I reach up, open the screen door, and slide the stop flap in place. The gesture is a clue for the dogs that it’s time to come inside. But since my fracture they know I’m slower, and care less if they’re in or out. And they’re timid. The crutches are strange. New people are taking them in unfamiliar cars to walk. I wave bye out the kitchen door. And then I don’t know what to do.

This stop flap reach reminds me of the leg brace. On either side of my knee is a lockable protractor. It was locked straight for two weeks after surgery, now it’s freed up, well it was supposed to be, and I have been re-learning to bend my knee. I can go fifty percent; it says on the compass. It doesn’t get more or less in the two weeks I’ve been trying. Except Tuesday I could only bend thirty percent. All of Tuesday I was like, It’s getting worse! And I tried to really try. It wasn’t pain stopping me from bending more, it just stopped. Later in the day I looked down and realized that the inside of the lock had mistakenly locked onto 30 percent.

After three months at Jikoji Zen Temple I cared for a man who had no use of his legs and only slight use of his arms. One morning as I arrived, he was soaked in sweat, and yelled, “Turn that tv off!” The tv had been stuck on the weather channel all night, volume high. The control had fallen somewhere, on the floor.

I am re-thinking the glib phrase about using crutches versus the real thing. The assumption is using a crutch is like cheating, making things easy, too easy. When really, my crutches wake me up more than, really anything so far, well, maybe death of a good friend, divorce (mine) maybe seeing the pups for the first time in their travel containers, so small and scared. The sun slanting in through Hokoji Zendo’s open door for a moment as Robert slides the blue curtain a little to the side, carrying a pot of miso soup.

Anyway, the crutches.

With both hands on crutches I lean carefully to the nearest kitchen wall, turn my head, not my entire body, that would take too much effort. Lightly toss a spoon in the direction of the sink, a small knife. Sometimes it makes it. Things fall on the floor. Things like towels, slide off of other things, like chairs, and fall. Refrigerator door softly closes onto my right side, head, and shoulders over and over until I figure out how to prop it open with my crutches. I can balance on one leg and use both hands to get what I need. I need to get close to what I’m working with. Like how I was taught to assist in Yoga. (Like how I was taught to look the vice-principle in the eye in second grade).

To place a vase on a table I put the vase in my bag which is around my neck. And then a jar of water. Then the flowers loosely in the bag. And the scissors. Then the vase goes out first, pour the water, cut and stick flowers in. Or I can sort of carry a vase with a narrow neck with a few fingers and lean into my armpits (“Don’t do that, you’ll cut off some important veins in your armpits and cause something terrible to happen”).  To take inside a food delivery I prop open the heavy front screen door with its lower stop-flap, and if the food’s in a bag, I sort of swing it inside. I crutch along and reach back, grab it, and slide it down the hall. Repeat. If it’s in a box I take each thing out, put them in the bag around my neck and walk to the kitchen, repeat. I go back to the empty box and slide it along into the other bedroom where the boxes are until someone carries them outside.

I can’t carry boxes. I can’t carry plants in pots. I can’t water my plant on the top of the bookshelf. At first, when I was still on pain medicine Claudia saw me trip over a sticky mat, I use for my dogs traction, and land in “chaturanga dandasana” the push up position. I did it again when Claudia was gone and I was not on pain medicine, tripped over a bag of groceries. My legs can’t help when I fall. They stick straight out. Luckily, I let go of my crutches to catch myself. Now, I stopped falling. I watch other things fall.

To take a shower I lower myself onto the side of the tub, swing my straight leg around, use my hands to stand and pivot on my heel, holding the shower wall. I can get inside the house by swinging open the screen door, catching a crutch there and lifting my right leg first. (Pants go on, left leg first.) Getting off the floor I swing my left leg straight, bend my right leg and sort of push down through the one leg and roll up through my torso, like dance. It’s all like dance (except sometimes). If I push off all my right toes and hold my arms stiffly (Think flying over a pommel horse in gymnastics) then I glide along, swinging my legs and torso. I watch really carefully for what my crutches stand on. Water drop on linoleum floor; one will slide out. Rain, the crutches sink into the ground. I hang my wet clothes and sheets outside by putting my wet clothes in my bag over my neck, once outside lean the crutches on my torso, and hang up my clothes with two hands. The crutches fall on the ground. I pick them up and try leaning them differently. Then they fall and I let them just be on the ground.  Or I sit on the floor next to the machine and put the clothes in the dryer there. Making my bed I sort of roll and flop and pull. Going up steps, I lightly touch my left foot down and jump with my right leg, straight up, then do it again. Going to the bathroom at 3 am, I uncover the blanket from my left leg (which is in its brace), swing it over Jake, sit on the side of my bed and wait. Then when I’m awake enough to think, I push off the bed, grab the crutches as a pair, and when I reach the toilet I turn and back up to it, like a car into its place. I try to walk sideways and whisper happy things as I approach Chloe, in her bed, so I don’t scare her. When I get back into bed, I rub calendula cream into small cuts and callouses on the heels of my hands.

I don’t remember seeing the crutches for the first time. Someone must have checked them out and leaned them against the wall in the ER. No where does it say, “crutches” on my hospital bill. But I do remember, at one in the morning, learning how to use them. A woman showed me basically how to go up a step (foot first) and down (crutches first). She fitted them to my height, like a bike, and she showed me how to walk backwards and forward.

Yesterday there was a dank, bad crappy smell somewhere. After sniffing everything I could think of and checking my shoes I sniffed my crutches. Oh! Bags of trash, re-cycling, dog poop bags, knock against my crutches and they smelled rank!

I sit on the kitchen floor and scrub them. I wash the sides and squeeze water in the holes where I can adjust the height. I wash the tops where I stretched black cotton face masks. I wash the rubber tips and inspect them. And I rinse them clean.

~ o ~
~Katharine Kaufman