‘The Broken Road’
Exhaustion had already grown prevalent in my life – I’d never slept well as an adult, but from the moment I’d taken Aropax, sleep had become shallow and restless. Now it seemed I was chronically exhausted. What made it worse was that pain had become a weight that tired me out every day, and anxiety an anchor.
I tried a number of things to help the tension in my neck, and the sharp pain in my lower back – for months, I stretched in the mornings; saw physios and osteos regularly, had acupuncture time and time again; bought an orthopaedic chair; and alternated between swimming thirty-forty laps three times a week, cycling, and walking the same forty-five minute route. The very best I could manage with my back and neck was a stalemate.
If I did anything jarringly physical – like play football or cricket with Allie’s kids, just as I used to before we broke up – my neck, and particularly my lower back, would tighten, sometimes excruciatingly. One time I dived for a catch when we played cricket and woke with the lower back locked in pain. For the next three or four days, it was difficult even to walk, or get up out of a chair.
It seemed unfair that with all the treatment and exercise I was undergoing, my neck and back refused to respond. I couldn’t remember my last pain-free day – probably early in 2009, before my neck seized up. Every day since then, there’d been something. Now here I was almost two years later, and envisioned a future where I grew old and twisted up by pain and injury.
One evening, after another argument with Allie about the same old stuff, I took a walk, and just kept walking, taking turn-offs I hadn’t for years, walking deep into the night, pushing myself, going further, walking longer, until finally I returned home, almost two-and-a-half hours later.
When I woke the next morning, the pain in my lower back was gone. With its absence, my mood lifted. Gone was this anchor, this constant reminder of how much I was hurting. To this point, I had tried to manage my back, but what it obviously yearned was to be pushed.
For the next several weeks, I went all out: walking forty-minutes every night (and longer some nights), cycling up to twenty kilometres three or four times a week, swimming forty to fifty laps three times a week; and hitting the punching bag for half an hour three or four times a week. My back coped, and maybe was even happy. I started to feel stronger within myself. It had been so long since I’d felt anything close to the way I had once been. I was still here, somewhere, inside a body that had been battered around, but maybe just needed to be reminded what it had once been capable of.
One afternoon, I finished a troublesome private edit, and felt particularly ebullient. Working as an editor had grown draining. It’s not a job with much downtime – an hour’s worth of work meant an hour’s worth of work. You couldn’t, for example, slack off on the phone whilst doing your job at the same time. Then it’s isolating, and sedentary. You needed to pour yourself into whatever you were reading – whether you connected with it or not, whether you liked it or not – and stay there, immerse yourself in it, and then hope you could decipher what something might need. The pressure also grew – not pressure from anybody else, but myself. My OCD channelled into getting everything right, into seeing things others couldn’t to produce the responses that were expected of me.
So, I finalised the edit, then sent it back to the author. I turned off the episode of House I was watching, marvelling at how cool House made a cane look. Then I headed out, just after 5.00 pm. Because I felt bright, even a little bit silly, I decided to do something different, and instead of walking the same route I did every night, decided to walk the route in reverse.
I bounced along on my walk, putting in context the things that had happened to me, and knowing that I could handle them. It would take some navigating, but I was proving to myself that I wasn’t as decrepit as I’d come to believe. My mind was still awash with panicked chatter, but it was now nowhere near as loud or manic as it had been. Things would be okay. I’d find my way through this, because if nothing else, that’s what I did – I found my way through. I’d done it this long. I could keep doing it … and maybe find my way out of the mire.
I reached a T-intersection I crossed every night and pushed the button for the lights. Of course, because I’d done the route in reverse now I was on the other side of the intersection, traffic to my back, instead of coming toward me. The lights changed, and the ticking began to indicate I could walk. A glance back over my shoulder, and then I started across.
Within a couple of strides, I was shoved from my right. Something unyielding hit my hip. There’s a cliché that time slows down during great danger, but now I experienced that as a car eased into my line of vision, and it dawned on me what was happening: a car was in the process of hitting me.
And with that realisation one simple thought raced through my mind: Shit – I could die here.
Then things went blank.