Earlier this week, I took a bus for the first time since February of 2020. I had a doctor’s appointment at an office that was relatively close and accessible by bus. I could have called around to family and friends for a ride, but sometimes, I just want to do things on my own. I researched the bus schedules and was delighted to find that all adult fares are $1.00 now. I am eligible to get an additional discount because I have a disability, but I’ve never gone to the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) to get my card. I don’t ride that often and fares are reasonable, so I just support public transportation with my little bit of money.
I’d spent the day before in a major funk because I’d gone to the store and while I was crossing the street at the light, a big shiny black pick up truck made a left turn almost into me. He braked quickly and then gave me this little shrug and wave with both hands. An “oopsy” smile. It was hot. I was deeply irritated by his goofy response to almost running me over. I thought of all the other times similar “almost” accidents happened to me. It weighed heavily on me.
I considered just cancelling my appointment. There’s a certain state of mind, a certain kind of confidence that I need to ask for favors, or even to go out at all, and it sometimes eludes me. The weight of living, of getting simple things done, felt impossible.
But I’m also blessed (or cursed) with a sense of adventure, so I knew it would be good for me to get out again and make my own way to see my doctor, in that small window of possibility that’s open to me. And so, in the 98 degree heat, armed with masks, water, and my long list of medications, I caught a bus.
The trip there was nice. I had the air-conditioned bus to myself most of the way. The bus driver was masked. The farebox was broken so the ride was free. As we rode along, a few more people got on, most were masked. The ones who weren’t were clearly overwhelmed and challenged by life, trying to get home with groceries, trying to cope with the heat.
Every once in a while, an announcement would blare out about mandatory masks. The voice was deep and male, with a terse Southern twang that made me thing of a stern Southern sheriff. “Your mask MUST cover you NOSE and Mouth.”
This doctor, my GP, has an office in the center city, and I appreciate that there are still doctors practicing close by. So many have been moved out to the edges of the city, and there is no public transportation that goes out there. And if there is it takes hours to get there.
In this part of the city there are lots of people without a lot of money. There are more pedestrians. There’s more variety. It’s also a part of town that shows signs of age, urban decay, and how people and businesses try to keep up appearances without much support from the city’s budget.
My GP was encouraging. My triglycerides and my blood sugar are both down. I was glad to talk to her. While I waited in her office, I sketched, nothing much, but it sparked the memory of how much I used to sketch during waits for buses and doctors. I started missing my sketchbook. I’ve stopped using it. Some of my internal scaffolding has broken. I can’t clearly see the point of all this scribbling and drawing anymore. Haven’t for a while — since COVID? since I had to start using the wheelchair full time? Since the beginning, way back in childhood? Sixty years old and I still let negativities restrain and sabotage me. I don’t even carry a sketchbook anymore, just my calendar with some blank paper. I used to have a whole kit, pens, pencils, paint all tucked like secret joy weapons in my bag.
Back on the street, I got the bus back home. It was crowded. Another wheelchair was already on — a woman about my age. She had a larger chair and it was loaded down with bags — at least 5 backpacks, shopping bags, plastic bags — all hanging from her back handles, head rest, arm rests, and a few stacked on top of her feet. She didn’t look unhoused, she was clean, wore make up, smelled nice. Maybe a hoarder, or maybe she just went out once a month and got everything she needed.
I was able to fit my chair in the other wheelchair spot without blocking the aisle. (Thank Science for these chairs that turn in place).
The bag burdened woman had on a mask, but the bus driver didn’t, and few of the passengers did. But there were no haters — people who get angry that wheelchairs are taking up extra seats. I’ve always disliked that using the wheelchair keeps me from getting further back in the bus and eavesdropping on conversations, watching human stories unfold, but now I feel the social distancing provided by being in my designated spot is a good thing.
I got home, crossed all the streets without anyone trying to kill me.
The journey broke my funk. It also made me stash a small sketchbook in my purse.
The world seemed manageable again.
It’s still scary and frustrating, but I wheel on.
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