(This blog tells my family's story. To see more, click "blog" at the top of this webpage.)
I carried my duffel bag up crumbling concrete steps to the dirty front door of a shabby apartment building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My new roommate Janet greeted me with a residential parking permit for Beth’s car. Without it, parking cost a fortune.
Janet led me through the entryway to a dilapidated apartment. The slanted wood floor creaked loudly as I crossed the tiny living room. Wall registers rattled and clanked. The kitchen consisted of a sliver of space with a metal shelving unit for food instead of cupboards.
I placed my duffel on the worn wood floor of my small, empty, dark bedroom with no ceiling light.
The cheap mattress and frame I ordered online would be delivered the next day, so Janet’s couch would be my bed the first night. A printed Google map led me to Target to buy food, bedding, and an inexpensive lamp. I missed a turn on the way back and inadvertently explored the curving streets of Somerville. My sense of direction failed me. In the dark, I searched for the few street names I recognized, or a public place to ask for directions that didn’t look too scary.
When I finally arrived back at Janet’s, I put oatmeal, cereal, soup, peanut butter, whole wheat bread, bananas, and apples on the top metal shelf in the kitchen. The fridge door held my yogurt and milk. That night, I tossed and turned on Janet’s couch until the sun rose.
The morning after move-in day, our second day in Cambridge, I carried Target bags with Cheez-its and laundry soap to Beth’s dorm. A brisk twelve-minute walk away. At Harvard’s computer center, she bought her first Apple computer with the student discount. On Massachusetts Avenue, called ‘Mass Ave’ by locals, she picked out a futon chair that converted into a single mattress for the suite’s common room.
Beth decided on her own to test herself and handle all aspects of personal care by herself, even after Rakhi moved in that day. Consequently, Rakhi’s job description changed from personal care assistant (PCA) to simply a wonderful friend. Independence with a mostly complete C6-7 spinal cord injury required exceptional patience and significantly more time.
“I tried to see how far I could go and I continually tried to do more on my own,” Beth said. “It took a little over four years (after my injury). The doctors told me they had never seen anyone with my type of injury become completely independent.”
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