Last week I went to the park.
I paid for it with several days in bed but nevertheless, I went.
I’ve lived within half a mile of the park for the last six years but in all that time I’ve never been. It’s the same park I worked in as a theatre-hand for a play-in-the-park many years ago. Though I live much closer now it may as well have been the far side of the moon for all the chance I had of getting there, until now.
Two years ago when I was awarded an indefinite entitlement to Disability Living Allowance (just in time for the government to decide to abolish it) I was able to trade the mobility component of my allowance for the use of a Motability wheelchair. Muscle fatigability and orthostatic intolerance mean I am unable to sit upright or unsupported for long periods of time and while my throne-like chair is capable of ten miles or more on a single charge, its occupant isn’t.
On my better days, fifteen minutes from home is the farthest I can go without being too unwell to safely get back again. There is nowhere pleasant to go within such a meagre distance but it allows me to post the occasional letter or make infrequent trips to the corner-shop.
I had planned to call at the shop last week to top up my phone credit but the sun was so high in the sky that for the first time this spring it reached down between the buildings to touch the tarmac. The queue in the shop was so long and the warmth of the sun on my skin so glorious it seemed a waste to sit in a shop then turn back for home, so I sailed right past and just kept going.
I reached the park on adrenaline alone. Knowing my time there was short I headed for higher ground to at least take in the view. At a fork in the path I considered my choices: Should I head for the main road that I’d travelled in healthier days and catch a glimpse of the river? Should I head for the car park that once flooded in torrential rain, forcing us to unload props in muddy water up past our ankles? Should I head for the bandstand, or the play park, or the railway-footbridge I hadn’t known existed until spotting it just now from afar?
For a moment, I revelled in the pretence that I really did have such a wealth of choices. For a moment I pictured taking each of these different paths towards opportunities and sights that I once took for granted. For a moment, I was the person I used to be; the person I want to be; the person I ought to be; just for a moment. Then, as dizziness and nausea hit full-force, the moment passed and I took the only possible path, back the way I’d come.
By the time I got home, I’d been out of the house for less than an hour but could barely see enough to steer my chair. A passing stranger had to unlock my front door as my muscles shook so violently I couldn’t fit the key in the lock. I collapsed into bed, too ill to undress, feeling the room rock and spin beneath me – a rowing boat tossed in a storm. Awash with prescription opiates to drown the pain, I tried to convince myself that the paths left untraveled were not so much the failures of today as the adventures of tomorrow.
Too exhausted to sleep, I consoled myself with the thought that perhaps one day I won’t need a wheelchair to go there:
One day I’ll travel every path in that park till I know it as well as I know my own home.
One day I’ll picnic there with friends, and sunbathe on the grass while the kids play football.
One day I’ll walk, run, and play in the park again, even if it’s only in my dreams.
One day, I’ll look back on last week from the other side of that railway-bridge and marvel at just how far I’ve come.
Last week I went to the park.
Perhaps one day soon, I’ll go there again.