Trapped in my Body. It’s been 2 months. I’m trapped in my body. I can barely walk. I can barely stand upright. I’ve done everything. The orthopedist doesn’t think surgery will help me. Muscle relaxers are a joke; they don’t even take the pain away anymore. I’ve gone to physical therapy, which only made it worse. I had the steroid shots in my muscles. The chiropractor won’t even touch me. The massages feel nice, but do nothing. I even went on an anti-inflammatory diet. I do visualizations every day where I see myself walking. Nothing is working!!! I’m running out of ideas. I cry every day. Sometimes inconsolably. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do! I can’t walk. I can’t freaking walk!
Trapped in a cell: Javier sauntered down the hall to his cell. “Keep movin’!” the guard yelled. Javier went as slow as he could, because he dreaded going back into that cell. “Pick up the pace. We don’t have all night!” the guard continued to scream. Javier feigned a limp, not that it would keep him from going back to the cell, but at least it would delay the inevitable: the slamming of the cell door, the sweat that dripped down his back when the doors closed, all of the doors at once, remotely controlled. That sound, of metal clinking, doors clicking on 3 floors, felt to him like he was being sealed in a tomb, alive.
The moment the cell door closed, his chest tightened, panic crept into his brain like a critter, eating its way through the grey matter until he ceased to function. He collapsed onto the thin mattress that might as well have not been there, onto the scratchy blanket that covered it. He lay on the mattress, coiled into a fetal position, hiding his head under his arms, pretending that he wasn’t there. Wishing that he were anywhere else. He rocked himself back and forth, groaning as if in pain, to calm himself. He wished he could score some drugs, anything that would make him forget where he was.
Every moment of Javier’s life was controlled now. Some of the guys on the block had figured out how to elicit favors from the guards, or from the other inmates. There was an entire black market that he still hadn’t figured out. Also, he wasn’t anyone’s bitch, nor did he intend to be, if he could help it, so he had to fend for himself. But that was the world outside his cell. Once those heavy, metal bars closed for the night, there was no solace, there was no escape. He didn’t know how much longer he could take this. Every night, he brainstormed how he might get out. Maybe he could feign illness and go to the infirmary, where there were no bars. Maybe he could bribe someone on the outside to get him a reduced sentence. Maybe he could get out early on good behavior, but there was that one incident, which really wasn’t his fault, so his chances were slim.
When the rocking didn’t soothe him, and the lights were dimmed, he started to scream. Maybe if he screamed, they would let him out. Not only does Javier have no control over his life anymore, but he can’t seem to control the screaming.
His cellmate pushes his legs up to the top bunk. “Javier, goddamnit, shut the hell up. Nobody can sleep. I’m gonna put my fist in your face. That should shut you up.”
Javier gulps the air, trying not to scream. He covers his mouth with his hands because he knows that Tyrell will punch his lights out. Now Javier is crying, trying to quiet himself, but thinking that maybe the pain will take his mind off the fear. So he starts to bawl, and scream, and thrash about on the top bunk of the metal bed.
Tyrell has no sympathy for his cellmate. He hears the calls of the other prisoners on his block, demanding quiet, calling Javier names. Tyrell pulls his tall, muscular body reluctantly out of the bed, pulls Javier off the bunk bed by the collar, and throws him on the ground. Javier whimpers in the corner, sniveling. He doesn’t even protect himself, he welcomes it, but he can’t bring himself to stop crying. Tyrell pulls Javier up off the floor, brings his arm back and wallops Javier in the face. Tyrell’s strong, meaty fingers ball into a fist and connect with the bristly flesh of Javier’s skin. The physical pain stops Javier from crying. It takes away the agony of claustrophobia that has overwhelmed Javier and rendered him inoperable. He lies on the floor, panting, feeling as the sensations creep over his face, and blood pools in his cheek and eyes and forehead.
“Now, shut up and get back to bed!” Tyrell yells as he kicks Javier in the side for good measure. “You friggin’ baby. Why did I get stuck with a wimp? A fag.”
Javier manages to eek out, “I’m not a fag,” as his nose fills with snot. “I hate it here! Hit me again!” he goads Tyrell. “Hit me again, you freak! You monster! Go ahead! Show me what a man you are! I hate you and this whole, friggin’ place!”
Tyrell is too tired from a day’s work in the kitchens and running in the courtyard and working out in the gym to deal with Javier any more, but he does get excited by the prospect of beating someone up. The testosterone builds inside Tyrell, making him feel alive, so he takes a few more kicks as Javier cowers beneath him.”
“What the heck is going on here?” The guards are outside the cell door. “Tyrell, do we have to move you to solitary again? You’re disturbing our poker game, and you know how much we hate that.”
Javier piped up. “No, it’s okay, Officer,” he manages to get out between gasps of air. “Tyrell was helping me sleep. We won’t be disturbing you anymore, I swear.”
“Oh, a little S & M?” one of the guards remarked and they all laughed.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Tyrell replied sarcastically. “Javier can’t sleep without a little roughhousing. It tires him out.”
The hefty guard with the big gut banged his stick against the cell bars. “Get some sleep. And Javier, quit the cryin’, you Sissy. You’re getting a reputation, and that’s not a good thing in here. Tyrell, take care of your partner, there. You gotta protect your mate.” The guards laughed as they shuffled down the hall.
Javier crawled back up on the top bunk, all parts of him hurting. The pain kept him awake for a while, but it kept his anxiety at bay. He could only think about the pain, nothing else crept in, so it eventually lulled him to sleep.
In my Body: It’s been 3 months. I remember watching my dad, a handsome man of 5’11, get whittled down by crippling arthritis. He was literally trapped in his own body. He never believed in euthanasia, but he begged me, towards the end, to give him the bottle of pills, or take him to Oregon to visit my daughter where he knew they made euthanasia legal.
I feel like I starred in a great adventure flick that was my life. Now, I can only look back at photos of my former self and reminisce. Sky-diving, the Tarzan swing, zip lining, hiking, so many hikes, dancing, swimming, – the Adventures of a Woman, starring ME. Now, I can’t even walk across the house. I lunge from table to counter. I use a chair in the shower. Nobody can help me! It’s hopeless! Is this it? Am I a cripple for life? How am I supposed to function? I can’t live like this! This is Not living! I just can’t!
A Prison of my own: it’s been 4 months. Not only am I trapped in my body, but there is a world-wide pandemic that has everyone quarantined. The good thing is that you are allowed to go outside, so my friends and family are getting skinnier and healthier because they are going out hiking and jogging and biking.
I am trapped in my yard. I have to use a walker just to get outside. It’s a convenient contraption, complete with a seat and a compartment for carrying things. So, I plan my outing to the backyard, taking everything I need in one trip if possible. My computer, my book, my food, and my phone all go in the walker compartment. I do have to traipse back into the house for my coffee, because I am not a juggler. The only upside to this whole, sordid affair is that the weather is gorgeous. The birds come to visit me every day, so I have 3 feeders of various types outside. I’ve never been incapacitated before for more than a few days. This has gone on for months. I’ve been grappling with the idea that this could be it for the rest of my life. Luckily, I don’t have much pain when I’m sitting or lying down, so I often forget that I can’t walk, until I get up.
Sometimes, the only way to escape is to cry and cry and cry. It’s not something I can help. It just comes upon me and the tears flow like rivers. I can see no way out. I think I’m going through the 5 stages of grief, moving through them randomly. Part of me is in acceptance that I might never walk again and I brainstorm new ways to navigate the world from a walker. Other days, I’m so angry at my predicament that I lash out at whoever is around me. I have no patience. So what if there’s a pandemic in the world?! I can’t even participate in it! I’m confined to this house, this yard, this chair. I’m secretly glad that everyone else is confined to their houses also. Then, I don’t feel so alone. Then, the world isn’t going on without me.
The Virus Invades: Javier had finally gotten comfortable with prison life. It was either that, or continue to flip out on a regular basis, and his body couldn’t take any more beatings, either from his cell mate or the ones he self-inflicted by banging his head against the wall. He figured out who to make friends with, somehow doing so without having to put his mouth on anyone’s genitals. He realized that if he had some skill that they needed, he could be considered a commodity, and since he knew how to read real well and write coherently, something many of them could not do, he was useful. They solicited Javier to write letters to their families, or to lawyers for an appeal. Thus, he connected with one of the main gangs. They protected him. That made him feel safer. He started sleeping at night.
Javier wasn’t high profile, which suited him just fine, but he had made enough of a name for himself to stay alive and well. He learned who to sit with in the cafeteria, who to bribe, how to acquiesce goods from the commissary that he could use for trade.
Oddly enough, once he got comfortable, he thought that he might never want to leave prison, but then he thought about his mama, and his brothers, and his sister and her children, and how they might want to see him again. And that some day, maybe he could find a wife, or at least, be able to have sex with a woman again instead of having to self-satisfy. He knew that one of the prisoners found a girl online and they were going to get married; they would get conjugal visits once a month. That could work. So, maybe. He didn’t want to think about ‘freedom’ too often because it only made him desire something that he couldn’t have for several years, so why bother.
Instead of being a source of panic, the nights transformed into a cocoon of comfort, like a warm blanket on a really cold night. He curled up in his fetal position and rocked himself to sleep, still, but now the motion felt like a chair that his grandma rocked him in when his mom was ‘out of sorts’, which is what they called it when she was on a bender with a boyfriend. Sometimes, when everyone else was finally asleep, which he knew because ‘Thugger’, the cell mate who replaced Tyrell, snored like an old steam locomotive. At first, it really bothered Javier, the grinding of air and phlegm against Thugger’s meth-induced deviated septum, back and forth like a saw, kept Javier awake, although it also helped to distract him from his anxiety. Now, he listened to Thugger’s snoring until it became a rhythm, and he imagined that old train moving along the tracks through shanty towns and mountains, until the snoring, that blocked out all other noise, lulled Javier to sleep.
Cabin Fever: 5 months!! Triple Whammy. I can barely walk, we’re all in isolation due to this quarantine, and now I’m stuck in Phoenix in the summer! The heat is unbearable and the only way I can go outside is in the pool. If I’m out there at any time of day for more than 5 minutes, sweat pours from every pore, every orifice, and not in the good way of exercise sweat. I am completely trapped! If I could walk, I’d be pacing the floor. Sometimes I want to pick something up and throw it against a wall, something gooey and watch it drip down the wall, or something hard, and watch it crack into pieces. I want to hear the sound of the thing breaking.
Still, every day, I try to be grateful. I can feel myself falling deeper and deeper in to this hole, so I force myself to remember my blessings. Otherwise, I might not be able to crawl back out. I have a beautiful home (many people are in danger of being evicted because the economy is tanking due to the pandemic), I am in good health, I still have a job (over 30 million people have applied for unemployment), my family and friends are healthy and untouched by the virus thus far, and so many other blessings. But still, I want to escape!! It takes too much effort to do anything. I just want to sit in front of the TV and eat cookies. Now I understand why so many people have been eating during this quarantine. HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
the Virus Invades: Just when Javier felt comfortable in his captivity, a virus swept through the prisons.
At first, nobody really understood that there was a worldwide pandemic. The prison guards were not kind. When someone got sick, they told them to “buck up” until the inmate was so sick that they had to go to the infirmary. Then, the guards started getting this mysterious virus that had been “unleashed from China.”
“Those goddamned Goons,” some of the inmates said. “Those damned Chinks,” said one guard. “I’ll bet they made the virus in a lab and planted it in the United States,” someone else said over dinner one night. Everyone was starting to get scared, because the numbers were rising in the prisons. “What damned difference does it make,” one inmate remarked, “I heard that this thing is all over the world now. Even in China. Do you think they wanted to kill off their own people? Don’t be stupid.”
The inmates weren’t just getting the virus in mass numbers. They were dying, or getting really, really sick. Johnie was in the infirmary for 3 weeks. When he returned, he told the story to everyone in the courtyard. They hung on his every word. “F-ck, Man. I couldn’t breathe. I had a headache that I thought would split my head open. Some days, I just wished I would die. Get it over with. Believe it or not, I wished I could be back here with you F-ckers.”
“Man, I heard they were lettin’ people out. Maybe I’ll get outta here, too,” said Blake, a massive, scary man who looked like he could be the quarterback for any football team.
“They’re not gonna let you out any time soon, Brother,” retorted Johnie. “You is never gettin’ outta this joint.”
Blake stood up and towered over Johnie. “I just might, but before I do, I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Johnie knew enough not to anger Blake. Over time, he learned just how much he could joke with Blake, having come close to the brink of death when Blake was truly angry with him once. “Brother from another Mother,” Johnie quipped. “If anyone gets let out, it’s gonna be you. I would miss you, that’s all.”
Freedom is a mindset: I completely forgot about this place down the block. They have torture machines (decompression machines). I’ll be paying out of pocket, but they are my last hope. I think I might be able to walk again in my lifetime.
This back thing has forced me to look at my life, once again, with more limitations. What will I never be able to do again? Obviously, I’ll have to make modifications. Perhaps that is a defeatist attitude, but I’m skittish now. After I can walk again, I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my back. I will probably never dance with wild abandon again. I will never make love quite the same way. I doubt if I will be able to hike up a mountain again; I’ll have to find level ground to hike. I will always be careful what I pick up, what I do, how I do it. Perhaps that is what everyone has to do, but I feel like someone is looking over my shoulder. I guess that is the price you pay for living in a body. I guess it’s how I feel about this Corona virus, also. Always looking over my shoulder now, to see who has touched my door handles, who has blown their breath on me. CRAP!!!!!
Covid-19, the Invisible Enemy: Javier’s anxiety started to mount again. He stopped wanting to participate in activities, but the prison started curtailing the activities of inmates anyway. Guards were given masks first, but soon the prisoners got masks also. Since they were in such close quarters, the guards started separating the prisoners in the cafeteria, and they staggered the eating times. It was more difficult keeping the prisoners separated on the basketball courts and in other areas of the prison.
Wearing the masks is what really threw Javier. “I can’t breathe. I can not f-cking breathe!” he screamed. He went into hysteria several times. “Get the hell outta my way!” he blared one evening in the cafeteria, as he pushed Bulldog out of the way, sending Bulldog’s food all over the floor. Bulldog was not someone anyone messed with, but Javier was out of his mind with fear and anxiety. Bulldog sat on the floor in complete disbelief, and typically he would have beaten Javier within an inch of his life, braving solitary for a few days, but this time, he just stared at Javier. “Don’t you know that breathing on someone can give them that virus”!” Javier yelled at Bulldog. “Go ahead, Bulldog, you wanna hit me? Huh? Because this tiny little microbe that you can’t even see, it’s stronger than you. If I have the virus and you get it, you’re gonna die. You’re gonna f-cking die!”
Everyone in the dining hall was frozen. They waited to see what Bulldog was going to do next. They held their breath, waiting for a fight. Usually, they would have egged it on, but now, everyone was on high alert. After so many of their fellow inmates had gotten sick, they realized there was a high possibility that they would be next, and it sobered them.
Resolve: I have decided that I can be fixed. Now that I’ve got my mind back in order, I’m ready to work my ass off for the rest of my life in order to walk again. But, I’ve come to realize that unless I am willing to train like an Olympic athlete, I might have limitations in my life. I am becoming comfortable with that notion.
Now that I’ve literally changed my mind and my attitude, the back therapy is starting to work. It might have worked even if I was still depressed and crying every day, but the doctor said that my new attitude is most likely helping my recovery. After all, with all that sadness and anger and depression, I was creating my own chemicals of stress and inflammation. And it dawns upon me, I don’t believe in a no-win scenario, as Captain Kirk once said to Mr. Spock.
FREEDOM: Whenever possible, Javier sequestered himself in his cell. It used to be his hell, his damnation. Now, it was his only solace, where he could quarantine, away from the others, away from the dreaded microbe. Eventually, he was largely forgotten. When asked if he wanted to go out for air, he often refused. His mother had sent him books, and since none of the guards or prisoners were interested in them, they didn’t confiscate or steal them, so he was left with his books. They comforted him. There was an attempt to distance the prisoners, which is why many of the activities that they had participated in, had stopped.
Javier found his freedom in his books. He was able to travel in his imagination to lands unknown, to distant planets, to phantasmagorical worlds. Javier became the characters. In these stories, he was a hero who fought dragons, he was a small child who saved the world, he was the head of a mob who called the shots.
One afternoon, a guard came into the dining hall to make an announcement.. “They’re gonna let some of you creeps out of here this week. Put you back on the streets. Not because you’ve been good, but because they’re afraid you’re gonna infect each other with that virus. We don’t know who, so don’t ask us. They did tell us that they’re probably gonna take the ones with only about 6 months or less to go. I’m just telling you this to prepare you. Hell, they might take the whole lot of you. So, be on your best behavior. Try to keep your damn hands to yourselves and you just might see the light of day sooner than later.” He turned to go and paused. Not looking at them, lest they should see his expression of concern and compassion, he added, “And good luck to you.”
This was the moment Javier had been waiting for. Almost 4 years. What a waste he had made of his life. But now, he didn’t know if he could go out there. Where would he be safer from the virus? What would he do out there? There would be no job he could do where he wasn’t exposed. They had gotten a handle on the virus in here. He would be safer in here. He had his books. Almost everyone left him alone now. No. He had made a decision. He would not accept clemency if it was offered to him. For now, he had found his freedom. It was here. In his cell. With his books.
Empathy: I don’t think the universe converges just to teach us a lesson. I think there are lessons that we can glean from every experience, if we choose to look. I can walk again, albeit slowly and not very far. Every day, I walk a little bit more. I started collecting pine cones because the pine trees are my distance markers. I think about the lessons I’ve been gifted through this harrowing, maddening experience.
- I was kind of self-absorbed. Case in point. My significant other has some health issues. For one thing, he has a bad back, and I was irritated that he didn’t do enough to try and heal his back. I saw his health issues as an inconvenience to me and the life I wanted to live. Well, the universe kicked my ass on that one. Now, I appreciate the care he gives me, I empathize with the pain he endures, and I am humbled that he stuck by me with all that crying and thrashing about.
- Never give up hope. About anything. When you stop caring, or stop trying to improve things, you die. Or at least, you live a miserable life.
- Accept my limitations and adjust accordingly.
- This too shall pass.
- Hang on to the people you love for dear life.
Notes and Reflections:
Stockholm syndrome: psychological condition that occurs when a victim of abuse identifies and attaches, or bonds, positively with their abuser.
The Chained Elephant: When a rope is tied around the leg of a young elephant, at first it pulls and stomps and attempts to get away. Eventually, it grows accustomed to the lack of freedom and doesn’t even try to leave after the chain is removed.
Slaves: Although the slaves were freed after the Civil War, many of them stayed in the household that bound them, because they didn’t know where to go or what to do.
A ponderance: When the chains are removed, and we can all go out again, and I can walk again, and the heat has subsided, will I go anywhere? Will I continue to sit here? Will I be content to sit here, or just walk around my house without a walker to get to the backyard?
Will Javier become resigned to the confinement of his prison cell? Will he eventually feel comfortable in it? And once he makes some friends who will protect him, once he gets in good with the guards, will he feel tucked in and cozy, knowing that he is safe within the walls of the prison, where he has food and shelter and a schedule, knowing that the outside world only entices him to do it all again and doesn’t have any parameters for him?
I think you get the point.