Second day at home. I was lucky: Florence was called by her work. She took a few days off but kept a daily link with her co-workers. She went to her office and I thanked Heaven to have caused this absence which allowed me to try a new exercice. Yesterday night, I went to the toilets so easily it gave me a lot of ideas.
When Florence was gone, I got up carefully and didn’t let the weight of my right leg losing my balance. I managed pretty easily to stand still to go to the restroom. I leaned on the wall and only slid my feet on the wooden floor. It was very simple with my left leg but the other was reluctant and always did as it liked. Either it went far away forwards or it only moved from a few inches. My brain gave orders but they were deformed when they came to the muscles. But I slowly gained ground. I managed to come back in my room without falling on the tiles. It was a great progress, others will come because I was willing to.
The round trip took me fifteen minutes. When I was seated on my bed, I was glowing. I ttok care of the second part of my program. Before she left, Florence put paper sheets and a pen on my nightstand. I was lucky to be almost ambidextrous and thanks to my artistic and musical activities, I could do a lot with my left hand. But it was not the goal. The right hand didn’t open on my orders as if it was a foreign hand, different from my person.
The elbow slid on the blanket. I unfolded my fingers one by one. This simple operation followed a complete disaster. My brain didn’t command them anymore. My hand which had to play the melody with a piano and had to hold the brush, was becoming an untameable animal! I gave him the order to take the pen but it remained motionless. I thought with all my forces about this simple move a six-month baby could do: taking and holding in his fingers a little piece of least of a centimeter plastic. “Come on, damned hand, are you gonna obey me?”
My thoughts were entirely focused on my fingers. I put the pen between my thumb and my forefinger. Victory? No, not yey, the hand didn’t lift from the blanket and the pen fell again. “Don’t yield to annoyance and try again!” I breathed deeply.
I heard a little voice into me: “Be patient, Eric, little prince. Your life has always been a conquest for the impossible. You’re alive. It has to be enough for the moment!” Yes, it was true. I was here, seated on this bed whereas I should have been a vegetable. The voice of my conscience whispered me again:
- “Realize how lucky you are Eric Michel Vincent and tell you God didn’t do that to worry you but to help you to pass a very high obstacle. AN obstacle you can get over it. Think again about your viola teacher who told you you’ll never be a good professional musician!”
That was sure. I made lie this pretentious thanks to my hard work and my strong will. So it was not a stubborn hand which gonna to stop me. I was going to start again and rehearse, like the ponderous and methodical musician I was, as many times it will take and for days and days.
My parents and my godmother came to visit me in the middle of the morning. They found me seated on the bed with a lot of paper sheets in front of me. I didn’t tell them I didn’t manage to pace the pressure on the pen, it was too heavy and the tip tore the too weak paper and didn’t write. I didn’t manage to draw a twisted line. During all my attempts, I thought about Robinson Crusoe and his fight for survival. The easiest moves took him days. But his patience, persistence and intelligence almost always made him win. I was like him but in my own house.
My parents were hurried because they had to take care of Benoit and Stephanie’s – my sister-in-law – children they often looked after. It dealt with me. We talked for a while. My father noticed the music sheet of the double concerto and spoke about music until he understood what worried me. How could I become a great musician again when I could barely draw a lien on a piece of paper?
Like each time, I was in front of an abyss, I leapt into the unknown.
- “Mom should have told you I am invited to embody France in Timisoara Festival. It’s in a year and three months. I have time to prepare.”
I saw in his glance he was skeptical. Did he think I was not able to realize my situation?
- “Listen Michel” he told me with kindness and authority which allowed him to be an influent senior executive and a viewing figure in the world of bank. We didn’t want what you could have. “If you don’t play this concerto at the expected date, you’ll play it later! Let some time to your body for rebuilding.”
- “No” I told assuredly. “I’ll be ready!”
At that time, I would have liked to see in my father’s eyes a kind of marvel glimmer, even a fugitive one. He knew I was voluntary and strong-headed but also utopian and a big dreamy boy. I did know since I was little I never talked for nothing. Dad nicely put his hand on my shoulder.
- “It’s good. So work! We’re going to go there.”
When they were gone, I wanted to start again my writing exercices and this time again, I didn’t succeed in putting the pen point on the sheet without too much pressure. I needed to be totally focused to lead all my will towards my right thumb and forefinger and manage with my left hand to draw an uncertain word: Eric, my first name. Since always, a question was threading me: “what is my family name of my real dad? And of my mom, Maria? What’s my name?”
In a black and white, bend picture, the only remains of my past from my Social Services file, I was a blond baby. My round head has a very characteristic side because of my syndrome of excessive development of one of my side of brain. I was wearing white lace clothes. Would it be a christening dress? My eyes were black, a wrinkle was already drawing on my large forehead. I looked concerned. Where was I? The hand which held me wore a big signet ring. But the picture was unfortunately too blurry to read the written initials on it.
I could clumsily draw four letters, it was already a victory. I stuck to this for this morning. Florence arrived and brought things to cook. She was very happy to see I practiced to write and I went to the toilets alone. Next goal: the stairs which led me to the floor where the family lived. But I needed to be focused because I might do beyond repair mistakes, hurt me or definitively break the still-living connections despite my stroke, between my brain and the insensitive part of my body. I spent the afternoon with Florence who talked about her work. It was sunny outside: I would like to go out so much and it was not yet the moment.
Nicolas came home around eleven. He told he was strong enough to help me to go upstairs and we began. Everyhting went well. My limbs reacted in a best way than yesterday and if I stayed leaned on the wall, I could push on my left leg. Nicolas was beaming:
- “You’re soon running the 100 meters!”
At the life floor, the light was more intense than downstairs. The coming summer came in by the open window and I enjoyed the good smells from the garden. I listened to the birds. I followed with my eyes the blackbird and two turtledoves, all this teeming life and I liked mine despite the ordeals.
The evening, the third I spent here since I was gone from the hospital, was very happy at the Hilger’s from the Clos Bourgoin. The kids made jokes, Raphael played the cello, Nicolas the tuba and Constantin revised his music theory with me. Alexandre, who had often been a lone wolf,, took advantage of us being upstairs to come and play the piano and the saxophone. He didn’t like to play in public and feared my objections. Tonight, contrary to my habits, I didn’t make any comment to my musician trainees. At this time, we forgot I was a seriously-ill man and everything went well as if I was once again a normal person. I talked about my projects, the double concerto I had just started to learn, and I played and revised in my head. I developed projects for my wire quintet, my students, my choristers…
“Everything is done for me being sick.” I told smiling. “The Academy of Arts is closing its doors after the Mayor decided it. At the end of May because a lot of work has to be done inside. So nobody will see I’m not here and especially how serious my condition is. I’ll be back in class at the beginning of November.” The extension could not be done during summer time and the Academy would be closed from May to the end of October.
- “Me either, I’m under construction and I’ll be ready for November.”
The day after, in the afternoon, four days after my physiology, Florence decided – once again – to go to her office. She will not be home for more than two hours – which was good enough to try a new challenge. . I already imagined her head when she will find out my achievement.
Getting up and moving while leaning on the wall was not difficult anymore even though I was stiff. In the corridor, I stopped in front of my music room. In front of me, the piano showed me its black and white teeth and seemed to invite me, the beautiful brown varnish of my viola shone thanks to a ray of sun. I dreamt about them. I will have to come closer to them, but for the moment, I was still doubting. Music required such delicacy I’d rather wait. Si I went to the stairs for a dangerous climb and without a safe rope.
Since my last “rebirth”, since I tried to regain my autonomy, I had the impression a deep strength, a hidden being deep inside me told me what to do and what to avoid. And at this time, he told me to be careful. I needed to think how to place my left foot on the first step. Besides, why the lef foot instead of the right one which was useless? Think about it for not doing mistakes: had I to get up standing with the strength of my healthy side or on all fours like a little child? I needed to take time to answer this question. Getting up like an animal would not be shameful for the survivor I was. The goal was to reach the second landing whatever the way I was going to use.
Each decision could n ot be taken without good reasons. It was essential to determine the consequences even if my strong-headed nature often made me choose the most dangerous option. I will get upstairs on my feet, holding the walls with my left hand which was strong enough to prevent me from falling. “Let’s go!” I thought to God who was probably looking at me and might be laughing because I was so ridiculous, me, the big and strong man not sure about a few high-inches step. I thought a little in order to decide how logical it would be to use one foot before the other: the insensible, heavy right foot or the light, good-willed left one?
“Let’s make a shot for nothing!” I made my weight of my body tipped over on the insensitive foot which stood firm against the pressure. Then I slowly lifted the left foot to reach the step. There, in the middle of this high-dangerous operation, my strong foot caved in, became floppy and motionless. I bent, almost fell. It was not a good idea anyway; “let’s begin otherwise”. I ordered my right leg to fold and lift the foot with no slipper (I should have thought of that, socks could slip on the varnished wood!). And it was working. This time, for the first (!), my insensitive side obeyed the other side. My move was amplified because my knee folded straight. But it was a good support on the first step. In a regular move –not to provoke a new catastrophe– I was carrying all my weight in my left arm which was against the wall. And here was I : on the step, ready to confront what was next. An amazing, stunning achievement! I was sweating but I enjoyed this moment. I managed to pull myself from six inches. I just made a very big step. I was finally become a two-legged man again!
“Let’s go for a second step!” Fourteen steps left but I didn’t want to think about it. No need to add to the troubles each moment brought! My method wa so good. I managed to climb the second obstacle and started the third one enthusiastly –which made me take more risks. The most difficult was yet to come because the stairs made a sharp-90-degree bend on the right and none of the steps had the same height. Each little inch made the operation more complicated. Where the stairs turned, I thought a long time and took the time to breathe. I was afraid, I tensed and I felt dizzy. I was like a breathless athlete in the middle of a marathon because the first part of the stairs took me at least ten minutes even if I didn’t notice the time spending .
On my right, the steps were sharper, which made my progression even harder. Had I to change from side or keep the safety of the wall which could catch hold of me in case of problems? I chose to stay where I was, not to take the risk of a lateral move for a few inches – which seemed to be an ocean to me. But it was not easy! I missed place to lift my unhealthy leg. Sometimes, it lifted to high and I had to order it to get down and it didn’t stop at the good place on the horizontal plank. Sometimes, it stayed hanging only a few inches above the flat part where the foot had to lean on. It was really not easy when you didn’t obey yourself. Nevertheless, I insisted so much than I managed to bring back all my weight on the straight part of the varnished plank.
I felt encouraged, so I kept on going. My heavy leg lifted, the foot stumbled against the edge of the step and stayed here; I made a part of my weight tip over it leaning on the wall by my left. Panic on board: my foot slipped, I lost my balance, my left hand skidded on the smooth wall and my dying right hand could not catch hold of me along the wall on my right. I fell flat on my face in the stairs. My forehead hit a higher step and I rolled up to the bottom of the stairs. I was lying on the cold tiles in the corridor and my left ankle hurt me so violently. I got angry. My mind sank into a cold night. My thoughts were stuck: I could never climb the stairs and go where the family lived, spoke, laughed, played music during the parties we hosted.
I didn’t know how much time I stayed there, listless, unable to move. A muffled despair devastated me. I believed I could rehabilitate by myself but I once again overestimate myself. A warm bloody trickle ran on my forehead and weaved along my cheek, and showed my disability.
“For him, violin is over!” This sharp sentence stitched me at the most sensible part of my being. I rebelled. With my faith, my living belligerence, I could overthrow a mountain, even if this mountain was only a fiteen-step stairs! I got up furiously and I crawled to the bathroom which was next to the stairs. I thought again, calmy analyzed the causes of my fall. What just happened was only a simple accident, a mishap. There will be others but they won’t stop me! I gritted my teeth and managed to wipe the blood of the wound I made in my hair. I thought about the “Fantastic Symphony” music from Hector Berlioz. Yes, I will rise again!
I leaned on the walls and slowly went back to my place at the bottom of the stairs. First, with my left hand which worked very well –the hand of the musician– then with the always heavy, painful other one which hurt when I moved it. It was not really a pain as my whole right half was insensitive. It was a weird, diffuse sensation like a burn.
My sight was blurring. I saw like it was so foggy outside. My head was spinning. Was it because of the high blood pressure which went high despite the strong drugs I took everyday? I had the same sensation this morning when I was writing. Would it be because a new stroke was brewing like the replica of an earthquake? It sent shivers down my spine. My strong leg shook whereas the world around me became more and more blurry. I had the impression to float in the middle of a cloud. I tried to analyze my feelings, to find a good reason to believe it was only a brief dizziness. I felt beating so hard in my chest. Would it miss oxygen, fresh blood because of an obstructed artey? After the stroke, would I be a victim of a heart attack?
I managed to sit on the first step and asked myself if I had to call 911. Something was holding me –something shameful, like a pupil who didn’t listen to the recommandations of the teacher and regretted it. If I was there with no one to help, it was because I wanted it. In the rehabilitation center, I would have been looked after way from any accident. I heard a car stopped by the doorway. Please, it couldn’t be Florence! No, it was not her way to speed up while she went back out. My musician ears were –fortunately–still here and identified a lot of noises. A car door slammed. My dizziness vanished a little. It was Jean-Pierre, the neighbor. No need to panic. My sight was still blurry but I was feeling better.
I went back to the bathroom to put a washcloth on the blood which flawed again and went to bed to rest. I felt completely crippled. After the failure of the stairs exercice, after the fall, my whole body ached… Well, my left half. My right side was always so heavy, like a vague, more unpleasant than a real pain dizziness. And all this got me angry. I needed at least five minutes to get back to the bedroom and lied down on the bed. I would like to stay seated but my ribs, my arms, my legs ached. Florence came back a few minutes later and was surprised to find me lied down. She saw my bloody bum.
- “What happened?”
- “Well, Michel. Tell me. I want to know how you have earned this bump. You fell, didn’t you?”
- “No, of course. I knocked over the corner of the nightstand when I wanted to get to bed.”
She didn’t believe me but didn’t insist. She went upstairs and got down to bring two cups of coffee on a tray. I didn’t want to but I forced myself to drink it because it was a daily, ordinary act which brought me to my old life. I sta down –I managed to do it alone– despite all my muscles ached. I made a face and Florence looked at me with caution. She slowly turned the spoon in her cup and asked me again:
- “Did you really hurt while knocking on the nightstand? Why ain’t you telling me the truth?”
In front mf my lie which hid my weakness, my failure, I reacted the worst way I could have: I let my anger speak instead, as it hurt my stomach since I was back in my bed. I was very conscious of my disability. I yelled:
- “I fell, this is the truth! I fell as someone falls when he stumbles against the carpet!”
- “But you didn’t stumble against the carpet, there’s none at home because I’m allergic to them!”
Florence remained stunned for a moment because of my keen, unusual reaction. She put her hand on mine and got out without a word. Then boys came to kiss me. They didn’t talk about my scratch on my forehead: Florence should have told them I was very in a bad mood. Constantin –who didn’t dare ask any question– looked at me as he never did, as if I was a stranger, someone he saw for the first time in this be, the bed of his parents.
Helped by the elders, Nicolas and Raphael, I went to the dining room. The dinner was not as happy as it was yesterday. I locked myself into an awkward silence which made everyone felt uncomfortable and my boys quickly ate and went to their rooms, places where I will probably not enter again. When it was all over, Florence claimed to have work to do in order to go to her small office and told me:
- “Do you like me to switch on the TV?”
Look what I have become : an outcast man who was watching TV while other people worked. I never stopped to run after time to do everything I could –my painting, my music inside my head– and now I was enduring the nonsense of television. It was not my way to be.
- “No, I want to get downstairs to study my music sheet!”