Monday, August 20, 2012

Moody: Rock & A Hard Place

Today's entry is an installment in my series about my friend, Moody, who, due to a fall, became quadriplegic a few years ago and died in 2011. 

Untitled On my way to the post office this afternoon I hurried myself up to cross Lexington Avenue before the light changed. I wasn't the only one and as I crested the curb on the other side two nattily dressed young people slid by eachother and came up short. The buckles of their fashionable bags had gotten hooked together. It was so bizarre it should have been funny but neither of them was smiling. I was sad because that's got to be a one in a million chance there, they ought to at least have been amazed.

Then I thought of Moody.

For a while we saw eachother once a week for our Friday movie. After a few years we sometimes skipped a week but we'd average twice a month. I was conscious of the regularity because it seemed important for him to have things he could count on. To have doctor's appointments be the only reason you get out and about is no way to keep one's body and soul together.

This particular May had been weird and hectic and I knew I was going out of town later in June and July so when I realized that I just didn't have time for a movie the Friday of Memorial Day weekend I punted instead. I asked Moody, since it was nice out, could I come down to his neighborhood and have coffee with him after my voice lesson? He agreed and we decided to grab our drinks and sit out in the courtyard between his home and the coffee shop.

Birthday Bouquet I got there first and as I walked through the entrance I took a moment. It seemed to be regulation size but it was a pretty narrow passage between the outer and inner door and was set at a slight angle. A few minutes later Michael sailed in all by himself so I set my worries aside.

His aide, the cool one, Nigel, had stayed in the apartment since it was a short trip across the courtyard and I would be there to help. He would finish up some work he was doing and meet us later. I grabbed some cash from the bag on the back of the chair and got Moody an enormous hot chocolate at his request. Once we'd put everything back together I slung my backpack over my shoulders, grabbed both hot cups, and preceded him out the door so I could hold them for him. This usually involved shouldering the door open then holding it with my foot while repeating silently, "Please don't run over my foot, please don't run over my foot, please don't run over..." but I discovered that the door had an automatic catch so it would stay open once I pushed it past a certain point. I moved on to the outer door and waited.

Behind me Michael stopped in the inner door, right across the threshold. This would happen sometimes for reasons I rarely understood. He would poke a few buttons, maybe go backward then forward, and proceed when ready. Before his accident his work had always been as a problem solver. He thrived on fixing things and creating systems. He knew the ins and outs of his chair better than I so it always seemed better not to offer help until asked. We had time, I waited.

And waited.

Finally I heard, "Kizz?"

The chair was inexplicably turning off. As soon as he turned it on again it would go off. Since Moody's fine motor control was gone the tiny buttons of the control panel were attached by small wires to larger buttons, like bicycle reflectors, velcro-d to the side of the panel so he could hit them with the side of his hand. The first order of trouble shooting was to press the core buttons to determine if the wires were failing and for that he needed my fingers, all ten of which were wrapped around steaming cups of hot chocolate.

Untitled I whirled around the spartan foyer and finally determined I could balance the cups on the ledge of the baseboard to free up my hands. I took a moment to remind Michael not to let me tip them over then I pressed the button he indicated and we both watched as the machine whirred up and spiraled back down.

By this point we had an audience. The local mail carrier had come in just as we were leaving and was now trapped in the coffee shop while we rolled our eyes at each other in lieu of a full on panic. I missed Nigel very much then. The mail carrier made gestures that seemed to offer to push the chair through manually but I had no idea if that was even possible. Did the wheels lock when the power went off? No clue. I might have asked Moody to explain the system to me again or he might have spontaneously begun to lecture me. I had, after all, worked under him many years ago. I was supposed to have absorbed his problem-solving knowledge.

As humans often do in these cases I began to just stare at the objects in question. I hit the tiny power button again so we could observe more closely how it lit up and went dark. I poked at the larger button on the outside and it did nothing. The next step, it seemed to me, was to check to see if the wires were firmly connected but, with everything so close to the door, I couldn't quite maneuver to see so I muscled the heavy glass thing that last inch or so past the catch point and leaned down to look more closely and, in doing so, inadvertently smashed against that big button.

The chair lit up!

It didn't go dark again!

Triumphant, I let go of the door and the chair went dark again.

I started to laugh that panicky, adrenaline giggle and almost couldn't explain.

You see, when you held the door open all the way there was an inch or so clearance on each side of the chair. If you snapped the door open so it held on its own it came to rest just close enough that it rubbed against the big on/off switch for Michael's chair. Every time he turned it on the door turned it off again. We could have been stuck there for days.

We weren't, though. We chortled in an oddly conspiratorial way and couldn't wait to tell Nigel. Outside we enjoyed about an hour of watching hot guys in the courtyard before I had to go.

That was the last time I saw Moody before he went into the ICU where he died. I'm really glad we laughed.


  1. what a beautiful memory. I'm so glad you have it!

  2. What a lovely story. Thanks for the reminder to celebrate the little victories ... they are actually pretty big.