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During Beth’s first summer vacation at home with a spinal cord injury, she focused on time with friends. We rode with another mom in her van full of excited teenagers to an N’Sync concert in Michigan, with the words “PopOdyssey N’Sync” in bright paint on the back window. Near Detroit, a traffic jam on I-75 turned into a party. Girls blared music, waved signs, and shouted to each other across the highway lanes. That might have been fun except for temperatures in the 90’s with high humidity. The van had no air conditioning and there was no breeze as we inched along.
Beth flushed with fever, her body unable to sweat to cool down.
I carried Tylenol, but nothing to drink it down with since we didn’t anticipate the traffic jam. I encouraged her to take it without water, but she wanted to wait. Approaching the stadium, I frantically waved the handicapped-parking placard out the window at the traffic cop to avoid another jam of cars. Finally parked, I hurried Beth out of the van to the first drink stand for cold bottled water. She took the Tylenol and drank extra water before we found our seats. In shade, Beth felt better before long and danced with her friends. They watched Justin Timberlake, the 20-year-old who stole the show in the pulsing lights on the stage.
Our summer comings and goings confused Beth’s high-strung African Gray parrot. He plucked out feathers and injured his skin. A vet put a plastic cone around his neck, making him more miserable. We wondered if Timber had been taken from his parents too soon, and a friend recommended a bird sanctuary in Cleveland. Whether it was my fault or not, the parrot toddler needed more help than we could give. I drove him to the sanctuary, which included an extensive outdoor aviary with dozens of birds.
Beth and I cried when we said goodbye to Timber, but we were glad to hear that he recovered quickly, delighted in his new home.
Early on an August Saturday, firemen lifted Beth in her wheelchair onto a boat at a Sandusky pier on the Lake Erie shore. I skipped the fishing part of the Fishing Without Boundaries event. When the boats returned, I heard about how Beth caught more perch and walleye than her dad. The boat’s young first mate watched three fishing poles and handed one to her whenever he had a nibble. She reeled in about two dozen fish and let someone else take the fish off the hook.
A friendly crowd gathered for a picnic near the docks. A mom told me how children at school made fun of her daughter, who grew up feeling like a victim. A dad shared his ongoing battle with pressure sores, reminding me of an article I read about a woman who had both legs and part of her trunk amputated because of pressure sore infections.
Surrounded by the perspective of significant disability, I understood the mental argument that I should be happy and grateful. I was grateful. I could get through most days without crying, and yet...
...part of me sludged through guilt that felt like grief. ...through depression and anxiety that made me afraid of the future. Catastrophes seemed to be waiting in the wings, for Beth, for me, for the rest of our family, for our friends, and for the world.
I listened to Beth laugh with the other teenagers and wondered if she could avoid depression entirely.
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