FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS

My grandparents had a narrow trap door in a small closet in their house. It led straight down to the basement. In reality, it was nothing more exotic than a laundry chute. A quick, convenient way to drop a heavy pile of soiled clothing and bed linens down to the basement, where the perpetually shaking washing machine monster lived.

If this description sounds slightly fantastic, it’s because the memories are those of a small boy. Like Alice’s Wonderland, things might seem larger or smaller (or dark and scary) depending on who it is that’s peering through the looking glass. As a six year-old boy, I was scared of falling through that little door. I thought I might just keep falling, forever. That I wouldn’t land on a nice big pile of sheets, warm from the dryer, but would in fact continue to fall deeper into the dark basement, through the cracks in the floor, down deeper and deeper, forever.

But because I was a boy, I was also fascinated with the trap door. Despite my fear of it I couldn’t stay away from it. That attraction to the dark is the story of my life.

Now–as a 40 year-old man–the fascination is gone. I don’t have to keep opening the closet door and looking down at the little wooden knob on the floor. But I still feel like I’m falling. The difference is, the cracks are real.

I have never felt this isolated or alone in all my life. That sensation of falling through the cracks is made all the more real  because each time I slip a little farther down, I get farther away from anyone who can haul me out before it’s too late.

“So get yourself out” is what you may be thinking, right? Don’t you think I would if I could? If I saw the way, believe me, I’d take it.

My life has deteriorated way past that opportunity; if it was ever there, I’ve missed it.

Do I have family and friends who could help me? Sure. But for all my “talents” with language, I’m pretty close to retarded when it comes to simply expressing myself, one person to another. And with the exception of my immediate family, I despise asking for help.

I think those who still care for me are simply tired. I can certainly understand this, so it’s hard to be angry with them. I mean, I’m tired. I’m tired of being tired, and that’s far past any kind of conventional exhaustion I know how to deal with. Basically, I’ve become a source of nothing but misery for everyone including myself.

I cause nothing but pain to others, and if they may still be too polite to admit this openly, I’m not. I’m not writing these things down because I expect or want your pity. I’m writing this down because I just want someone to know what happened.

And what DID happen?

I fell through the cracks.

Down here: I can’t walk without pain. On some days I just lay there, doing nothing. My left foot is leaking and swollen…sometimes it’s about twice the size of my right foot. Striations of infection follow the lines of the bones in my largest toe, and up the long bone in my left leg. The toe is turning an unnatural color. I have pictures. Diabetes has left me with few choices: two years ago I had a career, a life, goals and dreams. I had moved back to northeast Alabama to start a new life, taking a job as a reporter for a small but respected daily newspaper. Life wasn’t perfect, but whose life is?

I figured I would work at the smaller papers and write my novel at night and on weekends. My plan was simple but well-thought-out: by the time I had enough experience with the smaller newspapers to apply for a better position with a larger paper in Atlanta, I would have finished my novel. If it sold, I would have the choice of being able to continue to work for smaller papers, giving me more time for my writing; if things weren’t moving as fast, I would have the resume I needed to get a better job.

Before falling in the crack, back In Florida, there were a few warning signs. They were actually quite frightening. I passed out behind the wheel a couple of times. My blood sugar records (tested at the ER and by my doctor) were all over the place. But I never got a full diagnosis until 2008. By then, the neuropathic damage to my feet and legs had been done. “There’s not much we can do about that,” my doctor said.

It’s hard to explain to someone what neuropathy feels like. You lose sensation in areas affected by the nerve damage, so most people assume that you can’t feel anything. Kind of like being numbed up at the dentist’s office. Because of this description, it’s normal to think there is no pain involved.

But there is a tremendous amount of pain. Sometimes it feels like my foot is burning. Simply touching the skin causes pain. The worst pain is the deep ache, what I call “bone pain” (I have no idea if it is related to the bones) that seems to run along certain bones in my feet.

The doctor says I can’t work. Being a reporter requires walking. Moving around, taking photographs, et cetera. I applied for social security but that takes forever, I’m told. I’ve also been told I don’t qualify for “normal” social security benefits because I don’t have enough work credits in the right time frame. If I had applied when I started having problems (in my early 30’s), they could not use this against me. But because I still held out hope that things would get better and I could go on with a normal life, so I didn’t apply then. I went back to school instead. Again: planning on helping myself and being a productive member of society. By not using government resources I am now being punished.

But there is another form of social security that only deals with health issues: disability.

The lawyer says I’m not an ideal candidate because I’m young. Again, I fall through the cracks: either I’m too young or too old, sick…but not yet sick enough.

During my tenure with the newspaper, we changed insurance companies. We also changed business managers (twice). I told the new business manager I wanted to take out long term disability insurance. This was before I was diagnosed; before my foot started turning into zombie foot. She filled out the forms: I have a copy of them, in her handwriting. But she never actually submitted them.

So after my personal leave and vacation time was exhausted, I took unpaid medical leave. Then I was dismissed, as I had no disability to help me through the months to come.

Those papers, like so much else, fell through the cracks.

I saw a lawyer (I want to say who he was, because it is actually funny, considering that I was asking whether I should bring a lawsuit against the newspaper…but I respect him too much to do this), and though he couldn’t represent me, he told me someone who could…and encouraged me to go for it.

But after a one-sided and biased “hearing” with the State Board of Labor and the secretary-turned-business  [Note: now the Publisher of this paper…sigh], I lost the anger to press the lawsuit, even though the lawyer had plenty of anger for both of us. It fell through the cracks.

I find it increasingly difficult to prepare food, so I don’t eat or eat poorly.

I can’t clean up, so I live in squalor. By myself, in a small RV. Few visitors find me.

But who would WANT to come visit? I wouldn’t.

I’ve fallen through the cracks.

My parents don’t want to play nurse, so they’re willing to help financially; but the thought of having to actually take on part of this burden I have become to everyone horrifies them. As it does me.

They would rather I go to a nursing home than come back to Florida.

But who can blame them?

Even so, I can’t do this by myself anymore. And no matter how loud I yell no one hears me.

I guess it’s hard to hear me now, way down here. In the cracks.

[Other than my father’s death a couple of years after writing this…after which I DID return to Florida…I suppose this post is the most personal one I have ever written. I found it yesterday, in the “Drafts” folder and decided to post it. I’m 46 years old; I wrote this 6 years ago. The six year-old boy I speak of who was afraid and at the same time attracted to the trap door in his grandparent’s closet…well, that was forty years ago. As hard as that is for me to wrap my head around.]

 

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