One in an occasional series.
Nearing twilight on a golden midsummer's eve, in August of 2016, a wooden stake bearing a For Sale sign was plunged into the front lawn of the house we had lived in for 42 years.
I swear I heard a muffled cry of pain.
If you have ever had to make a big move, you'll understand.
This move was different because it wasn't so much what we wanted as what we didn't want.
And like anything that requires the perilous act of the lifting of one's leg and anything else that goes bump in the night.
We wanted carpeting that was flatter than Kansas.
We wanted flooring that made the greens at Augusta National Golf Club look rocky and rutted.
We never, ever, never wanted to have to caution you: "Watch your step." Or "Mind your head," or "Duck!"
And yes, you're right. I'm anal about this because it's called falling and because it's the leading cause of Uh-Oh among us elders. There's a reason why they keep showing that "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up" commercial.
My first fall of consequence was deceptive, ambushing me the last step from the bottom step of good old Route 7x7 - seven steps up, seven steps down. Or so I thought. I couldn't have looked away for an eye blink . . . but that was more than enough.
I went down in sections.
And in slow motion.
One step . . . one lousy little step . . . one %%$!!!! step, and I ended up ingloriously sprawled on a surface of unforgiving linoleum that had been laid over concrete that you could build an interstate on.
I noticed I was leaking blood from my left knee, which was swelling into a rainbow of colors and was sending a rather urgent message to my brain, to wit: "Damn but this hurts."
I couldn't move.
I tried to yell, but all that I could coax out was a pathetic squeak. How humbling. How unmanly. I was living a TV commercial. I was also hearing that familiar mocking of the rat bastard Al, my Alzheimer's nemesis: "What's wrong, Candy Ass? Can't get up?"
Eventually, yes. My knee was a mess.
I remember the words of my grandfather: Could have been worse.
Better there than bouncing off your noggin.
Hard to argue that.
Come on, my wife ordered, car keys singing a merry jingle-jangle.
Got to get you to the emergency room.
Not a chance. Besides, it's just a scratch.
It looks as if it could be broken.
Actually, it did. But I retreated to the defense we men use in such situations - ignore it and it will go away. It's a Guy Thing. Same DNA that prevents us from asking for directions.
So, stupidity and stubbornness won out, and I limped around in pain, muttering and cursing, knowing full well that I had no choice but to gut it out. As you might have guessed by now, that isn't my strong point.
I sought solace in our mantra:
Never Give Up.
It's more than two years since I crashed and burned, and my wound remains a puffy, squishy mound of psychedelic hues of aquamarine and lemon and lime, and every so often, when the moon is full and the glasses too . . . with no prompting at all I'll uncover my wound . . . always to silent applause.
Never touched by human hands . . . well, except mine.
How could this be?
I have a theory: Sometimes the angel on my shoulder has to work overtime.
And so, at long last, across parts of seven months and through the changing of three seasons, through frayed nerves and pyrotechnic blood pressures, staggering down the home stretch, we arrive at that place we were certain we were never to reach . . .
Our new home.
At least the Donner Party isn't laying out the Welcome Mat.
Our new digs sit in leafy tranquillity, surrounded by a bird sanctuary and definitely beyond the reach of the Witness Protection Program.
Not that we pose any sort of threat in that area.
No, the tough part comes once you have actually tried to set foot in the place, once you have raised your leg and stepped over . . . what? What? The Ghost Step, that's what. There's not a step, not a stair in the whole place remember? It's one of the reasons you settled here. Remember?
No, of course you don't, so there you stand, stepping over what isn't there, pawing tentatively at the Phantom step, feeling your way along. It's a new dance step and you need to remember that you have been doing that dance for the last 42 years. You can't undo a habit.
Once inside your new digs you get the daunting chore of unpacking. Here's the unglamorous side of what they raved about out there in Realtor World, about what goes where and why, about what we were thinking, and how can we ever cram 42 years of memories into a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with walk-in closets and full kitchen. You dig in, that's how.
Our new digs are located as part of an apartment complex for seniors, and the grounds are spread far and wide, and keep in mind that when I was still driving I struggled to find my way out of our driveway, so I'll be leaving a trail of cookie crumbs to get me safely home.
Already it sounds right.
Of course. And there he is, over there hiding in the shadows again, the coward, that Rat Bastard Al.
Come on in, Al, come in and meet the neighbors. They've got some surprises for you.