May 4, 2008

A Canoe Ride To Recovery

As spring begins to infect the hillsides and turn this valley green, patch by patch, I feel my lazy genes kick in. This is the time for weeding, tilling, playing hard, and then vegging.

And for memories. When I walk outside and and smell that damp-mud lake smell after a spring storm, I think of Spot.

I got to know Spot when she came to the center for help with her anorexia. In her sixties, bright eyed, delacte-boned, this woman was a ball of energy from the beginning. She was one of those who made us techs quickly bite back a smile at the dinner table. We wanted to like her, wanted to laugh with her. But we couldn't because she was eating her prunes with her fork and this was a serious thing.

One time I took the girls to a certain park by a river where I live. It was the Saturday outing, and everyone was either in high spirits or angsty rebellious spirits, depending upon whether they were the outdoors type. Everyone was required to sit in a canoe and paddle, whether they liked it or not.

Spot was quiet all the way there, and quiet as we all stood around forming our canoeing teams. I got paired with a girl and then un-paired, because she wanted to ride with her buddy from the inpatient unit. I turned and saw Spot, standing there alone, seriously regarding the canoes. I asked her if she needed a partner, and she said yes.

And that is how it began.

We got into our canoe. I sat in the back and Spot sat toward the front. We all sat there, floating on the murky surface of the river, until the two Rec therapists got going. They gave us three rules: stay within sight of the next canoe, don't go in front of the rec therapist that was leading, and don't dawdle behind the rec therapist that was trailing. It was still a lock-down situation, after all. We didn't want any canoeing runaways.

I settled myself and took my paddle in hand, ready to enjoy an idyllic ride down the river, perhaps watch a few dragonflies, splash a duck or two.

Imagine my surprise when, as soon as the Rec therapists called out to start, my canoe shot out from the shoreline like a heat-seeking missile. I stuttered and splashed myself a good deal as I tried to dig my paddle in the water to slow us down. "Spot!" I called, "we're going too fast! We're going to crash into something..."

She turned her head and looked at me for a moment, all while still paddling furiously. "C'mon!" She yelled. "We can beat these little girls!"

"Spot," I said, desperately trying to keep up with her swift, decisive paddle strokes. "It's not a race! We just passed the rec therapist!"

"I don't care," she yelled back. "Live a little! We can beat these girls silly! We're gonna win!"

I turned and shrugged desperately at the rec therapist, who was quickly becoming smaller as we continued to outpace the entire group of girls.

Finally, a few bends before we would have reached the lake, she stopped paddling. The canoe drifted and then gently bumped against the shore.

"You know, nosurfgirl," Spot said. "I've been canoeing down the Amazon."

I didn't quite know whether to believe her, but something in her snappy black eyes told me she was not lying.

The group arrived several minutes later. The rec therapist in charge raised an eyebrow at me but nobody was chastised. We ate a quiet snack, and I watched Spot and the other girls carefully for infractions. The wrappers were neatly stowed away, and we made the journey back, this time at a more sedate pace, but one that still far outstripped the rest of the group. We were silent all the car ride home.

A month and a half later, Spot stopped me in the hall as I was making my way to flushing a desperate girl's toilet. She had been on the residential unit for several weeks, and was looking a lot better, and acting a lot cheerier. "You know, nosurfgirl," she said to me thoughtfully.

"What?" I asked, grinning at her. (I was allowed, now that I was not the one responsible for her infractions.)

"That canoe ride. Remember that?"

"Yes. I don't think I could forget it if I tried."

"I think that was the day I started recovery."

I nodded thoughtfully.

"I just felt so powerful. I had so much energy."

"You did. There was nothing I could do to stop you."

I was treated, then, to an impudent grin, almost too big for her pixie face. "Exactly," she said. She gave me a hug, and then turned and walked back down the hall to the residential unit.

1 comment:

Putz said...

wow, nonsurf girl, you should definetly blog more...your stories are better than monsens...i have a little lady that i have adopted too, mrs. elliot. 83 and i have been through much with her, her good health garden times, weeding with her and her bad times, dying in the hospital and then recovering times