Twenty one. Coming of age and all that. But what if it’s, like, 21 x 2, but with a catch?
It was a perfect day, like the Lou Reed song that had made its comeback that year, 1996, in Trainspotting. We all loved it, for its blatant attack on 90’s society, and for the beauty of Ewan Mcgregor playing Renton. Forgive us, we were 21 and he was beautiful in his heroin chic.
And it was. A perfect day. Until our car rolled under a vast blue Eastern Cape sky and I crushed my sixth vertebra into my seventh. Then it wasn’t quite as perfect. I didn’t know in that moment, when the sounds of twisting metal and crashing glass stopped, leaving in their wake only the hot silence of the Karoo, that my neck was broken, irreparably
I didn’t know for days after, really, while I got shuttled from that spot under the hot sun in the Karoo that I love so much, to Cradock and on to PE in a variety of ambulances. I still thought I’d broken my arms and legs and that was why I couldn’t move. The X-rays blew that theory out of the water.
Still more days and a flight to Cape Town, a move from one hospital to another, screws drilled into the sides of my skull to put me in traction, plenty of morphine (thanks heavens for morphine) and then, finally, a week later, an hours-and-hours long op to fuse my spine and to allow the doctors to have a good squiz at my spinal cord.
When I emerged from my morphine haze, I knew things did not look good. I knew because they told me.
“Mush”, they said. “Your spinal cord is mush.” They said I’d done a very good job of it. I have always been a fan of doing whatever I do properly but I wouldn’t have minded doing a hash job of that.
But I didn’t, and now that’s half my life ago, today. From tomorrow, I will officially have spent more of my life in a wheelchair than out. I was 21. I am now 42.
I am finding this hard to believe.
But there it is. There’s no stopping time and all that. In those 21 years I have, as in the 21 years before them, lived, travelled, fallen in love, and out of love, been ecstatically happy and tragically heartbroken and all the other emotions in-between. Hell’s Bells, I even saw Eddie Vedder this year. In Sicily. Twice.
I’ve worked and loved it and worked and hated it. I’ve learnt lots of things and taught a few. I’ve written and read and listened to music. I’ve eaten and drunk and tasted deliciousness, and yukkiness.
Basically, I’ve just carried on carrying on, just like everybody else, because I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have the most supportive and wonderful family and friends. Family and friends who have helped me get anywhere and do anything my heart desires. Family and friends who rock.
I’m not going to lie, there are times – lots of times – that leave me wanting to throw myself on the floor and kick my legs about while screaming but, well, that’s impractical. I’m paralysed. I can’t kick my legs, and the screaming on its own just seems a bit under-dramatic.
So, today I’ll be going to add some birds to my tattoo and then heading out, away from the city lights, for a weekend surrounded by mountains and fresh air, with some bubbles to celebrate life.
It is a 21st of sorts, after all.