Fish out of water by Lara Robbins

“A Different Kind of Love Story”

Fish out of WaterI love New York City. My feet first touched these sidewalks the summer before I graduated college. From the first taxi ride (with four other summer missionaries crammed into that yellow sedan—I sat up front with the maniac cabdriver, who enjoyed making me squeal with fear, delight, and the thrill of it all as he swerved and shimmied that ancient wreck of a car through tight traffic and up/on/off curbs) to the first solo subway ride after midnight (exited the wrong station and found myself wandering—totally lost and unafraid—through a semi-deserted dark alley), I knew this was exactly where I was meant to be.

Hailing from a hometown that boasted a 570 population, people were surprised how at ease I was here; I wasn’t. I was in love with this town years before Sex and the City was a fleeting thought in Candace Bushnell’s mind, or a column in the Observer. I was young and enthusiastic, running through these city streets like I owned them, arms and heart wide open; it never occurred to me that NYC wouldn’t love and fully embrace me right back. And, for a good long time, it did just that.

Postgraduation I was back in New York within three weeks. I worked for two doctors as nanny for their four boys on Long Island—definitely earning my weekends on the island of Manhattan. A year later I was living in the City, working as a publisher’s clerk (a Girl Friday entry-level position).

During those early years I was walking to work two miles each way (too poor to afford $1.25 subway tokens), riding my bike up and down the avenues from Harlem to the Seaport (fearlessly thumping the hoods of idiot taxicabs and vans who got too aggressive with me or my biking buddies), rollerblading along the East River and around the Village (going was fast and fun—at once terrifying and amazing; unfortunately I never mastered the concept of stopping, so I avoided careening into traffic by aiming for whatever I could grab [a lamppost, a fence, a cute guy {once upon a time I was a cheeky monkey}]). I lived in a third-floor walkup in a nearly uninhabitable, totally illegal, wonderfully cheap sublet in Alphabet City. In addition to the homeless and the drug addicts, I was surrounded by so many friends who also lived in East Side hovels like mine. We were the Lucky Ones—and we knew it. Even the late-night dodging of rats attacking both cats and the overflowing tin garbage cans was a challenge readily accepted. Life was good.

Too soon, things changed. As I shoulder-hefted my bike up to my apartment one day, I heard and felt a *click* in my right knee. But I was young, athletic, living and working and falling in love (as deeply and often as possible) in the Big Apple. What could go wrong?

I couldn’t afford tokens but did have health-care insurance, so after increasingly sharp pains joined the clicks—first in one and then both knees—I got checked out. Following that first doc visit more than a decade ago, the big, wide-open world in which I so happily dwelled slowly…insidiously…began to shrink. No longer could I carry my bikes up stairs, so I sold them. A friend admired my beautiful Rollerblades, so I gave them to her. Walking became something to strategize because of the ever-decreasing, finite distance I could go—tears of pain and frustration still burn down my face anytime I push it a little too far. Life became pain-centric. Rather than embracing the world, I started to keep my distance—so it couldn’t hurt me.

Last month the intensity of my constant companion pushed me toward despair. But instead of giving up, I went to new docs and ~ finally ~ a little hope. I’m told I’m far too young (love hearing that!), but I need both of my bone-on-bone knees replaced. I am beyond scared and there are no guarantees that I’ll be rollerblading into boys (men these days, thank you very much) anytime soon. But it does mean that there’s a chance…. Everything is possible…again.

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Posted on Monday, August 19, 2013 at 8:54 am