As I pull into the parking lot at the office, my body feels much more settled. Even though I haven’t seen much of anything during my drive (or perhaps because I haven’t seen much), I do feel a little better. I’m able to start the day. I am about half an hour behind my regular schedule, and I’m feeling like I need to play catch-up. I have no sense of time having passed in an orderly manner, but logic tells me that all the delays and upheavals of the morning have set me back. I check the clock on my dashboard – yes, I’m 30 minutes behind schedule. But at least I got to the office. That’s progress.
I always park more or less in the same area. I’ve figured out that the middle lot (there are three to choose from) is a good walking distance from the building, without being too remote. It’s not too close, not too far, and in some parking places I can find shade on hot summer days. I pull into a spot that I know will be in the shadow of the large tree in front of it, later this afternoon. That will be just the ticket to avoid the swelter of the afternoon sun. I put the car in “park”, pull the parking brake, turn off the headlights, unbuckle my seatbelt, and unfasten the belt from my pack. I slip my sunglasses back in their pocket of the bag, and extract myself from the driver’s seat, pulling my knapsack behind me. I’m stiff. Tight. Feeling it in my hips and knees. The driver’s seat is too low, I remind myself for the seventh time this month. I need to get a pillow to raise myself up and give my hips and knees a break from that angle.
As I head for the front doors, my pack slung over my back, an unexpected word escapes my lips, startling me.
“Struggle….” I hear myself mutter aloud, and I start at the sound of my voice. Where did that come from? I glance around, hoping no one within earshot heard me. It sounded gutteral and distant. Not like me at all. As my head turns, I get a little dizzy again, and I hope to myself that nobody is walking behind me. Wait… wait… I turn an ear to my surroundings. In the distance I hear traffic. Birds. Wind. The expansive, reedy, high-pitched buzzing of an electrical power station not 500 yards down the hill from the office. The whirring of the building’s HVAC system, hidden behind a wall of rhododendrons. But no footsteps behind me.
All around me, I know the day is bright and clear, but I hardly see it. I remind myself that I’m not in the car anymore. I need to keep quiet, in case someone else is nearby.
As I approach the building entrance, out of the corner of my eye, I see a few people standing at the little smoking section by the front door. I hope they didn’t hear me muttering to myself, and I give them a quick smile and a nod, hoping to disarm them.
They smile back and say, “Good morning,” but I can’t tell if they’re friendly or wary or if they hardly notice me. I can’t tell if they heard me and are looking at me with wariness, or if they’re just caught up in their own conversation. It’s too early to worry about it, I decide. Anyway, I don’t work with them, so what difference does it make, whether or not they heard me? Inwardly, I shrug off my insecurity, duck inside, and head for the stairs that lead to the third floor. Crossing the tile-floored lobby, the squeak of my shoes on the smooth surface irritates my ears. I try walking more carefully, but there’s no avoiding the squeaks of the freshly washed surface. The lobby is glass-lined, cavernous, and echoes seem to bounce off every available hard surface. I can’t make it stop, not even by treading carefully, so I pick up the pace and stride to the stairwell.
I always take the stairs to my office. The elevator is slow, and it’s completely made of glass, even the floor. I can see everything, including the floor growing smaller beneath me as it climbs. Plus, other people ride it. And they invariably want to chat, especially if I work with them. I’m not in the mood to interact with people. Especially not today. I’m too foggy, too out-of-it, too intent on keeping upright and keeping my nausea in check, to chat pleasantly with anyone… no matter how casual or relaxed the exchange. Sometimes, casual and relaxed exchanges are the most challenging for me, because there’s no set beginning and end to the conversation, and as often as not, I say something awkward or that the other person takes the wrong way. And on days like today, I’m so focused on keeping upright and blocking out all the sensory input, the last thing I feel like doing is exchanging witty banter.
So, I take the stairs. No one is there. Why would they be, when there’s such a nice elevator to ride?
Walking up the steps, I hold onto the railing and move stiffly. My back straight, I hold my head at just the right angle, and my left hand runs along the rail, steadying me, as my right hand holds tight to the backpack strap over my shoulder. East-facing windows catch the morning light. While it might be nice for some, brightening an otherwise dreary gray cinder-block silo, the light hurts my eyes and plays tricks on me with fragments of light refracting off the panes.
The relief I felt after my drive to work is dissipating. I’m getting frustrated and agitated again, as I make my way up the steps, one at a time. My thoughts begin to churn and prod me… I have things to do. I have a job to do. I have a full day ahead of me. I really don’t need this physiological trouble getting in the way of my mental and social activity. It’s confounding for me to have to focus on something as simple as keeping my balance, when I have so much to do. This should be easy… it comes second-nature to the rest of the world… most people just take for granted that they can get around with no problem. Take the elevator. Drive to work and walk across the parking lot without making a spectacle of themselves. Get out of the house without pissing off their partner. But not me. Not today. Not.
And I hate it. It makes me feel disabled. It makes me feel deficient. Incompetent. I realize the waves of irritation are throwing me even farther off balance, so I center my attention on the feel of the railing under my hand and the solidity of each step that I take. Grab – step – pull – step. Grab – step – pull- step. Slowly but surely, I reach the top of the stairs, and when I pull open the stairwell door and see the office entrance before me, relief washes over me.