13 January 2011

Marathon

I count.

I count my steps. At 7, nerves are on fire, muscles shatter against bone. I stagger onward to 20, stop with gratitude, stretch the ankle all directions, breathe again as the flames ease and the muscles give way. I straighten my shoulders and begin again. 1...2...3...

I count.

I count the number of times I push the button at the stoplight. Half the time I am unaware that I am counting. It's nonsensical and I stop in surprise as I whisper "...12," then find myself continuing onward to 20. There is no point in pushing the walk button 20 times. I know this. It's an exercise in benign aggression.

I count.

I count beats and breaths. This sends me across the floor, in and out of the wings, predicates how long I hold a leg in the air, the number of times I leap or spin or turn. I count in silence, holding perfectly still, waiting for the light to go out.

I count.

I count the number of repetitions per side of each exercise. Right now, I tire quickly, and 12 leg lifts seem to take an eternity. I think of Gabrielle Giffords lying in her hospital bed, struggling to open her eyes, and I roll over to the other side and begin again. I roll onto my stomach, push myself up on my elbows, and count the seconds with the stop watch until two minutes has passed. If I count, I discount the pain.

I count the number of seconds that I hold each stretch, along with repetitions of the exercise and every breath I take to ensure that I am breathing. In pain, it is so easy to stop breathing, to hold the breath while willing the eternity of discomfort to end so that one can take another. I count, and at three, my leg refuses to respond. My brain sends signal after furious signal to it, but it lies dead, unyielding, deaf to my brain's appeal, twitching and spasming of its volition.

I count the muscles quivering under my yoga pants. The therapist clucks and digs her fingers into my thigh, trying to quiet its involuntary motion. I will myself relax as the every other muscle in my body responds to my dead leg by locking up.

I count.

Go listen to some good music: "Marathon" from the album Power Windows by Rush. Back in 2002, when I tore up all the soft tissue in my ankle, "Marathon" and "Mission" were the two songs I listened to over and over again as I dragged myself around the neighborhood, learning how to walk correctly again, counting each step, adding a few more steps every day. The words helped me to find the strength to keep moving. I've never forgotten those long mornings, and in some ways it feels like a cruel joke to be back here again. But I remember, and I made it through that time, and every other time before and after. Somehow I'll make it through this time, too.

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