Keeping up appearances and my new life in Claremont

“You’re alive!” I thought my traveling companion would die trying not to laugh or fall over in shock when the woman exclaimed this as he and I entered the motel’s front office. I had made reservations for the night, and this was the first night of his first trip with me.

When he had taken the job with me as one of my attendants several months earlier, he knew it would be some kind of adventure, but clearly, he had no idea how much of an adventure it would be.

I had stayed at this motel a year earlier, and the same woman was at the front desk when a different attendant and I had checked in. It was in San Jose—not that we were there to take in whatever (if anything?) it has to offer, but hotels there are much cheaper than those in Santa Cruz, one of my favorite spots. So San Jose became one of our stops on that jaunt north, and it was a relatively short drive away on the scenic 17, at least if we timed our commutes to avoid the notorious traffic. (I guess hotels aren’t the only things that are cheaper in San Jose.)

Although I was long used to people reacting to me in some unusual way, this was one of the most outlandish and brazen. I couldn’t blame my companion for being bowled over. After all, I may have been disabled and severely so, but I was in perfectly good health. There was no reason to be surprised that I was still alive.

This was not long after I turned 50 and at least a few years before the spinal surgery I had two years ago that left me considerably more disabled but also – as the surgeon made clear to me later, leaving me in tears –saved my life.

“You’re alive,” indeed!

* *?*?*?*

“It’s good to see you back in the land of the living!”

Someone recently said this to me. I could have been bowled over or have taken offense. But I wasn’t and didn’t. I just laughed, taking it in stride, as the more polite, more understanding “You’re alive!” that I knew it was.

It was a Pilgrim Place resident who has known me for some years who said this. I was at the recent festival, having gotten there myself in my chair, very much feeling back in the land of the living. Not only have I been going out more and more on my own, at least when it is warm enough with the neuropathy I now have (at above 80 degrees—the Pilgrims were sweating it out this year), but, as in this case, I have also been venturing further and further.

She went on to ask me if it was all worthwhile—putting up with all the pain, the infirmaries—and to say that this is a hot topic at the retirement community. I could indeed relate. I’m not nearly as old as the residents there, but as I have mentioned recently in these pages, it has been said that it’s as if I got old very quickly when I had the surgery.

Yes, there are days when the pain in my legs and hands is particularly bad, when I have even less energy, days when I do wonder if it’s worthwhile. Yes, with all the doctor visits and the many trips to the emergency room, my life has definitely changed after the three (so far and hopefully only) hospital stays this year, after going to my doctor maybe only once or twice a year, even if I’m not all that much older. I have said they should reserve a bed for me, preferably in one of those private rooms, called “The John Pixley Room.”

Yes, many people have expressed surprise that I’m still around, all the more so since I began appearing again in these pages after two years. And, yes, I sometimes agree with them in being surprised that I’m up and about, much less still here.

While I’ve come to learn that my life will never be as it once was, that my legs will never regain sensation and what agility they did have, after hoping for the first year or so that my body would return to its former state, I’ve come to realize that this shouldn’t, and can’t, stop me from having a life.  If I can’t have my old life back, well, it was time to find and start a new life.

As I have written about, I’ve been attending concerts. Music fans should know that we have an incredible bounty of free concerts in our small town, all the more so with the Colleges and their many free performances—unusual and unusually special as I’ve come to discover.

I’ve also made return appearances at the Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College. While I’m not going nearly as much as I used to, I have enjoyed the—yes, free, again—talks by the likes of Tara Westover, the author of Educated, a riveting memoir about growing up as the daughter of Morman survivalists in Idaho opposed to public education and seeing doctors, who went on to attend BYU and then to earn a doctorate at Oxford University in England; or Samantha Powers, President Obama’s UN Secretary whose book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003; and Haben Girma, a deaf and blind woman who was the first such person to attend Harvard Law School (as she recounts in her recently published book, Haben: The Deafblind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law).

It has been a real joy to be able to go to these events, as well as at movies at the Laemmle Cinema in the Village and plays at Pomona College and the as-good-as-LA Ophelia’s Jump theater company’s venue just over the border in Upland.

Sure, I wish that I wasn’t so disabled now and that I was able to do all that I used to. I wish that I had my old life back, but I’m very glad that I’m now able to make a new life for myself and that Claremont is so much the perfect place for doing so.


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