My Wobbly Bicycle, 140

Posted by on Aug 31, 2017 | 16 comments

imagesI have not been in touch. Again. I have not wanted to strain to invent something just for the sake of posting. Then this morning, propped up on four pillows, three white, one red, having foregone meditation to drink coffee and read a difficult book of poems, I realized—no, I thought—no, I was taken by the question, “What decides when I shall speak?” What set of circumstances drives words onto the page?


I have been taken by caretaking. Jerry is not okay. The back surgery followed by the hip surgery has caused some sort of muscle problem. He is getting fierce cramps. He walks, with a cane, like a very old man. It’s not so much what I have to say about this. It’s more the need to sharpen up the situation, bespangle it with language to save myself from drowning. What do I mean by saving myself from drowning? I have noticed that sad feelings, unarticulated, take on a smoky pallor. They begin to have weight and tone. Articulation goes two ways: it locks away—into a seeming safety zone inside the bubble of a word—a painful but authentic feeling. And/or it gives away as close an approximation of that feeling as possible, shares it, causing the ego that wants to hoard even bad feelings to take a back seat. I am not sure which is more true, neither do I care.


images-1To be sunk in feelings. Underwater. Unable to breathe. It is as if the feelings want to crouch there to avoid possibly being hurt worse. Protecting a wound, I guess.


I watch him creep across the floor. I am furious, because it feels as if I have spent my life taking care of people—my parents, my retarded brother, my second husband who was incapacitated a long while with the vague malady, chronic fatigue syndrome. My father, who is a sentient 99. I manage his taxes, his health care, and listen to him try to refute Einstein over and over. And then this, the most recent of Jerry’s four surgeries. Furious, yes I am. Yet he is beloved. By me.


That, also, needs articulation. Love is a label stuck on a moving target. Last Thursday night, when he was lying in the ER, having been brought by ambulance from the lake because the pain was so great he couldn’t get into our car, I was half asleep into the wee hours of the morning, sitting beside his bed as he was half gone with drugs and the relief of drugs. Then he’d groan. Who knew what the problem was? In my half-stupor, I rubbed his bald head, with its little bumps, its slightly oily sweat. I thought, there is a semi-consciousness to love. Almost a blank spot in the mind that acts without willing itself to act. It must be the same as running blindly to rescue a child in the street. A person doesn’t say, “Now I will rescue that child in danger.” She just does it.


downloadThe day I married Jerry 26 years ago, my daughter Kelly said I looked like a deer in the headlights. I was terrified, having several years before extracted myself from a ghastly marriage. Not that I expected the same, again, but fear doesn’t listen to reason. And also, what did I know of love? What did I understand of its roots? I remember the intensity of passion with which I entered that second marriage. Blind with it. He was Everything I Ever Wanted. I could never say that again, feel like that again, having seen its emptiness, its utter blindness. Now what? I felt as if my heart were telling my mind to shut up, for a change. As if those were separate entities.

So here I am, pulling up his support hose, tying his shoes, doing the driving and shopping.

I just want to declare this, that I envision some fantasy land where I am going on glorious hikes, lying on beaches, living in a little hut in the woods, writing and fetching water from a stream. All alone. Those are movies I entertain myself with while I do what has to be done, as people do when they love somebody.

I also want to say, I checked this post out with Jerry. “Just make sure you say that you love me,” he said. “I did,” I said.

I started writing this on Tues. Since then Jerry’s had another muscle spasm and I’ve packed us up and left the lake. We’re back home where help is more available. This is not easy. It is only one thing after the other, though. Not much of it is writing, that’s for sure.


  1. Ah, my long-time friend, what is to be said but that you are loved, and I’m sorry and I wish for you that hut in the woods. How well I remember that 2nd wedding. I thought you were nuts (I’ve never told you that) but it was what you wanted and you seemed to be so full of happiness. I wish that for you, this day and in all of the days to come.

    • Oh Peter, of course I was nuts. I needed more than a few years of intense hard work in therapy to emerge, like a butterfly from my own prison. Much love from me to you.

  2. Yes, accurate. Thank you for writing about what is so difficult that most of us experience at some time and shut up about–it is not popular (which makes us more lonely when it happens to us) . Fwiw I have been helped by Jin Shin Jyutsu which is likely in your area. Muscle spasms for me are stopped by holding the insides of both knees or holding the big toes with crossed arms…or you could do for him. There are lots of practical ‘self-help’ items like that in that field. perhaps not relevant to your post…but might be minor help. Book on jin shin is The Touch of Healing by Baumeister.about two cents on Amazon.

  3. Your lines: “Articulation goes two ways: it locks away—into a seeming safety zone inside the bubble of a word—a painful but authentic feeling. And/or it gives away as close an approximation of that feeling as possible, shares it, causing the ego that wants to hoard even bad feelings to take a back seat.” YES. Please know that you are BOTH loved, and that this hard-working wisdom is so important, even in the midst of all this pain.

    • Thank you my friend. Maybe we can get together for coffee before long. That would be nice.

  4. oh this post. a HUGE gift to me as I cope with recent news on this living-with-cancer lifeline. so glad to have met you at AWP- Minneapolis. I am wrestling with poems about it all. Thank you for your Wobbly Bicycle!! and DAMN your wobbly bicycle. love.

    • What a lovely and perfect response. The Wobbly, oh yes, it wobbles like hell. I am so glad this has been helpful to you. Love back.

  5. We are in the process of planning our first meeting for the year – you are missed my friend. I will hold you and Jerry in my prayers.

    • Thank you. Miss you all. I’ll be in Delaware Sept. 24-28th. That’s the plan, although now it may be out the window. I am scheduled to read at U of D library on the 25th.

  6. Thank you Fleda for this brutal honesty. This piece dove deep into me. Oh god, the utterly helpless feeling of constant pain that can’t seem to be resolved by anything but drugs. We are here loving you. Standing by to offer whatever help we can.

    • Thank you, Nancy. We do need you two, as friends. Nothing to be done right now, I think, but maybe before long we can manage a small potluck, just to be with you.

  7. I lived in the hut in the woods, caring for my husband and now live there alone. The hut doesn’t help so much but the woods does. It holds me and connects me to all of life. A walk in the forest everyday saves me — to breathe and disappear in that wildness. Take care of yourself. I send you and Jerry much love — love really helps so open wide.

  8. Dear God, but you really do make it all so much more vivid, Fleda. All of it. Love. Aging. Illness. Anger. Thank you. Too few have the courage to speak what it really means to encounter all of these thing for real, over and over. These reckonings.

    I am writing to you from a very different place, early in mid-life, from beside the ocean where I have a precious week of vacation without my stepchild and without pressing “work work” to do. My husband is working on his novel in the room next to mine. I can hear the waves, and am bathes in gold light from the diffused sun which hangs high in the pale pale sky. I know we are in the center of the sweetest time of our lives. We are healthy, we love one another, and we are not beholden to very many people, which means we can do what we wish most o the time, which mostly means we read and write and walk, holding hands, along this stretch of coast in southern Maine. I tell you this so that you can picture it, and perhaps transport yourself here for a moment of relief, and so that you know that your writing helps me to cherish what I have, all the much more. You would appreciate the salt scent in the air, the delicate legs of the shorebirds skittering along the edge of the surf.

    Sending love to you and Jerry. May healing and relief come swiftly.

    • Yes. You make me cry. Thank you, Holly.

  9. It’s hard to look after someone, harder to watch a person in pain. Your feelings are normal. You have to take time for yourself. There’s a lot of caring in our family too, so I sympathize. It’s good to express your feelings. Much love to you and Jerry.

    • Yes, and it has gone on a very long time. I’m basically tired. But I just poured myself a Scotch. That should help. :)

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