Dear Person Coming Down the Hall: I know you mean well. Or at least you're about to. We've worked together for years and I trust you and depend on you and love you in a workplace kind of way.
I know what you're going to say.
I'm doing my best. Wait. It helps if I angle in my right foot. There. That's a regular walk, isn't it? You don't see what you're seeing. Pass me by. Give me the old hallway nod.
Leave me alone.
I hate myself. I hate myself for hating you for asking me how I'm doing. Expressions of mercy make the world bearable. Yet lately, with my crumpled gait, I think of the Michael J. Fox quote: "Pity is a benign form of abuse."
Person in the Hall -- oh damn! You have the smile: the symphony of sympathy. This means you're going for it, and here's the deal. Your words are going to hurt as much as my hip but not as much as my knee.
"Why are you limping, Andy?"
"Because my fucking leg is killing me!" is what I want to scream.
It's not your fault. Let me tell you something.
I used to lie. A lot. For real. Mostly lies to my parents that covered the trail of my chronic laziness in high school and then, way beyond when normal people continue to lie to Mom and Dad, through college.
The mess in my hip is congenital, but I can't say the same for my once-diseased handling of the truth. My folks seemed then, and in retrospect, honest. Except for one whopper my mother told all her life: She lied about her age.
After she passed, my sister and I found her birth certificate in a gray metal lockbox. There, on the line of her birth date, was a window of white-out. It proved that she staved off time in every way she could. I'm beginning to relate to that.
Vanity is a villain. Yes, nice Person in the Hall. My mom lied to others about her age. But wasn't she really lying to herself?
Getting older is an exercise in denial. Some of that is healthy. For example, I'll never be a good singer. I refuse to accept that and I work at it still. That's easy stuff. Clear-cut. Most middle-age denial is rougher, as complicating to one's life as it is inevitable.
And there's a razor-thin line between a denial and a lie.
I used to swing through the trees like a monkey. Division I, Big Ten, full-scholarship athlete, baby. I crashed on my bike two years ago and, even though I had never heard of a meniscus, I started the slide to ambulatory decline almost immediately. A scope made it worse. Then, like a train running on time, hip disease reported for duty.
All of this blew my mind. I would have been less surprised if I had developed X-ray vision. We active types aren't the kind to take this shit sitting down. So over the summer I developed a strict, three-pronged pain-management program: Ibuprofen, denial and beer.
That didn't go so well, although I did get a deeper appreciation of the craft beer industry's ballsy experimentation with IPA's.
Person in the Hall! Does it show that I'm trying not to cry? The psychological toll that comes with managing terrors of age and gravity stacks up day-to-day, month-to-month, until one's emotions are as bone-on-bone as one's joints.
I see myself walking in the reflection of the banks of tall windows on campus. That can't be me. Denial. It'll get better on its own. More denial. In this context human nature and human nurture are at odds. You deny because to do otherwise proves you're falling apart.
Yet, compared to others, my injuries are mosquito bites.
Hallway Person. Listen to this.
Midsummer I ran into an acquaintance who uses a wheelchair. We were down at the Union Terrace at sunset.
"How's it going, Andy?" he asked.
I began to tell him how much my knee hurt, then stopped.
"I'm not going to complain about my bad wheel to you," I said.
He gripped the steel rims of his chair.
"What's wrong with my wheels?" He smiled. Then he said something else.
"Everybody's entitled to their aches and pains, Andy."
By the time you read this I will have seen the orthopedic surgeon. Nothing he'll offer will be as humbling or as helpful as that.