As part of Dad’s mobility strategy, on Friday I drove him to the county’s Dimple Dell recreation center to begin working out again. He had not gone to the gym since Covid-19 shut the country’s gyms down. We are always starting over in life, aren’t we? He is starting his gym workouts over at age 86! We both rode the stationary bicycles for 30 minutes—I read a book, while Dad looked at a blank television screen because the County can no longer afford satellite TV. Then Dad did his usual circuit, working out his biceps, chest, core, back, and legs. I worked on my core, mostly with planks, and my arms and chest. I think we will both be sore. Dad was pleased to see his old friend, Daniel, who struck up an ebullient conversation with Dad before moving on to chat cheerfully with the lady on the treadmill. Before starting our workout, I locked my wallet, phone, and keys in a keyed locker. Retrieving my belongings on our way out of the gym, Dad told me he is the reason the county purchased the lockers, because during one workout years ago, he watched a man walk by the open cubicles and swipe Dad’s key ring. Dad chased him down, called him out, and retrieved his keys with, “These are mine!” The man just kept on walking and got away. Walking to the car arm in arm with Dad, he commented weakly, “I feel pretty beat up, Rog.” But I could tell he also felt happy and satisfied, and was looking forward to next Friday. Me, too.
Just Like That
Not one prosthetic leg, but two—two metal legs where shins bones had been, fibula-flanked tibia, and metal feet filling running shoes laced tight and carrying bone and muscle and steel around the gym. I did not pity him, but I did pity him—I couldn’t help feeling sorry that something violent had taken his legs, his shins, his ankles, his feet. It could have been an improvised explosive device disguised as a cardboard box along the side of an Iraqi highway. It could have been a land mine in Afghanistan. It could have been a pickup truck rolling and rolling cab-crushing rolling down an embankment into cattails and reeds. My curiosity couldn’t help but wonder. He moved down the line of upper-body machines, hip flexors lifting metal in a slightly mechanical gait. Men—guys—simply do not speak to other men at the gym, except for the group that ripple and strut and those that come as friends and spotters, for fear perhaps of misunderstanding or offense, or to project a cool stoic toughness, or to avoid the embarrassment of slack-muscled bald-headed types like me intruding on their pounding blue-tooth buds. I did finally figure out a way to be friendly without being weird, playing to vanity by asking for tips for this muscle or that, and usually they were friendly, except for one hulk who sneered It’s all in the genes… which I guess meant I owned unfortunate DNA. But asking the man with carbon-metal legs for tips would be an obvious ruse for selfishly satisfying a shallow curiosity.
Grandpa Charles had worked in the vast shunting yards of the old Rio Grande, getting cars where they needed to be, cleaning, inspecting, greasing, working levers and switches and leaping over couplings and tight-rope-walking tracks and a general hopping about, with frequent reminders that steel is unforgiving, until that day an inattentive engineer lurched a car and crush-killed Grandpa Charles. Jesse lived alone for long decades after. And the grandkids never knew Grandpa.
I walked up to him anyway, taboo and all, because I refused to be afraid of being friendly, and I said Hi and told him I think it’s awesome you are here living your life and that I was not asking him what happened, but I’m sure you suffered terribly and I’m sure it took courage to walk again and live again and choose to be strong and fit and social and I admire and respect your strength in adversity and he was nice and I felt happy and relieved and he told me he had been working in the railyard at an industrial depot that used to be an Army depot when he met a spiteful unforgiving train that lurched at him and his legs were gone just like that but he didn’t die and he decided to live again and I told him I would try to do the same when life got hard for me, and he said Nice to meet you, too.
Roger is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist. Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season. Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births. The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.