I didn’t forget my goal was to play Haydn in the “Timisoara Festival in September 2012. For this, my legs were secondary. First, I had to reconnect my brain and my arm because the hand and the fingers will hold the bow. Priority to the maracas, the child rattle. All theses instruments – old as mankind – were bound to cross the centuries, even millennium for a reason. They were gonna help me to find a rhythm and to keep it, to nuance.
I seized the toy with the handle and I noticed a first mistake. Even if I felt nothing, I knew I grabbed too hardly and the plastic crushed under my fingers. Be patient and try again. I opened my fingers and this time, it was a little better. Now, I was gonna try to move it in rhythm but my arm did exactly as it pleased. It overplayed my gestures or instead, it scarcely moved. I focused all my attention on this so tiny, little gesture: moving the maracas regularly. Normal people didn’t know how these tiny moves of life were precise and precious. People who had been in the same situation I was will understand the importance of all this. The professional rehabilitaters were often too generalist. Each had to adapt to his particular disability and his possibilities to recover according to his previous skills. This token book aims at telling disabled people: don’t be desperate, you can get out of this. And to people in good health: enjoy your good health, one of the most precious treasures.
During a part of the morning, I set in motion the rattle, I played the xylophone, looked for precise rhythm on the drum. When Mom arrived unexpectedly, I stopped and hid the toy under my bed – probably because I was too shy, modest. Mom harped on her advice as if I was a little child.
“You didn’t shave this morning! Did you correctly takeyour drugs?”
She used to being in a hurry. But she didn’t go away and decided to tidy the house to help us. This morning, I was lucky, she had an appointment at the dentist’s and she left telling me how glad she was to see me a little better everyday.
“It reminds me of the time you arrived home. You didn’t know anything. You should have been abandoned my poor baby.”
During these first years, after I had been a baby and a child with no name, a fearful, traumatised, survivor baby bird, my parents made a lot of efforts to reassure and raise me. Mom worked at the “Banque de France”. She stopped working to take care of me all the time. I could see her, behind the door of the drawing or music theory class. She wrote all the exercices and the lessons I had to learn.
As soon as she was gone, I tried to grab the rattle but my hasty move pushed it too far under the bed. As I was half-paralyzed, I was not able to bend enough in order to get it back. I had to get out of the room and find a sweeper. It was in the storeroom unless Florence forgot it upstairs!
The sweeper was there. I got back my toy of the moment. I did realize how important this simple toy was, a tool for therapy and learning often considered as pointless for adults and so important for children. I started to shake in rhythm the little rattle and I observed I made progress since this morning. I was not in a perfect pace but my move was moderate, almost regular. I could even make nuances. A first victory which got a smile out of me!
Optimistic, I decided to go for a walk in the corridor. I had been focused for two hours, now my head was crushed as if it had been squeezed into a vice. My right arm was too used, almost hurt me, which was contradictory because I didn’t feel it. I slowly moved forwards up to the door of the restroom when all of a sudden, I heard knocking on the entrance door. I turned around.
It was the doctor. I didn’t know he was going to come. I later learnt Florence asked him to come. I had to calm Calypso down and confined it in its room. After a few minutes, I was able to finally open the door to Doctor Lavaqerie. He looked at me, silently, for a moment. Then he noticed the rattle and all the percussion instruments on the bed and the chest of drawers just below the pretty lithography of our friend, a silk painter, Anne Lan.
“It is a very good idea!” He told me while he shook the toy in rhythm. “It works?”
“I’m making progress but very slowly… too slowly according to me!”
“The first virtue for a man like you is patience. Don’t even think about jumping the gun. You’re really red-faced!”
He took his stethoscope and the machine measuring the blood pressure and asked me to lie down, which lasted a little while. During the operation, he didn’t miss one of my moves and he seemed skeptical, holding his chin with his hand.
“It’s good!” He considered. “You do recover well but how far that can go?”
“Until I fin my whole skills!”
“Nothing is sure!” He concluded. 77He usually measured my blood pressure firstly. I didn’t know why, this time, he began to listen to my heart. It lasted a long time. When he asked me to sit down, in order to put his stethoscope in my back and then to lie down again, it was like an adventure. I didn’t have energy anymore. I didn’t manage to place the weight on the left arm. Without a word, he helped me and I suddenly felt really tired.
“I was told a heart malfunction was found in you. And with the damages your blood pressure caused, the heart must be really deteriorated.”
“I can’t do anything about this.”
“It’s very serious: you must realx. Concerts, sleepless nights are over! You must save your body if you want to keep it a little more. Let’s measure the blood pressure.”
His look showed his huge astonishment. As if he doubted the result, he beagn the operation again. He blew up the ball around my arm.
“19-12. It’s unbearable. Do you take your drugs correctly?”
“I follow your prescription to the letter, doctor.”
“So… The prescription doesn’t fit. I need to find something stronger.”
He followed me for more than 20 years and I told him what he already knew: my blood pressure has always been abnormally high and no drug has managed to get it down in the bearable limits for the body. He prescribed me a new drug, tidied his prescription block in his bag and went to the door.
“Good luck!” He told me when he went away. “You know you quickly recover what you have to recover. But after, to go further, it takes time, a very long time. You are tired. You have been wrong to refuse to go in this rehabilitation center!”
I waited he closed the portal and his car went far away to stand up. I had seen in his eyes he thought I was a fool and he didn’t believe – for one moment – I could find a normal activity. I loved provocation and challenges. When I applied to the entry exams to the “Orchestra of the Garde Républicaine”, all musicians I knew told me I had no chance, I set the bar too high for me. And Dad was right with them: “You’re not skilled enough. You’re only made to play in an orchestra, to blend it with the crowd. You’re independent and you want to do everything as you decide.” I didn’t listen to them. I applied to this exam – I didn’t tell anyone – I arrived at nine A.M. It was cold, I was so scared. There were fifty other contestants, as brilliant instrumentalists as I. They came from everywhere in France and were older than I.
After that, Roger Boutry, a talented man with a hard personality, really likd me. He welcomed me in his writing class in the National Conservatory of Paris, rue de Madrid. He even hired me in the very prestigious wire quartet of the “Garde Républicaine”. He composed – when I asked – special pieces for us. I could play chamber music in the “Elysée Palace”, in the “Cour des Comptes”, did concerts everywhere in France and in foreign countries during the coalition government of Jacques Chirac and Francois Mitterrand. I even got in touch with them as a non-commissioned officer. So many memories!
I went to the next room – I was so happy to be partly free of my moves, to go from one room to another. In my painting and music room, I looked at the pathetic paint slides on the canvas, result of my experience from the day before. But it was not what I was interested in for the moment. I came closer from the piano, gazed at the keyboards with all the regular keys, the group crotchets – all by two or three – just above the half-notes, perfectly lined. The chair was there – probably in the position I left it last time I improvised when I composed music for the choir. I had already written three themes and prepared two others in order to submit them to my sponsors who would choose only one to deal with deeper.
I settled. The left hand ran over the keys from the bass to the medium with its usual ability. Now it was the turn of its disobedient sister. I placed it too strongly over the keys and I feared I broke several hammers. Noise kept on dying in the maltreated wood. I had the impression I wounded my daily companion. Let’s begin again. This time, the finger randomly grazed a key because it didn’t follow the way I gave to it. I started numerous times again but didn’t succeed.
Patience! The left hand was going to be the support of the right one and guided it where I liked in order to press at the keys. But as soon as it was released, the disordered one began its reckless moves again. After I worked for a half-hour, I stopped because I was exhausted. They might have been right, the goal was out of reach. I could not represent France at the Timisoara Festival. I will be a young old man looking at spending hours, seated in the shadow with a blanket over my legs in order not to get sick. Waiting for the new stroke leading me to my tomb.
On the evening, I was in a very bad mood. Nobody talked about it. They didn’t know I failed this afternoon. And I didn’t want to rub it in. I waned in a corner. I ate listening to the boys and my wife. Only Calypso knew my confusion and gave me a look full of tenderness.
During the night– as if often my eyes were opened in the dark – I didn’t manage to calm down. A tidal wave swept my good resolutions and I understood after my small progression from last days, I will stumble against a wall which will still seem impassible. But why could I live if I was able to act, play music or paint?
Florence – who understood everything, who didn’t need words to understand my disarray – arose on her elbows:
“You are incorrigible! You want to jump the gun! Be awake if you want to succeed, you need to make efforts and firstly work your patience! You are so patient with your students, be patient with yourself!”
“You don’t realize how disabled I am!”
I was sorry I spoke like that. I would like to make amends but Florence kept on talking:
“What are you thinking? It’s been a long time since the boys and I had realized and talked about your disability. But the image we have of you is a man who never gives up. So try to sleep for a moment! Tomorrow, you’ll have to continue to roll up your sleeves once again because nobody can do it instead of yourself!”
Around two in the morning, I didn’t sleep. I decided to get up. Florence slept deeply. I wanted to go upstairs because I would like to watching television in order to change my negative ideas. But, like each time, I remained motionless for too long and I felt stiffness in all my healthy side. Never mind, this time, I won’t wait to be alone – even if I thought about Robinson Crusoe once again – my island is my house where I had to survive and find all my human place again.
How to do it and not get Florence up? I managed to drag me out of the bed without a piece of noise and get out of the bedroom. I closed the door and kept on. My shulder was strongly leaned on the wall of the corridor up to the hollow in the corner where I had so much trouble so get out. I could squat but I was scared of a clumsy move from my right side which could rush into the emptiness. I stretched my arm towards the hung painting in front of me I made almost fell. I imagined the noise of the broken window. I thought about my fall of the other day and how lucky I was not to be hurt. A fall at this hour would be catastrophic! I told I should rope and I smiled because I – the big strong boy – shook in front of very common stairs, as though he tried to climb the Drus big needle from the north side.
So I went. The left foot set down on the first step, I tried to tip over the weight of my body. But once again, the dead part of my body refused to obey. I started again and focused very hardly and it worked. I was on the first step, ready for the second. I got up easily until I arrived to the corner on the right. The steps became smaller on the right and bigger on the left. I could not put my solid foot correctly and I missed place for the second one which hung over the emptiness. Quick breathing, as I just sprinted, I risked everything: I bent, made my shoulder slide over the corner. But I didn’t measure well and my right shoulder dragged along the rest of my torso. I kept standing thanks to my left hand. I almost fell bit I did it! I was in the last straight line. I was close from the top!
I didn’t think the last steps would be so easy to climb on. I was finally in the landing, I was exhausted but so happy, so, so, so happy! I looked around me and took the time to enjoy my success.
If the famous neurologist who had read my MRI and EEG results could see me, he would understand how important it was for a sick person to fight by himself, how each little progress was an encouragement to go further. But the decision to move forwards had to be taken by the disabled person and fitted in with an essential motivation. You had not to wait for something from “specialists” except pieces of advice you were free or not to fully listen to.
You need to stay loyal to my deep conviction. Recovering, passing an exam is a personal conquest!
I, the peaceful always looking for uniting, gathering above opinions and divisions, realized nothing would be possible if I had not this taste for fighting, surpassing – which had to be hereditary and enhanced the “Hilgers” education – thought about one of our neighbors who got a stroke too. I often saw him in the street (he was less disabled than I) and when I asked him about his health, he always answered:
“It’s never be like before but I’m going to go slowly!”
He accepted his situation. He was already beaten. He was confined in his sickness, he was defeated to it. I could have climbed the fifteen steps of my tortuous stairs with the help of my sons but I would have been dependent of, without remission. You had to deserve progress. You had to fight tooth and nail for it against the reassuring inertia of a weak body.
This night, I was rewarded; my boldness paid! Pain was a weapon of the weakness to keep me prisoner. I had to forget it, as I forgot stage fright before a concert and rushed headlong. I thought about the 1914 WW1 French Soldier who went out of the trenches under fire.
I always took advantage of my insomnia instead of complaining and asking to the doctor for sleeping pills. My Faith and the Arts transfigured them. I arrived upstairs so happy, I’d finally rather open my laptop to write and send messages to my contacts instead of going in the room of the television. Since I had my stroke in Thiais, I terribly missed it. My progress of the last days allowed me to give comforting news. I took up my old habits of creative night owl again.
At five A.M., I opened the Bible and prayed in order to receive my daily message. As always, the section I read hit the target. I glanced at the window and saw a beaming sky and a beautiful dawn light of the end of May. Summer was coming, I was inviting to its party!
On my left, there was the kitchen with the plates the boys didn’t tidy in the dishwasher. On my right, the big dining room and the living room. I discovered these rooms again, the details were heart-warming: the book forgotten on the table, Constantin’s slippers in the middle of the roo, lots of little things I never noticed before. And I told this new sense of observation was a new step in my life of artist, and I will take advantage of it.
From the disability, a new Eric Michel Vincent will rise and he will never paint as before, will play, perform the viola – because I will play it again – more truly, more humanely, more humbly. I was dying to tidy the plates and the cutlery on the round table of the kitchen in order to gt out the six bowls and prepare the breakfast. But I stopped. It was not the time to stain my night success; I knew how much I had to fear myself. I had to listen to my body which got tired very quickly. I sat down on the coach and read a book. Even if I had troubles to read and focus, I enjoyed the daily, simple moves I was finally able to do.
In a few times, I learnt to enjoy the simple fact of breathing, feeling the air, blowing up his lungs, looking at the sky, listening to the whirring of the spring. When I was stuck in my body and doctors talked – with no precaution – to remove my healthy organs, when I prayed singing to “keep the A” and I screamed in the soundproofed room of the scanner my need to live and not to let me rip apart like a butchery animal, I only thought about coming back to this Earth, this little paradise, offered once again.
Never mind, I had a try. A success always appealed another. I started to prepare the family breakfast – limping – using my healthy hand in order to help the right one and not to risk to break everything and especially to spoil the surprise I prepared. After that, I went back to the television room.
As my blurry view tried to follow the images on the screen, my thoughts flew away towards a summer with my shows which were about to start without me. My friend will be there… But I heard Florence opened the door of the garden to Calypso. I was waiting for this moment with jubilation.
“Michel, where are you?”
I drew out the pleasure and didn’t answer right away. I heard she went to the music room, opened the door of the restroom and of the bathroom.
I answered with my soft voice:
I enjoyed the silence which followed. Florence came closer to the stairs and didn’t believe it.
“You didn’t get upstairs alone? “
“Yes, I did, honey!”
She found me: I was seated in the coach. She didn’t believe her eyes and smiled.
It was half past six. She went to her little office to drop some files and held me in her arms:
“You are incorrigible, but I love you.”
While we were waiting for the boys to get up and eat their breakfast, she came back to her office because she had to meet a lawyer and wanted to deal with a dispute deeper. After fifteen minutes, she came back and helped me, held my hand up to the kitchen where we had breakfast before the boys woke up.
“You’ll think about finding me a cane. It’s my next step.” I told determined.
“You were proposed crutches when you went out of the hospital. You declined. You need to know what you want.” She answered.
“It’s for the boys. Crutches are really for disabled people. They are so obvious.” I was embarrassed for a moment.
“You’ll get your cane tomorrow.” Florence concluded.
“And not a word to the boys! I don’t want them to see me weakened, they think I’m gonna be disabled forever. They worry about me far enough! The hardest part is done.”
We both knew it was not true. I will never make do with very little life of retired man, of life-sick man who went on a stroll in the afternoon and remained all day confined in my house. It was not my style. I was on the right track and only my will could make me make move forwards.
“You see, I should be dead for a long time now, since my creation by the way, when I was a small lost animal who was pushed inside the Chaumont Barracks. I’m gonna get out of it for sure!”
The boys arrived and even they didn’t say a word, I could see in their way of acting and their looks that they were happy I was there upstairs. The family found its usual way of life. Calypso licked my feet and asked for her morning hugs while she was swinging her tail.