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Building on Ashes

My first night at home went well. I managed to sleep for four or five hours along. Extremely rare thing: I even dreamt– shortly ant it was full of lights. I was on stage in Timisoara and I played Haydn’s Double Concerto. I went with the flow on the wings of this magnificent music, out of time. I was beyond my disabilities and my viola never rang so well.

I was waking up, smiling. Florence was already up and I heard her upstairs while she prepared breakfast for the boys. I used to doing it and I wanted to do it as fast as possible. Later, the doctors will be amazed how quick I recovered. According to the neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik, being a violinist is a big asset. Besides, all instruments players who use both of their hands (particularly the rubbing wires young people play so few) boost mental development and become amazing , salutary therapeutic means in case of dramatic strokes where the brain and the strong will play essential roles for recovery.

Florence stayed with me the whole morning. She went to the supermarket instead of me and might have been to her office on the afternoon. We should not have changed any of our old habits for me. It was the best way to show the sickness we didn’t fear it. The boys, especially Constantin, needed it to reassure themselves, to understand life went on and their father was going to take his place very soon.

It was not easy to sit on the bed but I had to do it on my own! Nicolas was ready to go to school and wanted to help. I thanked him but told I had to handle things alone. Getting used to be helped all the time would be giving free reins to sickness. I was at war with the insensibility of my right side and a war could not be won without courage and heroic acts!

Finally, Nicolas and Raphael asked me if I needed some help to go to the restrooms before they left. Since I came back from ICU, I needed other people to satisfy all the obligations of nature I could hardly fulfill by myself unless I put diapers! Each went on one of my sides and raised me. I helped them thanks to my healthy half-side, the other always refused to answer my request and behaved so crazily she prevented me from moving forwards. Florence looked at us aghastly as we reached the restroom door. I closed the door. But with only one healthy hand – believe me! – it was not easy to lower and ride up my trousers! I sat on the toilet bowl. Constantin and Alexandre arrived: it was time to go to school.

I felt through the door they were waiting for me ant I felt terribly embarrassed. I managed to flush the chain. It was the signal. I opened the door. My bodyguards seized me and brought me back in my room rapidly because they were gonna be late for school. Here was I once again: seated on my bed with my alive, warm left side and my dead, heavy as concrete right side. My right arm was frozen whereas my left one was burning. I was shared into two sides and they didn’t get with anymore.

Around 10 a.m., my parents and Manet arrived. My father, always so elegant, entered my room littered with firstly. He felt cramped in this little room. However, he sent me a look which gave me hope. His silence seemed to say – before he bent to kiss me: “I’m with you, God can’t refuse something to courageous men!” Wonderful dad who I felt connected with more than many sons with their biological father. He went in a corner, Mom and my godmother kissed me too. All the tenderness of the world choked me and it warmed my heart. They didn’t stay for long. They didn’t want to tire me or to show me their anxiety even though they were happy I was alive. They dreaded the worst once again. My father and my mother glanced at me one last time while they came out: “Hold on, we trust you!”

At this moment, I thought about solemn masses and all the annual “Spiritual Concerts” we both played at the Sucy Church. My father played the organ because even if he was na amateur, he was a great musician and I played the viola. However, according to him, music was not a reasonable job! He was such a good organist than where he was young he had played on the huge organs of the Metz Cathedral. He’d rather me not become a “Professional Artist”! He wanted me to do a different choice like my brother, Benoit.

When I was a teenager, he often repeated me: “ Choose a good job, doctor for instance, and nothing could prevent you from playing music for your own pleasure like me!” Dad probably doubted about my capacity to live properly from music. Nevertheless, in fornt of my determination, my parents and Manet never hesitated to support me as well as they could. They adapted my school years and bought me my gorgeous Caressa and French viola, then a beautiful Lamy golden bow. They never discussed about money.

Around noon, Benoit, who went jogging, came to see me. He was adopted after me. We are as solid as if we were true brothers. We talked for a moment. My brother joles a lot but he is an organized, very tidy man. His advice is always clever. He encouraged me and quoted several examples of people who practically found back all their skills. He recommended me to listen to the doctors.

He laughed because he recognized my rebellious nature. Florence proposed him to stay for lunch but he refused because he had an appointment at the other side of Paris at 2 p.m. At the beginning of the afternoon, Florence brought me books and went to the supermarket. I was alone for at least two hours and I was so waiting for it.

Birds songs, turtledoves cooings came from the open windows. The day was warm and sunny. Summer was coming and I was confined to my bed. I waited for this moment to confront with myself. In front of this open door on the corridor, I saw the closed door, the door of the music room. I could feel the silent presence of the piano. To its right, there was Nicolas’ tuba and to its left, Raphael’s cello, my two violas anc the lectern I used as an easel. On it, there was a draft painting I had just started the day before my stroke? The palette was next to it, on a shelf with the color tubes. A forbidden world for now.

On my bed, in front of me, Florence placed paper and music sheets. I tried to sketch my first drawing after my resurrection with my – obviously– left hand. I found out forms, curves which didn’t look like me, as if another human being, hidden deep inside me, took advantage of my illness to show in plain sight. An immaterial being, so different from the Michel Hilger I had become and people knew!

A flash came to my mind. I saw me: I was 19 in Saintes Marie de la Mer. I was with a young, pretty gypsy I happily met during a long summer tour with the “Alexandre Stajic Orchestra”. She had insisted on reading my palms despite my reluctance. She brought me away from the crowd, in a little place, took my hand and told me she saw a hell of a future, a quixotic life started from the most implausible way, and littered of awful accidents. But I will not die young and know great achievements.

She added I will be a father of four children, a beautiful family and a big house but not with my current fiancée. I thought it was completely crazy because I would have never imagined I was gonna to split up with Marion!

I was going to move away when I foresaw in her hand a little medal of the Holy Mother. She didn’t want me to pay for it. I insisted, she gave it to me and it will bring me luck! Today, I had the proof that everything she had told me was true.

This memory gave me hope again. But for the moment, I was a split Michel Hilger who could exist only with simple moves. I didn’t forget the shame of this morning and the problem I was gonna to have to go to the toilets alone. I could not make any progress without this essential dignity. My rehability began with this first self-reliance? It was the Hymalayas’ climbing!

First work: turning and pushing on my healthy side against the bed back. Then putting my legs on the floor. I tried this quarter-turn pushing really hard on my healthy arm. Once more, I was moving my heavy carcass and I rolled on the bed. I was unable to raise, like a turtle on its back. I was ridiculously and I forced to laugh not to sink into despair. I was not going to stay like that for hours. Florence had to go to her office but she could come home early and find me in this ridiculous position. I needed to move and I had to go to the restroom!

After a considerable effort which made my heart beat so hard, I succeeded in rolling on my healthy side. I made a face: I needed to go to the restroom very quickly. My sensations and my ability to the toilets worsened since I had taken the drugs against high blood pressure. I didn’t want – absolutely– my sons or my wife to find me in a dirty bed. I heard a voice inside me: “Be patient, Eric Michel Vincent, and think. First you find a good support on your left arm. Then, roll using your arm as a lever to lift up”. Would it be the beautiful hand-painted icon of Virgin Mary with his Son, Jesus, on her knees talking to me? It was so beautiful. It had been offered for our wedding by my godmother, since, it decorated our room.

New try, new fail. My big carcass rolled on the blanket. I could not think clearly because I needed to pee so badly but I could not stay like this. New idea: as I could not sit down, I was gonna do differently. I managed to roll up to the edge of the very low bed and I very carefully put my left leg on the wooden floor and let me fall on the verge of the mattress. I might try to turn around in order to lift me up as when young children used to learn to walk. But I really needed to pee. So I sat on the floor and crawled up to the corridor pushing with my healthy arm and leg. It was already a victory: I managed to get out of the room. The beginning of a recovered freedom!

In the corridor, the cold tiles were – hopefully– slippery. The door of the restroom remained open. What a lucky man I was! I leaned on the toilet bowl. Miracle! My heavy and clumsy body agreed to pivot. I could never say how I did it but I was seated. A heat wave spread my chest.

I had the feeling to have won a Tour de France stage and to be already back in the miserable world of disabled people. Well, now, I had to go back in the bedroom. Being seated – so hard to reach– made me bold. I leaned on the wall and pushed on my healthy leg. I could probably rise up. I had the impression to be an alien learning the rules of gravity, an adventurer exploring a planet he only knew thanks to books and he found out eluding détails. My insensitive shoulder slipped against the wall, the left hand corrected the messy moves of my right side! Then I pushed on my healthy leg. I was like a mountain climber who tried to conquer an abrupt wall, but I was in the toilets. I did it! My working leg hurt me. I feared it would be the beginning of a new illness and I focused once again. Finally, I was up! I thought about how ridiculous I was in my pajama trousers on my heels. I was a proud guy. I was up and so happy. Florence, I thought about you; this victory, I would like you to see it, to realize how important all the little things of daily life were. Decisive!

Since I was back yesterday, I thought breathing was a bliss. Breathing fresh air coming from the window, listening to my boys walking and talking upstairs. It might only be a break and I enjoyed it as the most beautiful gift of my life. As I stood still, my insensitive leg didn’t know what to do. I lost my balance but I leaned on the wall and managed to move my left foot. Then I slid my right shoulder which was inclined to go a little too far when it didn’t feel the wall. I almost fell! I caught hold with my healthy hand but I was afraid. I just had to go through the door whose edge formed a little barrier. You never noticed these details until they became essential. The little things you considered as pointless turned into mountains for a poor guy like me. I quickly thought about music. “If I can’t get through the toilets alone, how would I be able to find the required precision to play the viola?”

I had to use my whole weight on my left leg, which was not so complicated. I had to think before I made a fatal mistake. I tried to move my right arm. It was heavy, so heavy and cold. A piece of wood. I placed it with my left hand and I pivoted it to go through the damned door. And everything changed. The dead leg jolted a kind of pulsion made it become a leg again. I lost my balance and I rolled on the tiles like a bag of flour.

I closed my eyes on the right spreading in my mind, defeated by what was so natural to me a few days ago. My body , I discovered the weird and unable form to be stable, didn’t obey me anymore. I wanted to cry. I could not fight against my own weight which crushed me on the floor. I was a victim of the universal attraction. I was only a disabled person whose survival only and entirely depended on the others. I thought about the tetraplegics with compassion. Now I could pray more truthfully with devotion. Jesus surely wanted me to understand at that moment. I pulled myself together.

I was discouraged and pessimistic for a few minutes during which I saw the darkest hours of my life, flashes about my unclear but so violent past. I was a child who ran in a pretty large area I couldn’t even define. It looked like a basement, a warehouse. Other people were making fun of me because I jabbered and nobody could understand what I was saying. I was bitten by a watchdog. The scar was still visible on my right hand today. All the screams got through me. I was harshly hit. I felt as if a knife was slashing my left arm just behind my shoulder! I yelled with pain. Later, my parents were told it was a mark of the BCG vaccine! I doubted about it; scars were so big!

I blurrily saw walking men surrounding by vague, long buildings and all these screams of terror, pain.

Everything was dark. These pictures will follow me my whole life! Today, I told me everything took place somewhere between the Russian and Polish border, the countries of my real parents. At least, it was what I thought when I was a child, like the ugly duckling, even though I had no proof other than knocks and bite marks. Moreover, all was confirmed by the revelation of my young and pretty Gypsy, Danya and Veronique in Angouleme and will be later during the numerous therapeutic sessions of sophrology with Ginette Delorme and of reflexology and kinesiology with Beatrice Bobay.

My head against the tiles, in the position of the defeated man, I stayed – for a while – discouraged. This corridor was my battlefield. The force which let me down was my daily foe. Florence would be home soon. I didn’t want her to find me in this position. So I raised my head. A violent pain snipped my neck next to my shoulders. I insisted and I saw the skyline; the slippers of one of my sons were next to the entrance, less than some inches from me… So very far. I saw the door of my room I passed through crawling to go to the toilets and right in front, the door of the music room with all its forbidden treasures. I imagined I could only make some clumsy brush marks with this right hand which didn’t answer my orders.

What time was it? I didn’t know but it was not time to fail. I took care and tried to roll on my left side which still obeyed me and started to lift me up. I did it! I didn’t hear the key in the lock and my mother came in. What did she come? She stopped, surprised to see me in the corridor in that position:

I raised my head a little to look at my dear mom who was always at the door and who didn’t dare to move. I held my tears. “Look what little Eric we named Michel with Dad has become. The kid of the Social Services you came to look for like a dog in a kennel. How many round trips were necessary in 1969 to adopt me legally and definitively. Now I knew they were supervised by the institution very much and controlled very closely by the high authorities of the State. So many sorrows and traumas for my parents and I at this time!”

She bent and tried to lift me up. But I was a big, tall boy and she was a little, dynamic, determined woman who was growing old.

My mother knew me and was used to my ability to minimize my difficulties. She has always supported me but now, as she was right in front of me, she hesitated. How could she help me to get on my feet?

Well now, I needed to miss any of my moves to reassure her, she cared so much about me because of myself and she helped me to “rebuild” – so a delicate mission – after I was adopted. I tried to focus a lot exactly as I did before an important concert or when I had to play a delicate solo. In music, some pieces are so difficult you never know if you are gonna play it correctly even though you have played them a thousand of times. Now was the first, the big boy I was, fourty and a few more years, had to lift him up as a baby. I had to find the balance on my legs and rose my body without losing the balance. What was funny for a baby would be dramatic for me in front of my mother.

I started. I carried the weight of my body on my healthy leg. My mother understood and supported me by the other shoulder. I tried to lift my hand from the tiles. For a while, I had the impression I tipped over but I didn’t. The little bowing of Mom was enough to be on my feet, leaned on the wall. Standing and alive!

In the same time, she held me, anticipated my clumsy moves. And I managed to move my healthy foot, leaned on took a step forward with the wooden leg which followed with being reluctant. I wanted to hug her, tell her how I was happy and all the hope this little success gave to me. And it was once again thanks to her. If she had not arrived at this moment, I would have been sentenced to crawl up in my bed. With Mom, I could show my weakness with no shame and accept what would hurt Florence and the boys so much. I walked as good as I could up to my bed and lied down almost alone. My heart beat strongly. I could not be happier if I had climbed the Mont Blanc!

I was seated on my bed. After this achievement, I announced yo Mom: “In fifteen months, it will be the first big music festival in Timisoara. I’m invited in Romania for the inaugural concert in order to play Michael Haydn’s Double Concerto for organ and viola. I will have time to find all my skills. I’ll be ready!” She smiled and kissed me.

She went out. A few minutes later, Florence arrived. I told her nothing about my misfortune. I pretended to be studying the music sheet. She asked me if I needed something and noticed:

She glanced at me suspiciously and smiled.

I’ll confess my adventure tonight or tomorrow. For the moment, I didn’t want.

Nicolas and Alexandre arrived a few times after. They kissed me and asked me if everything was alright. I smiled at them. Alexandre decided:

Raphael arrived too. He used to coming home later but today, it was one of his “little day” of the week, one of his teachers was not here. He put down his backpack and joined his brothers. Did they understand how good they made me feel in this too tiny bedroom? They didn’t plan anything. It was as if they helped disabled people all their life. Each placed at one corner of the bed and helped me to get up. When I was standing, I asked them to prevent me from falling but to let me try to move forwards by myself. Florence walked first. We arrived to the stairs. They were so strong than I could barely touch the steps. I found in the landing without coordinating my moves.

I asked them for a time to breathe; I leaned on the wall. They were ready to intervene but let me try to move alone. I hardly managed to slide on a few inches like an exhausted old man. They decided to end the sad show and meant me so well they carried me up to the coach where they sat me down.

Florence was so happy to see me there, at my usual place than she went to prepare coffee and brought the cups on the glass table in front of me.

I liked this moment of happiness this little pause in the work I had to do. I was upset by my odyssey to the toilets I didn’t speak about. My rehabilitee was my business, nobody needed to suffer. I knew God was looking at me, this new ordeal will serve my ideal of art and compassion. My several survivals had no other sense. I made some progress since yesterday and everybody could obviously see them, as if it was normal, common. I didn’t need to be held with pillows anymore, I managed to keep my balance and the dinner could take place in the kitchen around our round table in a pleasant atmosphere as usual. I told to myself: “If at that time I was in a rehabilitation center, life would have stopped here and for Florence, for the boys. I would be a seriously-ill person while they consider me as almost healed!”

My boys were gonna find their habits today, especially to talk all in the same time to speak about their days or comment an event they saw. Florence and I would listen to them with more intensity. This recovered joy, our shared happiness which wasn’t taken away by the illness made us optimistic. Even if nobody forgot the sword of Damocles which were above my head. It was a first victory. We really thumbed our nose at sickness!

I told myself at worst if I could not go further in my rehabilitee I would always have my family to be happy. It was the most important! Then I bit my lips. No, no way to concede the abdication. It would be as if I offended God who wanted me to live while Death held me between its claws. It would be disowned the ones I loved and denying myself.

I sincerely think all men have a mission to accomplish, they are on Earth with a goal they cannot always define. But they are pushed in a very precise sense. The structure of mankind can only be built one stone after another and everyone owns its. It can have a particular form, sometimes simple, often complicated and he has to find his place even if this place is smaller than a grain of sand at the bottom of the ocean. I do know the form of my stone and its meaning. I have to be a good architect to put it where it fortifies the wall we are building together. Because I am sure the world has sense. So many complicated balances, diversities cannot exist for nothing.

All of a sudden, Constantin told something which called me to mind:

The way to talk about my unknown origins depressed me at that moment. Though they were right. These two people they were also from, this man and this woman who conceived me, brought me into this world and give up on me for reasons I was not aware of, gave me a lot. Some skills – maybe stubbornness, a little courage, certan artistic feels and probably enough talent to use it for my job – so many good things and only one really bad which ruined my life. And might ruin young Constantin’s and his three big brothers’. They had also unknown origins.

Yes, it was obvious. I had – for them – to shed light on this unknown part of my person. When I will have found a sufficient mobility, I will go to the Social Services, I will move heaven and earth to find this “Maria coming from Russia” and this probably dead father because I was declared as an “orphan” to my adoptive parents. Tonight, no need to ask to the boys to clear the dishes. They worked so fast Florence could not be a part of. When the boys were in their bedroom, I tried to go alone to the restroom. Florence was here, ready to help, but I didn’t made the mistakes of my first attempt. I managed to cross the one hundred inches of corridor alone. It took a lot of time but I was exulting. Florence was also beaming.

We burst into laughter like kids who just told a forbidden story in their parents’ back. Besides, at this moment, we were only two children enthralled by some clumsy steps. I once again thought about sick people who were rehabilitated in specialized centers. Did they conquer their autonomy alone or were they forced to remain in a dependent state to avoid they got hurt?

I was seated in our big white coach and wanted to watch TV a little. But I was quickly tired. My eyes saw more and more badly. I tried to fight. Florence, then the boys came to help in order to get me down to the bedroom. I was a big “survivor”. I had not to forget that. Sick people got to bed early. I didn’t insist and they supported me while I got down dangerously. Nevertheless, Florence had to help me to lie down. I told her I could do it alone but she insisted on affirming I didn’t have to use all my forces at once.

She lied next to me and began to read. I was sick at myself for being an old man. Was such a couple life I wanted to give her? No! In my head, I developed the program for tomorrow, when I will be alone because some things could not be done when there were witnesses.