That wheelchair had become the center of her social life.
Breaks locked, in the center of the livingroom, both her weight and the hardwood floor would render it rooted, stable enough from which to fulfill a role unbeknownst to both herself and most everyone who’d ever thought they knew her.
She had never been socially sophisticated. “Weird” branded her for the better part of the 1970’s; newly permed, painted and propped for the ’80’s; and, from ’90 to about ’95, just generally awk-ward. 1998 was too pivotal, a year of trauma from start to finish, professional medical leave to be exact for throat surgery plus a bout with sexual harassment, and wouldn’t factor. What remained, leading up to 2009, would fall under the heading “rush to the cadence”; reaching peak frenzy that June, one false step in rudderless Red Dogs on a dust-hydroplaned stage, and up into the air and down she’d dropped into the auditorium pit, to sustain multiple contusions and non-dislocating fractures of the left acetabula, sacral ala, and one tiny carpal bone of the left hand on impact. There hadn’t been an empty seat in the house; every Kindergarten, first, and second grader plus their teachers and aides had witnessed the performance.
After a temporarily chaotic rearrangement of duties involving her 93 year old father, his house, her house, and her brother’s all night trip in from Kentucky via Chicago, Dad had been placed in the backseat of her brother’s Suburban and – as she sat on her own stoop, the snot hanging from her nose of all the crying, watching them disappear down the road for what she was sure would be forever – driven off for Kentucky.
Once hauling her bottom heavy self up via the one crutch and hopping back into the house, what would commence that summer truly would reach majestically eternal proportions; eleven years hence – minus the wheelchair, plus a bit of encroaching arthritis in the lower spine – here she was, in essentially the same spot. All credit to the one, redeeming tool at her social disposal: the Internet.
At first, she’d felt consoled. As a child, playing alone with the ideas inside her head, be they narrative or cinematic, solitude had been her mode. This newly enforced aloneness was similar, if one ignored the lidocaine-numbed physical pain and discomfort; and, the new Macbook Pro having arrived, she soon became enamored of all the options for human expression which its dazzling graphic environs engendered.
Most fascinating, this time, was an apparently built-in audience known as Facebook. Eagerly she took to it, daily and, as the hours trudged by, her time flew; not only could she write, but take photos – of herself, no less – and, include them in “posts” to which others seemed to take with equal enthusiasm. Furthermore here was Becky, and Cindy, and Bob, and everyone she hadn’t seen for twenty three years, including the students who’d populated her earliest foray into the role of public school educator. And, then, the church “family”, from as far back as childhood and every corner of the United States; everybody, it seemed, was a keystroke away – and, they all appeared ready to see and hear her every word. Breaking one’s hip and back would not destroy life, after all. She would be reborn, as a character of her own, socially informed design.
It was through Facebook that her fifth grade crush turned up. It was in the chat that she would discover him to be headed home for a visit. By the next year, and all the years hence, each and every encounter with a live human would be traceable to that social media “platform”. If all the world were a stage, she had certainly found herself in the center of it.
Here is how this story ends.
Ten years of Girl, Interrupted (minus the actual attempt.) The dissolution of public persona. An epidemic emergence of that darkest aspect of the human psyche, Narcissism, all played out in a scrolling column of pseudo-dialogue, reaching peak intensity and then: the block. Only this wasn’t The Match Game, and there was no host mediating who got x-d or o’d. We were all an illusion, and so was our self image, vaporized at any instant by the disgruntled participant of the hour. We could hardly leave the house without taking the sting with us and, should we encounter someone not yet a member of our cult, we’d cut it all short just long enough for an exchange of screen names to supplant/Add Friend later.
Facebook recently “upgraded” its site. The intention was transparent, enough; competitors, Instagram and Tik Tok, were encroaching, and the format needed to keep pace.
She’d hated it, rightly enough. Not one to embrace change just because it was “trendy”, she’d been quite settled in for lo, the decade, and forcing a new navigation was as annoying as taking a wrong turn on a destination vacation.
But, weighed in against the extra inch and a half around her hips, the “spare tire” around her mid-section inherited from her father’s memory, and that nag just above her tailbone every time she chanced to stand, maybe the time was ripe for renewal. Making her social persona mobile might get her out of the house beyond the gas or grocery run, after all. And, who knows, keeping the tablet tucked away for longer than a fruitless argument over heresay and inflated opinion might actually produce a genuine conversation face to six footly distanced face.
Her body was talking back. And, collecting virtual “friends” was no succor for the one who’d left in a huff (and, a puff.) People were dying, now.
Cindy. She’d reappeared that first year, held court at the two class reunions and then, just last year, succumbed to heart failure, open casket. Bob had met his third wife online and apparently moved to the Philippines. And, one of just a handful immune to the lure of alternate reality, Becky had long since left social media entirely; she’d changed careers, moved to Virginia, and published a novel. Here sat the rest of them. Literally.
The wheelchair had only been a loaner, traded in once she’d regained vertical strength. Time to close out all open pages, log off, and shut it down. This loner was only promised the next moment to regain her place among the actual living.
© 10/17/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, wider and less wonderful, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for seeing, and checking, yourself.