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Like Mérimée

The day after, Sunday, when I went to the church, I noticed my way to move was easier than usual, my steps surer and I had the impression of being less tired. I was psyched up! The weather was mild after the storm of the night. The sun was back and the tree leaves were still wet. They shone in the dazzling morning light.

At noon, my parents invited us to lunch. We drove to them even if I would have liked going by foot. However, I didn’t want to do too much because I knew the results. At the end of the meal, I announced:

“I’m gonna go back to the Academy of Arts to teach when school begins.”

My dad looked at me incredulously in which I guessed some administration. My mother didn’t believe it, Florence told:

“Don’t you even think about it? You can’t drive because of your unsensitive right foot!”

“I have the whole summer to practise and in order to find good health again, you need not to remain too long in sickness leave!”

Florence’s notice was fair. The “Academy of Arts” was closed by the beginning of May for very important works. The institution will open at the beginning of the school year and I was sure I will be ready.

“I’ll ask for a special schedule; I’ll go for teaching on the afternoon in order to practise and do my exercices in the morning.”

“We’re not there yet!” Florence concluded.

The next days, I focused all my attention on the precision of my moves. The piano was the essential instrument for that. I began to work with the viola happily: this morning, I managed to rub the wires, one by one, separating them correctly as I had learnt when I was very young. My right arm remained insensitive and didn’t answer yet; it was infuriating because my head didn’t forget anything and gave right orders. I did want to foresee and strongly thought about the precise moves I would like to do, my limbs overexaggerated or remained motionless. It was a very unpleasant situation not to be in control of his body.

This afternoon, another idea ticked over my mind. It was very sunny outside. Not a storm around: I had just listened to the weather forecast as a solitary sailor would do before he faced the ocean. I made up my mind because I wanted to try this experience all by myself, without being spied on, looked after or followed. Like when I registered to a competition or I created a company, I challenged myself but I did not want to be a danger for other people. I was finally ready. My dog understood and swung her tail near the door. I hesitated for a while, my keys were in my hand, and I opened the door. This so small gesture meant so much for me, I finally found my freedom back!

I walked up the little slope which led to the doorway pretty easily. I opened it. The flap creaked as usual. It made me feel good. Calypso pulled the leash too much, I had to scold her because she almost made me fall. It was done: I was eventually on the not very large pavement but it was enough. The slope was quite strong and I had to walk across the street to take the “Sentier du Bûcher”, a narrow path between two walls. I walked a little as an exulting child who disobeyed his teacher and learnt the tomorrow lesson. I ran into my neighbor who was surprised to see me so lively. We talked a little but Calypso pulled the leash and I could not hold her back. I walked across the street and entered the path well-framed by two close fences. And then I enjoyed it wholeheartedly. I even tried to go faster. My god was happy and walked in front of me. Her bushy tail showed me the way. Henceforth, the garden was too small for me. Like Mr. Seguin’s goat, I won’t be satisfied by my run. But be careful to the wolf!

On the evening, I didn’t say anything about my getaway. Nobody had to worry about me. I wanted to find my old activities as soon as possible, for my family and my four boys. The day after, I played away from my habits. My whole morning was usually filled by my physiotherapy. I tirelessly played my scales with the piano and tried to produce an appropriate sound with my viola. But this morning, I had another important goal. I was waiting for everyone to leave in order to throw myself into the adventure which ticked over in my mind for a long time. It was audacious – I had to confess – a little like Christophe Colomb who sailed to the Indies and found an unknown land. Or like the famous Czech violinist Anton Dvorak I liked so much who left to New York with his children.

The weather was good and seemed to remain that way. It was perfect for me! And here I went. I felt my clumsy leg worked better than the last days. But I had to be careful. I sometimes had the impression I made a lot of progress and the day after, nothing remained. However, this morning, I walked quite merrily on the pavement I used for at least one hundred of times. I met people of my neighborhood, they greeted me, I continued my way and they did the same.

When I thought about going back to Thiais’ “Academy of Arts”, I also thought of the numerous problems I had to resolve during the summer. I’d rather begin early even if everyone around me told me it was premature.

First step: going alone to the Mass. Going up to the church was fine. Time ran fast. I looked all over me: houses, gardens, as if it was the first time I saw them. Did the strokes ordeal give me new eyes able to make out each detail I missed before? I had never seen this plum tree with its branch which went over the path and the nice bird table which looked like a little house between leaves.

I was finally at church. I stopped on the spot for a moment. I looked around me, my usual environment since 1972 when we had settled in Sucy en Brie. The town didn’t really change since. However I found out everything again this morning like the amazing beauty of the just restored roman church. I thought about people who had built those walls. I looked like them. They were sick and couldn’t enjoy modern medicine. They died young and often didn’t take the time to live.

I entered the church. A particular smell – the one of the Mass of the week, so different from the one of the weekend – flapped in the air. I sat down on the first chairs in front of the choir. I was overwhelmed by the joy of the believer. I was carried away by the happiness of being here in a world of bliss and hope. Future was in front of me.

The vica, Dominique, Katy, the sacristan and her daughter were surprised to see me there. Focused on my meditation, I didn’t realize they were here. Dominique came closer to me and told me quietly:

“As if I was waiting for you here, Michel! You should rest and sleep more in the morning! You’re in convalescing, don’t forget it! Florence is worried about you!”

“Without praying, I won’t be able to go at the end of my project!”

He knew me and understood how stubborn and daredevil I was. He gave me a piece of advice:

“It’s good to fight in order to find all your skills. God will be with you but first at all, don’t be presumptuous, don’t make the mistake to go faster than you can. Let your body the time to fix. If you’re abusing it, you could hurt it more than it is already!”

After 15 minutes of prayers and now the Mass was over, I came back home. The sky was getting darker. Despite the optimistic weather forecast, storm was threatening. Fresh wind was blowing. The sudden fresh air gave me more strength and I tried to walked a little more quickly. I didn’t walk for a hundred meters and rain began to pour down. I tried to go faster a little but I was in pain from my kidneys to my whole body. I remained seated too long in the church and I was stiff everywhere. My head hurt and my see sight was blurring. The pavement was deforming in front of me, I was not sure to put up my healthy leg.

I managed to get away from downtown as I could and walked across the crossroad without stumbling. I drew on my reserves and I was exhausted. Rain stopped. I dragged my cast-iron leg with difficulty because it was as heavy as ever and seemed paralyzed.

I had more and more troubles to stay standing. I needed to stop right away. I came closer from a little wall and sat down. A woman came out of the next door house and asked me:

“Are alright, Sir? Can I call someone for you?”

“No need to call I was sick a little while ago and I’m still tired. It’s nothing!”

I made a very important effort in order to go back on my feet and walked slowly, my back bent like an old man. My feet scraped the pavement. My head and my kidneys hurt so much. I moved forwards crippled and unsteady as if I was drunk. The sun came out of the big clouds. It was dark, brutal so overwhealming hot. The road was smoking. I could only rely on me and I carefully moved forwards one step after another focusing my attention on the always too heavy right foot. I was cursing myself! I overestimated my forces and here was the result. Will I be strong enough to go back home? Especially I had not to fall because I will never manage to go back on my feet.

I was eventually at the last crossroad before the street of the “Clos Bourgoin” I found very sloppy in that way. I had vertigo. Less tha three hundred meters seemed so long. I stopped again and wanted to sit but I couldn’t find any little way all around. I leaned on an electrical pole as if I drank too much. A passer-by looked at me curiously. I was lucky, she didn’t talk to me. My left leg hurt me so much and I couldn’t lean on it. My left shoulder and my torso felt like burning. I was like a bug wounded by the spade of the gardener which looked for a place to hide. I was afraid of the moment when I will arrive to my black doorway. Will my neighbors see how troubled I was? I leaned on the pretty high wall and I made my feet slide. A car stopped. It was a friend from church:

“Michel, do you need any help?”

“No, I’ll be fine!”

The generous man drove away. I moved heavily. I was carried away by the descent of my street. But I was still hurting… more and more. I walked it hundreds of times but I had never realized how sloping and difficult it was for a disabled person. I finally saw the portal – only thirty meters left – but will I be strong enough to reach it? My clothes were smoking. The sun dazzled me, my head hurt so much! I had to hurry, go back inside, lie down and not feel anything. Sleeping at last!

I rallied my last forces. My heart beat so fast and hurt me too. I was in front of the doorway. I was almost at the end of my ordeal. I finally came home, I felt the weight of my body went forwards while I went down the path. If I dared to, I would kneel down. I thought It would be simpler if I relieved my legs because once more, I didn’t feel anything in my right leg and I couldn’t bear it. The door, the life-saving handle, was on reach with my left hand. But before all, I had to turn the key in the lock.

It was an easy gesture but I had to make a huge effort because I had troubles to find the gap of the lock. I was wet. I sat on the piano stool. Calypso licked my hands and this warm contact made me feel good. I was shaking. After I had been warm in the street, now I was cold. I would like to undress and go to bed bit I wasn’t strong enough to move.

Florence and the boys will not be home for hours. And I didn’t want to worry my parents! A revolt scolded inside me, a kind of protest facing what seemed to be unfair: “Look, you brought me into life like a little, abandoned dog you feed giving him a slice of bread. I wanted to spread bliss with my music and my paintings. Why are you chasing me again?” A voice lectured me right away: “It’s with the hardest ways we reach bliss. So be happy to be still able to do it.”

These thoughts moved me a lot. I put my hands on the key. And then I felt better. No way to go to bed!

I began to improvise and I forgot my pains. I put the metronome on in order to practise a music sheet strictly this time and very vigorously. I found it in a Frantz Schubert‘s – my favorite –‘s collection. He was a fragile man too and had been – according to me – one of the greatest composers. I inspired a lot from him to write and compose. I liked and tried to imitate all the subtleties of his harmonies. The night before, I ended to play “Prayers to Serenity”.

After I spent one hour with Frantz Schubert and more or less well-played scales, I grabbed the viola. I thought about how to proceed: I was going to start like a novice. First, I rubbed the wires idly, passing from one to another without hooking them, placing a finger and another and so on and so forth. It seemed easy for a professional musician but I realized how many muscles were implied and coordinated. Finally, I was not so bad. My brain was still full of music and gave simple orders. When my right arm will be able to understand them, I will be really cured! But that was not likely to happen any soon!

On the afternoon, I was fine. My muscles hurt less and I took some times to get out the dog. The weather was cooler than the last days because of the storm and rain. Lucky me! On the other hand, my blurry sight was worrying me. Would my last stroke damage a vital function in my brain?

After many controls, my orthoptist leant me eighty percent of my right-eye skills were gone.

When I was in front of the door, I understood the church trip left traces. Inside when I didn’t move, I felt perked up. But once outside in the path, my pains came back. My back ached and almost prevented me from moving forwards. The dog was waiting for me at the portal swinging her tail. I couldn’t deprive her of her stroll. So I went.

The hardest part was to climb the small slope before the “Sentier du Bûcher”. Then I walked pretty easily. Calypso was behind, her nose was near the ground where she probably smelled some cats or another dog. After half an hour, I was both tired and happy, I came home.

I thought about Haydn’s concerto and the beginning of the second theme I had to play precisely but untying the notes slightly – just to give the impression of a recitation but to avoid the heaviness. Tonight, I will finish to write the rhythms, these parts the soloists played alone like a demonstration of their virtuosity. I was scared of having written a music too difficult for me.

I had still in mind the idea to go back to the “Academy of Arts” and Rosny sous Bois in order to teach. Starting my piano tunings again. I had still three-month training but I had still to drive my car. How to speed up and brake correctly when your right foot didn’t know how to measure out its impulses? My mind was working for several days and this night, I thought I found a solution! But in order to practise my training, I wanted to be alone.

As soon as the house was empty, I placed the flat scales of the bathroom right slightly inclined in front of my feet. Seated in front of it, I pushed with my right foot measuring the effort. The first attempts were not conclusive but I quickly noticed my foot obeyedbetter than my hand. Some more sessions and I’ll be ready to drive my car!

On the day after, my muscles didn’t ache anymore. Only my blurry seesight and my headache were always there. I got used to them. Anyway, I used to excess because of my meninges since I was born. I kept exercising with the viola and I realized I made progress.

After a few days, I knew how to measure out the pressure of the cast-iron foot on the scales of the bathroom, I believed I was strong enough to confront with the reality. I settled at the wheel of my car which was parked in the street. I pushed on the speed and the brake pedals. I thought I could drive but I didn’t want to into traffic jam. I started the engine and as if there was no car in front or besides my car, I moved from some meters focusing all my attention on the accelerator and the brake. The motor jolted but I did it. Then I saw a mark on the pavement and I decided to stop there into reverse gear. Sudden braking but I succeeded.

Later I realized how unconscious I was and I won’t recommend it to every person who would like to jump the gun like me.

These little pieces of success made me feel so enthusiastic than my body used more and more energy to find its old functions. So, on the day after – Florence agreed with this – I got up first, tried to empty the dishwasher and prepare breakfast. For me, is was as important as playing Haydn’s concerto. I believe a sick person stops thinking about his/her illness when he finds his/her old habits because getting back to his/her life before the stroke helps a lot to heal quickly. You have to avoid to stay away, to shut away on his/her pains wainting for healing to come by itself or with the help from the outside. It is likely the key everyone owns inside himself/herself. Without it, with no so sophisticated means of rehabilitation can be efficient. Healing is inside usbut you have to look for it.

On early morning, after I stretched, I went upstairs and I emptied the dishwasher and couldn’t stop thinking about the disaster of the first attempt. I took all precautions and almost succeeded. I broke a glass – which escaped from my hands – in the sink this time and it almost caused no noise. I caught hold of a plate at the very last moment and I reached my goal and was happy. Once the doors of the cupboard were closed, I gave me some minutes to enjoy my victory: I was able to the daily, little chores. It meant I found my place among the healthy people again and everything will be OK.

Let’s go for breakfast! I put the bowls on the table. I had just plug in the toaster, get out the jam from the fridge and the milk everyone heated with the microwave. Florence arrived. She was beaming. I hugged her: this victory was also hers. She knew how to be there where I needed help and to be away when I needed to be alone. She didn’t behave with too many good feelings as many people had – unfortunately – done: replacing the ill person, avoiding him/her to make the least effort, confining him/her to force to rest.

When everybody was gone, I picked up to the “secret phase” of my progression. The sky was blue. It was already warm. After all the usual phases of my morning rehabilitation, I went back to my car. Alas, another car prevented me from maneuvering like the day before. I moved back from a few meters and decided to make a parallel parking, which forced me to get out in the traffic jam. I didn’t think too much and went into it. I felt so good than I decided to drive to the end of the street. If it didn’t go well, I could go back into reverse gear. I drove first, barely touching the accelerator because I was scared of my foot pushing a little too hard on the small pedal. But everything was perfect, which made me bold. I stopped the car at the “STOP” sign. Nobody was there. I turned left in order to come back to my original point thanks to a parallel street. My foot – guided by my ear which heard the engine accelerations –answered quite well to my demands, and I decided to shift the second gear. When I turned on the right, the recalcitrant foot weighed on the brake pedal with all its force. And the car stopped brutally. A hurried car had to stop too. The driver overpassed me and grumbled against me. Phew! I started the engine and continued my journey. And what a miracle, I came back to my starting point. I parked the car without difficulty despite my neck and my head hurt a lot. It was likely a sudden climbing of my blood pressure! But this time, I was sure I’ll go back to my classes and my choir rehearsals next November.