It is paper-thin and measures only 8 by 3-1/2 inches, but it scares the hell out of me.
It has been sitting on the dashboard of my truck for several days, just there. Always visible. Always reminding me of what I cannot escape.
It is a placard that allows parking in disabled parking spaces. You know the one. The little, gender-neutral stick figure that sits in a wheelchair against a crimson-blue backdrop.
I have been struggling with writing this post for the last several days because I am terrified of both its content and the potential reaction from those who read it.
The reason I have the placard is because Laura was diagnosed with MS in December 2008. Since then, she has experienced fluctuating levels of mobility; and I do my best to ignore it. To brush it off. To think it will eventually go away.
Some days are better than others.
That’s how it goes with MS, people tell me. I try to pretend that Laura is just tired or maybe a bit depressed. Maybe if I work just a bit harder, just a bit more, it will go away. That is a child’s thinking. That has been my thinking.
Make no mistake, Laura is lucky. Her MS is fairly manageable. She is able to go to work each day and leads a more than productive life.
But still, I wonder. Me, the eternal pessimist. This disease is slowly, but deliberately, taking away a little piece of my wife each day, no matter how much I try to deny or ignore it.
I still remember the day she was diagnosed. It was just a few days after Christmas. Laura had been experiencing a strange numbing sensation on her face. She made an appointment with her doctor. He recommended that she see a neurologist. At the time, we both thought it was no big deal.
I was home and knee-deep in ethernet cables, when Laura called me on the way back from the doctor’s office.
I didn’t take her. My mother-in-law drove her to and from the appointment. I regret that decision to stay home with the kids and work on hooking up their computer to the internet. But I don’t regret that decision nearly as much as I regret the things I said to her when she finally got me on the phone.
“Hey,” she said in a soft-spoken tone that belied the news that should have followed. She wanted to tell me in person, face-to-face.
“What,” I shot back, only half paying attention, much more focused on the twisted mass of blue wires wrapped around my feet.
“I was wondering if you could start a pot of coffee,” she asked.
I was livid. I had already done three loads of laundry, paid the bills and vacuumed the living room. The computer wiring was near the end of my “to-do” list and the thought of one more thing sent me over the edge. Idiot, that I am.
“You want coffee? Make it yourself,” I barked. “Do you know what kind of day I’ve had? Pick up a cup from Dunkin’ Donuts or whatever, but just leave me alone.”
“What’s your problem?” I continued. “You’ve been out shopping with your mother, and you want me to make the fucking coffee? Could you be any more lazy?”
“Sorry, ” she said. “I didn’t mean to bother you. I’ll take care of it myself.” And the phone went silent.
She arrived home maybe 20 minutes later. I was still up to my knees in tangled cords. She brought me a cup of coffee and asked if we could talk.
I was still exasperated. “What?”
“They diagnosed me with MS,” she said, trying very hard to hold back the tears.
I let go of those silly cords. We sat down at the dining room table and began our latest adventure.
If you think I was a prick then, I can assure you that I haven’t done much better since.
I avoid conversations about MS. I avoid the annual MS Walk. I don’t want to think about it. I want it to go away.
Every other night is “shot night” at our home. Every other night, Laura injects herself with Betaseron to keep the illness at bay. Every other night, I turn away and find something else to occupy my thinking.
I love my wife. Honestly, I do. And I know she needs my support. Again, some days are better than others.
So today, marks the first day that I used the placard. We took Laura’s mother to Wal-Mart. We parked in one of the disabled spaces. Betty was moving through the store like a speed demon, anxiously making her way toward what would hopefully be her new television. She is 66 years old and she left me in the dust.
Instinctively, I paused, and turned back to check on my wife. I could tell that Laura’s energy level was dropping quickly. “Are you okay,” I asked.
“Yeah, she nodded. “I’m fine.”
I knew it was a lie, and once again…I played along.