by Nikki Thompson
When I was 31, my carotid artery dissected, and I had a stroke.
I could bathe myself now, but I couldn’t wash my hair, even with the detachable showerhead. My arm wouldn’t reach above my head. I sat on the hard white plastic chair with the holes. My mom and I talked, just like we had for years. That felt comfortable. My mom bathing me though, that was not comfortable.
At least here was the bathroom I grew up in, not the hospital bathroom. I had to be showered by the nurse. She wrapped me in a big towel and wheeled me across the room, in front of my three roommates and whoever else happened by. In physical therapy, they showed me how to use the hard white chair that my dad bought at Home Depot. They had a special tub set up just for that purpose.
I felt old, older than my mom. She had to bathe me again.
One of the first nights at my parent’s house, we decided to go for a walk—all four of us and the two dogs. Since I couldn’t climb the hill, I left my four-point cane and took the wheelchair. Even that tired me out. Like walking, I moved my feet back and forth, back and forth, careful not to get them stuck under the chair. I gripped the wheels with my hands, pushed, and then let go; gripped again, pushed, and let go; over and over. I wasn’t used to walking with my hands.
My dad wondered if the dogs could pull me. So we strapped their leashes over the handles of my wheelchair. Billie, my Boxer-Pitbull mix, put her head down and pulled, like she was born to it. Roxy, my brother’s Doberman-Rottweiler mix, rolled her eyes and kept trying to escape.
As the dogs were dragging me down the hill, I was on a roller coaster. My family was all here beside me, not bickering, and I was one part of a whole.
Nikki Thompson is a poet, book artist (aka Deconstructed Artichoke Press), and happily failed architect. She fled Southern California for UC Berkeley, where she earned a degree in architecture and edited Berkeley Fiction Review. She remained in the Bay Area and earned her MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts in 2002. She has worked extensively with Small Press Traffic and the San Francisco Center for the Book. Her work has appeared in Paragraph Magazine, Spork, and Palimpsest. She is the host and organizer of the Deconstructed Artichoke Press Reading Series in San Francisco’s Mission District. She currently teaches special education at South San Francisco Unified School District, while residing in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights with her fiance and Boxer-Pitbull mix, Billie Holiday.