Meet Tica, my bad friend. If you have sciatica, you already know my friend Tica, sly knife-wielding imp of mischief. In Between details what it’s like to live with a bad friend, a constant companion who simply will not go away. If you suffer from any type of chronic condition – pain, illness, even depression – then you will understand this poem.
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Each day, I walk in my favorite park. It makes me smile just to think of it. Fresh air on my face, the breeze in my hair, sky overhead – they call to me. I need this.
Off the sofa, first slide to the edge, standing slowly, I move carefully, pointedly ignoring Tica, my bad friend who follows me everywhere. We have been inseparable for years.
Shoes on. Keys, cell phone, water, got it. The door clicks gently closed behind me.
Outside, one foot follows the other, slow and easy. My spirits begin to lift. The park lies up ahead, a few blocks away.
Slow and steady, a little faster now, gently gliding, oh-so soothing. This rhythm is its own reason for moving off the couch.
Barely visible up ahead in the trees, I see Tica, slender, mercurial, silver-haired little enigma. I can hear him laughing.
Susan, keep up! he cries, and then suddenly he is right there in front of me, blocking my way. I stumble, catch my balance.
Can’t you keep up? he laughs in my face. His eyes are blank, cold.
Get lost, Tica, I say, and for once, he vanishes. Ha! I think confidently, scornfully, good riddance. Who needs you on this beautiful day?
In my mind I picture Tica. I make his image smaller and smaller. Then I fold him up into a tiny tiny square, put him into a lock box, slam the lid shut and lock it. There, I say to myself, that should hold you.
Did you really think that would hold me? whispers a voice in my left ear.
Tica, sly knife-wielding imp of mischief, stands too close behind me. His fingers move against my lower right back, tentative, undecided.
Tica, I begin. I will my voice to be strong, to not waver, my confidence an ice cube sliding across a hot plate. Tica, please – not now. Reduced to begging, to bargaining, to pleading.
Like a dog sensing fear, Tica moves closer. I swear he is bigger now, not the slight elfin creature in the woods at all, but taller, broader, stronger, his face older, seamed and scarred. His arm circles my waist, drawing me closer to him, his eyes shining with anticipation.
Pain slices across my back, down my leg and is gone, summer lightning invisible but to me. Like the Cheshire cat, Tica slowly fades until nothing remains but his smile.
Despair, first cousin of defeat, seeps into my thoughts, reminding me that I have felt this way before.
I raise my face to the sky and think, Are you happy, Cosmos? Do you keep a tally, do a certain number of people need to suffer pointless chronic pain each day? Could I not suffer later, not now when I am happy, please just not right now?
But no, apparently not. The Cosmos are not granting any favors today.
A body fit and strong is a gentle symphony of nerve and muscle, with only an occasional discordant note.
But there are chords you cannot hear, other chords, deep and low, harsh and grating, ugly vibrating chords, the music of cancer and pain, chronic illness and despair, depression and so much more, music that will make you cover your ears and weep.
Pray God you never hear these sounds.
Slow. Slow down, slow, slower, stop and rest. I am reminded of this cautionary truth:
I may not be able to make this better, but I can certainly make it worse. Just breathe. Stay calm. Just breathe.
A moment passes, and then another. And then somehow, I don’t know how, I never know how, like a cork bobbing along on the ocean, my courage rights itself.
I lean against this tree, this tree that has been here forever, patient, enduring, spreading its branches to the sky.
Patience, faith, courage.
I do not let this stop me, I will not let this stop me. I begin again, for what can I do but begin again?
One foot then the other, one foot then the other, gliding carefully, so smoothing, a gentle ballet for my two feet. Carefully faster, then a little faster still.
Patience. Faith. Courage.
There is joy in this moment, and hopefully, in the next. I have learned to live in these moments in between.
How I wish I could walk like this forever, cool breeze against my face, comfortable and confident. Faster now, my stride is sure and strong, and my spirit sings its song.
Just for a moment, I raise my arms wide to feel the breeze on outstretched fingers, like an eagle floating on the wind, and I feel my heart lift with gratitude for this gift of now.