Reminders of home


Winter had settled in, and I was landlocked. Like a rudderless ship, like a horseless rider, I found myself trapped within a prison of self-imposed walls meant for my good. White lay all around, and though my heart yearned to see it, I was trammeled in, confined, unable to move from the confines of my house.

The diagnosis had come come early last year, around May. Bilateral patella subluxation. Underneath the mumbojumbo of technical terms lay a real problem. My kneecap was too low, and caused my knee to slide around when trying to make contact while walking. It had started earlier, though, back in September of 2003; I had fallen, my kneecap had slid, and I'd been plagued by pain ever since. It wasn't a disease, there was no cure; it was a condition, and it had a long, slow self-treatment of muscular therapy and pain medication.

And now it was winter, two years later, and I was landlocked, trapped inside my house, barely able to limp down the hall. The thought of going down the stairs, out the door, into the snow and the ice, made my heart ache with both longing and fear. All it would take was one fall, I knew, all it would take would be one slip, and the pain I felt now would be insignificant compared to the pain of a kneecap dislocated, the torn muscles, the bruised skin, the chafed bone, the long slow recovery.

It was hell, even without, to wake each morning, dizzy with the steady ache or burning pain of a swelling knee. Simple things - walking down the hall, getting out of my chair, putting away dishes - caused new mountains or valleys of pain. But what was I to do? Advil, Ibeuprofin, Aleve, Tylenol - the pills rattled emptily in their plastic containers, warnings advised not to use prolonged for more than ten days. I haunted the internet, reading medical releases, fearing the length of winter and the warnings about internal complications.

Not safe, not safe, in spite of my doctor's prescription to balance ibeuprofin with tylenol in shifts, I couldn't help but think of the warnings; which would I rather have, temporary relief, or internal damage? I looked for inspiration, for something to take strength from.

Insomnia, a condition that had been with me ever since I was young, nine or ten, dragged me down, night after night, with long, restless periods of sleeplessness, creeping into early morning. And to return to the bed? It was only to find sleep no haven at all, but instead a rickety, twisting staircase, spiraling downwards past landings full of nightmares and disjointed images, dreams half remembered and nameless fears. There was no rest in dreams, and no relief by day, until the world seemed hell, pure hell, a tortured existence of dragging feeble limbs through the day, to collapse in restlessness by night.

It was not as bad as all that, it could not have been as bad as that, but the days lost their color, blurred indistinctly, to images, barely held together in my mind, like too much gray paint sliding off a canvas. The pattern of day after day, week into week, onto months, etched itself into my mind. I rose to pain, however late as was possible, to slough through the day, surrounded by messily written papers and lines and lines of uninspired numbers, exhaustion pulling at my shirttails.

As night came, I crawled in bed, to wait without interest and without sleep, for the lights to go out, and then it was time to rise again. I spend the hollow hours between midnight and morning waiting for tiredness, and an ability to sleep, however fretfully, until the approach of morning. Night was my hour, when the shadow was nearest, and the dim glow of a monitor and the typed words of friends hundreds of miles away were all that rooted me into the world. I wrote nothing of value and a great deal that meant little, and thought insanity was near.

God healed the sick, but I wasn't hardly sick, I was only in pain. I prayed, but like my restless doubt, the words seemed to fall down around me, never reaching Heaven, as if to say before healing could come I would have to believe the prayers would do me any good. Yet, in the stark coldness, the bleak, dreary, blinding coldness, there was hope. I could not hope in God, so he gave me hope, ever-gracious, waiting for me to find my way.

Like a lighthouse in a storm, the white tree of Gondor leapt out at me from my prison of jumbled papers and discarded clothes. She bloomed in winter, bold against the agony, declaring her defiance of the choking, stinging, deadly cold. She would not be put out.

What would Boromir do? He had worn the promise of the white tree, even when she lay mostly withered, watered by tears, and it had given him strength. Had he ever been confined this way by an injury, or the equivalent, had he ever lived with the steady ache, or the piercing pain, that winter caused? I felt like him, sometimes, regardless. There I was, chasing dreams and pursuing folly, running madly deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, wandering mapless through a wilderness, towards a destination that might not exist, in a desperate bid to save the things that mattered most.

Every day, the world felt like it was dying. How much would he have understood? Darkness had been very near to him, and he had stared the blackness in the face, yet not run. Had there been some injury, old from long years of fighting, that had caused him to ache and tremble on the peak of Caradhras?

He'd showed no sign, he'd pushed on, and like the hero I had ever loved in reading, I found myself crawling out of bed each day, determined to go on. It was one of my few encouraging thoughts, to think it was suitably Gondorian, this determination, particularly for one who had built her solitary life around obsessing over the country of stone glories and human striving. Pain is the feeling of weakness leaving the body, the United States Marines say, and I clung to it as my new creed; if I could survive, I would be strong. Other seemed very far away, some distant dream from when my dreams had been sweet to the taste.

Gondor, Gondor, became my cry, like a child seeking its mother, and I found meaning in thinking of myself as Gondorian. I was an injured Gondorian soldier, stranded far away from home, and to remind myself where I was from, I kept a map on my wall, tracing the paths down the Anduin, the roads up from the city of Pelargir to Minas Tirith, across the provinces, to the city of Dol Amroth, as if I knew them all. If I could heal myself, I found myself believing, if I could only heal myself, or find healing some other way, I would return there, I would be where I belonged. Purpose and meaning would find me, and I would be in a place where quests for the essence of everything Other would not be so out of place, after all.

I began to struggle. I began to try to get better. It began with weights and strength training - a Gondorian soldier had to be strong - and I read as oft as I could of anything with the palest resemblance. Gondorian ways of speech began to become me, and I determined to be dedicated to the slow, dull trickle of school that taught little. I would learn, I decided, if that meant learning one hour at a time, one study at a time, one thought or theory or process at a time. I had my leisure to execute the task of reordering my mind; I studied at home, I worked in my own room, with my own subjects, my only teacher my mother as she passed through to see where I was in my work. Church, the long-avoided task, became my Sunday morning battlefield. God was patient with me, humoring my frail attempts at faith, giving me reasons to go, though it was almost all I could do not to fall asleep in the pew.

I would survive. I would get better. Spring would come, spring and warmth and relief, and I would begin my journey home. Somehow, I forgot Gondor no longer was marked on any modern maps, that no one called themselves Gondorian any more. I was determined in my resolution, and began to fight the pain, the insomnia, the nearness of the darkness inside my own mind, certain if I did not give up, I could make the journey home, even if it was only one step at a time, over a hundred years.

The purpose began to do some good, however tentative at first. Other, the way-weary shadow, dogged at my footsteps, wonders crying ever behind me. Looking back as oft as I dared, I tripped along, looking for something exquisite, something wonderful to help inspire me until I could begin the journey homewards. Veining the walls of my prison, like mithril trapped in rock, Other found me, when I could not find it.