he was a genuine, good Samaritan. Although he was not really able to help us, it was nice to know that there was somebody, just one person out there that cared enough to stop to find out if we were alright.

Eventually, at 4 pm the big, van Wetten’s flatbed truck arrived to collect us. The Combi was winched up onto the truck with me still sitting in the front, passenger seat and my care assistant, next to me in the driver’s seat. I prayed that the cable would hold our weight as I heard it groan through the loading process.

It was scary, but exciting. We were high up on the truck. Looking down at the cars speeding by, that seemed so intimidating before, making me feel more vulnerable than ever, were now small in comparison. I felt like the Queen of the castle.

Sexy Legs got into the cab of the truck with the driver to show him the way. As he turned back to wave at me, I smiled from ear to ear, so happy to be heading home, at last.

That feeling was short-lived.

Being paralysed, one has no control over one’s body. Despite being secured by a seatbelt and no matter how experienced the driver, I was at the mercy of every bump in the road which, at that height, felt like I was captive on a wild, runaway horse. My care assistant could barely keep herself from bouncing around without trying to hold on to my body which was jumping all over uncontrollably. I worried about breaking skin or injuring soft tissue and developing a pressure sore but there was nothing I could do about it at the time.

Because of the cold, rainy, overcast weather it got dark quite quickly so we could see nothing more than the red brake lights and bright headlights of the traffic.

It was the bumpiest, coldest, most uncomfortable and outrageously expensive ride of my life.

We eventually arrived home at 8 o’clock on Sunday night, tired, cold, hungry, thirsty, desperate to pee, but safe. And for that I am grateful.

Sexy Legs carried me to bed – to my own bed. What more could I ask for?

 

**My Combi is 15 years old. Please hold thumbs that they manage to find the fault and fix her up because until then, I’m stuck without transport – not even able to go to the shops or anywhere else, for that matter. **

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In the Shower with…

showerEyes closed, I see myself standing alone in a glass cubicle. The water, a little hotter than necessary, is cascading over my head and down the natural curves of my body. The glass fogs up as the steam rises off my bare limbs, giving me complete privacy to find comfort in my own nakedness.

I start moving, twirling slowly under the spray, as if I’m dancing sensually to the rhythm of the water droplets. I can feel myself relaxing, enjoying the warmth and safety of this private cocoon.

While inhaling the sweet, aromatic scent of the handmade bath soap, I run my hands along the contour of my nudity, without any inhibition. I’m touching, massaging, caressing and feeling my body all over, valuing the freedom to explore myself physically and intimately, without judgement from anyone other than me. My skin, slightly reddened, is tingling all over.

Abruptly, the stream of water is cut off. I open my eyes and, through the haze, I see that I’m sitting, not standing. There is no glass cubicle, just a big, open shower. It all feels kind of cold and stark, really. I’m aware that I’m not alone. Instinctively, I want to cover up my body.

As my arm is lifted, I’m brought reeling back to reality.

Minutes earlier, I was wheeled into the bathroom on a commode by my personal care assistant for my daily shower.

As she positioned the commode, I caught a glimpse of myself, from the shoulders up, in the mirror. My hair looked as if I’d been dragged through the woods backwards, resembling a wild woman who’d had all night, carnal sex and whose body had been tamed by paralysis.

Instantly I felt self-conscious and wished that I could straighten my hair. I glared back at the pathetic image in the mirror, feeling a deep sense of shame.

My care assistant turned on the water behind me and adjusted it to the right temperature. She pointed the hand shower onto the back of my neck and awaited my approval. I instructed her to make it a little hotter.

I closed my eyes as she let the water wash over my head at full pressure and, for a few moments, I remembered what it felt like to shower, really shower, all by myself.

As she closes the tap, I long, with every fibre of my being, to be able to take one last shower on my own.

She continues, now, through the routine of washing me, methodically moving the soapy cloth in a gentle circular motion, working her way down my body. Neck. Shoulders. Right boob, lift, wash, drop. Left boob, lift, wash, drop. It all seems so mechanical, without any feeling.

I attempt conversation by asking her something. She mumbles an answer. She’s grumpy, and probably tired. So am I. I’d had a bad night. Feeling a tinge of guilt for waking her too many times through the night, I decide to quit the chat.

She’s not much of a morning person anyway, and it doesn’t help that I’m not either.

She gently spreads my legs apart at the knees. After all this time, I can still barely stand the thought of anyone washing my fanny, let alone watching her do it.

Embarrassed, I look away, focusing my attention on the music now, using it as a distraction.

Soon, I’m singing along to the tune, loudly, skipping a few words here and there. I don’t care much for her reaction to my poor singing ability. At this point, not even a scathing character assassination from American Idol judge, Simon Cowell could humiliate me more.

I’m vaguely aware as the water is turned on again and directed at my body to rinse away the soap.

Before I can even get to the end of the song, the hot water is gushing, gloriously, over my head again.

My care assistant stands there, waiting patiently, for me to indicate by nodding my head that I’ve had enough. I don’t want it to stop because in those few brief moments I find reprieve. With my eyes closed and the water streaming over my face, I can forget, just for a while, that I am paralysed from the neck down.

Eventually, reluctantly, I nod my head. She closes the tap.

The song is still playing. I come in at the chorus, singing even louder than before.

Mindfully, I thank my friend, Chris, for making it possible for me to have music in my bathroom and bedroom. And, of course, Sexy Legs, for climbing up into the hot roof to put the speakers in the ceiling.

With the water off, I quickly start feeling cold despite it being the middle of summer. Although I’m grateful for the warmth of the specialised, bathroom heater above my head, I want to wrap myself snugly in a fluffy, white towel as quickly as possible.

The next song is more upbeat. I have the urge to get up and dance. But I’m stuck, motionless, feeling frustrated. I begin nodding my head, fast, in tune to the beat for a half a minute or so.

Feeling a bit silly, and exposed, I glance sideways at my care assistant, wondering why she is so slow this morning. As she turns away to grab the bath towel, hanging on a rail against the wall, I roll my eyes in annoyance because by now I am really cold.

She dries my face and drapes the towel down the front of my body. As she pulls it firmly around my neck and shoulders, the soft texture of the towel brushing against my throat and face bring me instant comfort.

With renewed confidence, I’m feeling refreshed and less irritable.

There is almost something magical about the combination of an invigorating shower in a steamy-hot bathroom with good music and singing your lungs out in a private idols audition at the start of each day. It certainly is cleansing, body and soul.

The care assistant even seems to have a slight spring in her step as she releases the brake to wheel me out into my bedroom, almost in time to the music.

As if specifically planned, and on cue, Josh Groban’s, You Raise Me Up, fills the room, and my spirit is soaring as I sing as loudly as I can, challenging him to hit, and hold, those high notes.

He said himself: “There is no half singing in the shower. You’re either a rockstar or an opera diva.”

C’mon Joshie! Let’s go!

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains.
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas.
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders.
You raise me up… to be

I concede, breathless, but smiling, and ready to face the day, to be more than I can be.

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A Love Story – Mine

I am mobile. It’s not what you think.

Yes, I have a new set of oh-so-sexy wheels. But there’s something else that gets me going.

Or rather, someone else.

I haven’t written about him in a while. So I thought I’d share my sex life relationship status with you.

For the benefit of new readers, I’ve given a brief overview. Please click on the links if you want ALL the details.

I know what it’s like to be broken, not only physically but in spirit too.

As a direct consequence of being paralysed from the neck down in an accident, I ended up divorced and alone. One day I may find the courage to write more about this dark period of my life.

If you are new to my blog and want to know more about my accident, click here.

I spent the next ten years on my own, longing for love but believing, as a quadriplegic, that I wasn’t worthy and that no man would ever find me attractive again.

Then, for some unfathomable reason, a stranger forced his way into my life, breaking down all the walls I’d built firmly around my heart without even realising it. We shared eight months of pure romantic bliss until I abruptly ended it when I discovered that he was married. Schmuck!

The only good to come out of that relationship was a reawakening of my sensuality and the realisation that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life by myself.

I wrote about it in a blog post, Love Enabled. Click here.

With nothing left to lose and inspired by a friend’s fairytale love story, I joined an online dating site. Since I was serious about finding love, I gave full disclosure of my physical state. There is no point in trying to fool anybody, or lying about who and what I am.

Read my blog post, Love Online, to see how I set up my online dating profile. Click here.

Internet dating was unexpectedly an amazing, soul-nourishing experience for me. I met some wonderful men, interacting with them online and in person, some of whom have remained firm friends.

A man from Port Elizabeth offered to run the Comrades Marathon for me after I confessed that had always been a dream of mine, which I would never be able to achieve.

We corresponded with one another via e-mail on a daily basis with the odd Skype session and telephone call in between.

He ran the Comrades Marathon in my honour without even seeing me face to face.

I wrote a blog post about it, of course – Marathon of Life. Click here.

To see the Textual Energy between us on the day, click here.

Some weeks later he travelled over 1500 km to deliver my Comrades medal and meet me in person. We spent four days kissing talking, catching up on each other’s lives.

After meeting him in person, I can confirm that he is a worthy winner of the title, Sexy Legs. He left, taking my heart with him.

I wrote about it in Heart Running Free. Click here.

That was three years ago.

This is his version of the story – How I Lost My Legs – Roy Heine. Click here.

Since then, Sexy Legs has been doing a lot of travelling between Port Elizabeth and Nelspruit.

We’ve managed to see one another for a few days every 6 to 8 weeks.

I have no doubt that his feelings are genuine otherwise he wouldn’t keep coming back.

For the past six months we have been together almost every day as he has had contract work in Nelspruit. The bad news is that the work is due for completion at the end of the month.

It will be difficult to go back to a long-distance relationship again, if he doesn’t manage to find more work here, but we are not dwelling on that. We all know that life is full of surprises and can change in an instant.

We keep faith and remain positive as we live in hope that our luck will change.

For now, we are just revelling in each other and enjoying this precious time together.

I have a happy heart, wrap-around smile, peace in my soul, love in my being and Sexy Legs in my life.

What more could anyone want?

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Walking on Wheels

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If the prospect of being transferred into a wheelchair lifts one’s spirit it says something.

For me it speaks of a temporary relief from the absolute frustration of not being able to move any part of my body below my neck. It brings some respite from the despair of being stuck in one place for too long. It offers a break from the mind-numbing boredom of not being able to do what I want, when I want.

If you are able-bodied you will automatically see a wheelchair as a source of confinement.

To me it brings a sense of freedom. It is my independence. It gives me the power to move, to go places and participate in living, just like everybody else. Almost.

Although I’ve needed a new wheelchair for quite some time, I’ve been resisting it.

Like most of us, I fear change. More significantly, I fear facing my own reality.

Getting a new wheelchair meant that I would have to let go of what was familiar, and comfortable. I had been sitting in my old Suzuki for fifteen years.

It’s like you giving up your most comfy pair of shoes which you cannot bear to throw away even though they have had it.

It is learning to walk in stiletto heels all over again, reliving that pain and discomfort, feeling self-conscious and alien on your own legs.

I could also never have imagined the emotional attachment I would have developed for my old wheelchair. It’s like chopping off your legs because you can barely walk with your weak, aching knees, then giving you a brand-new pair of state-of-the-art prosthesis and expecting you to be happy.

Despite my stubbornness, time and opportunity forced the decision upon me.

After months of haggling, supported by my supplier, Mobility One, the RAF finally agreed that I qualified for a new wheelchair. The large shortfall was covered by a rather special Earth Angel.

I am the proud owner of a brand-spanking new oh-so-sexy wheelchair – the luxurious and classy Permobil C300S. I’m spoilt. I know.

It has changed my life. I love it. Mostly.

I fit into it perfectly as it was made specifically to my measurements. I can actually feel how my body is being shaped back into a “normal” sitting position.

In it, I feel unbelievably empowered. At the chin-touch of a button and the gentle nudge of a joystick, the Permobil enables me to propel myself in any direction I choose provided that there aren’t any obstacles in the way. I can lift my feet, recline, tilt in space and elevate to almost eyelevel with most average able-bodied people.

Despite being seated and immobile for a decade-and-a-half already, I have never lost the desire to change position, stretch, bend, stand, lie, run or even exercise. But when the urge comes over me there is nothing – nothing – that I can do.

The Permobil assists in some of those movements. Sort of.

The power chair gives me a magical sensation of physical buoyancy where my body is lulled into a fake sense of motion by something mechanical.

My head knows that it’s only the machine moving and thinks: “She’s such an idiot.”

My heart couldn’t care less, bursting with excitement about me doing something all by myself for the first time in many years, willing me to brag to the world: “Look at me! I can move!”

Some people personify their wheelchairs, referring to them as he or she, going as far as naming them. I can’t. I don’t love it that much.

There are still some days that my wheelchair feels alien to me.

It’s almost as if I have a schizophrenic relationship with it. It can bring out the best in me, filling me with joy as its sleek engineering and mechanics transform me into a Strictly-Come-Dancing finalist. I wish!

Then there are the days that my wheelchair leaves me feeling sorry for myself, filled with complete disgust for my useless, unresponsive body and raging at my physical circumstances. No matter how beautiful it is, or how much it can do, for me, a wheelchair becomes a reminder of the stark reality of disability and a sign of weakness.

On those days, I must dig deep, reminding myself to be grateful. Sometimes it’s hard to feel thankful of the ability to drive a fancy wheelchair with my chin when there was a time I was able to drive a car using my arms and legs.

Then, I’m confronted with stories of disabled people across the world who have nothing more than a wheelbarrow as a means of getting around.

Often, I’m consumed by guilt as my imported wheelchair is exorbitantly expensive. What makes me more worthy than them?

I feel humbled, and grateful. Again.

What price would you pay to have the ability to change position every now and again, lift your feet, lie back or “stand up”?

Money doesn’t buy happiness but I’d rather cry in a Permobil than in a wheelbarrow.

Let’s go walking on my oh-so-sexy wheels. See if you can keep up.

Dear God, thank you for all that I have…

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How Does Your Son Cope

Chad and Tracy
Chad was only 10 months old at the time of the accident which, some would say, is a blessing in disguise. He does not remember me to be any different so he has nothing to compare me to.

To him, I am simply just “Mom” and he expects me to be just that. It’s probably been my saving grace all along.

When he started school, a psychologist recommended that I stay away so that he wouldn’t feel different to his classmates. I felt so hurt.

By then, I knew that my disability wasn’t going to miraculously disappear. I could choose to hang my head in shame and give up or lift my head high and look the world in the eye.

Over time I learnt that disabilities evoke fears and insecurities in those not challenged with them. Facing any type of disability is far too traumatic for most adults to comprehend.

Children, on the other hand, have the most remarkable natural tolerance and ability to accept differences. They are not are not born prejudiced. Sadly they learn to discriminate by mimicking the adults in their world.

Luckily I’m stubborn. I didn’t listen to the psychologist. It turned out to be the best decision I have ever made.

I have always been very involved in Chad’s life so his schoolmates are used to seeing me around. Chad and his friends have grown up with me in their lives just like any other Mom.

When he was in the second grade, he changed schools. In the first week he told me that some of the kids were asking him questions about me. It broke my heart.

I asked him if he would like me to speak to the children.

He said: Yes please, Mom!

I made arrangements with the school and spoke to all the juniors one morning, explaining to them exactly what had happened to me and why I was in a wheelchair.

Then, I invited them to ask me questions, which they did. Many. I answered every single one, honestly.

I told them that if they saw me around the school, they were welcome to come and ask me anything, any time.

After that, if any of the kids asked Chad anything about me, his standard answer was: I don’t know, ask my Mom.

No child should ever have to face questions like: How does your Mom pee?

The most difficult thing that he probably has to deal with is questions about me.

Chad has never complained of kids being mean to him because of my disability.

Thankfully my son has a strong character with a keen sense of who he is which definitely helps.

He is presently at boarding school. When I do go to watch him play cricket or rugby, he happily introduces me to his new friends.

People often make unfounded assumptions that he has had a really hard life because of my physical circumstances. That has come to light many times over the years.

Just recently my dad overheard a conversation between one of Chad’s teammates and his father. Chad walked past the grandstand where they were all waiting for the first team game to begin.

Teammate: Dad that’s the guy I’ve been telling you about, Chad Todd.

Dad: He looks a bit small to be playing rugby.

(Chad is quite a bit shorter than most of his teammates yet still quite stocky.)

Teammate: Dad that guy is as strong as an ox. He grew up hard. His Mom is in a wheelchair and he had to push her everywhere.

When the story was relayed back to me, I nearly fell off my chair laughing. Chad has never had to push me anywhere. I’ve always had a power chair. Nobody pushes me anywhere.

The truth is that Chad grew up sitting on my lap, getting a free ride, probably the envy of every other child who was dragged off to the shops by their mothers and had to walk everywhere.

He has never been expected to take any responsibility for my care, in any way. Ever.  I’ve been particularly conscious of that, so much so that I seldom ask him to do anything for me.

If anything, he has probably grown up a little spoilt, having my personal care assistants constantly at his beck and call.

Life these days is not easy for many children. Some have to deal with parents who abuse drugs and alcohol or, even worse, abuse them physically and emotionally.

In South Africa, we are all too aware of the dire circumstances of many of our children as a result of crime, poverty and HIV AIDS. There are so many different scenarios worldwide of children living lives of misery and hell.

Chad has the love, care and support of both his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. What more could a kid want?

For him, for us, this is our normal.

He is almost 16, an age where most teenagers don’t want much to do with their parents. On Mother’s Day earlier this month he wrote the following as his status for all to see:

My mom might be different to most mothers, but those differences make her better than all the other mothers. Love you.

I think that says it all.

Chad Ross Todd I love you with all my heart and I am so proud to be your mom.

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