Taking Up Space

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I am five feet ten inches tall with a frame that, while it can’t be termed slender, certainly isn’t large or rotund. Average would probably the best way to describe it, given my age and weight. So for a guy of my stature, why do I feel like Fat Albert?

In fact, I often feel like I take up the space of a person three to four times larger, but never when I am sitting down or sleeping. I only feel this way when I am mobile, particularly when I am unleashed on the public, or if I am in close quarters. And it does not matter if I am home, at work, or outside.

You see, even with a cane, I wobble from side to side when I walk, courtesy of the bad leg and lousy balance. Walking in a straight line is almost impossible, so much so that I have wondered what would happen if I ever got pulled over at a sobriety checkpoint. If a breathalyzer wasn’t administered,  the cops would probably slap on the cuffs in a heartbeat watching me stagger around.

Not only do I wobble, but will careen to my right or left whenever my foot doesn’t clear the walking surface and I stub my toe, which is a daily occurrence. Whenever possible, I use a handrail. If those aren’t available, I try to have part of my hand on a wall, or make sure a wall is within arm’s reach.

Anyone who sees me coming will often veer off to the opposite side of the road/hall/sidewalk/room. Perhaps they are being polite and don’t want to obstruct my path, but I think it’s because they see someone unsteady on their feet approaching whom they don’t want to get entangled with. These are the smart ones.

I can no longer stop on a dime either, having lost that talent years ago. So if someone is turning a corner and I’m right in front of them, I have to place my hand on their shoulder to keep them from running me over. If they, or anyone for that matter who is coming at me and hasn’t been paying attention until the last moment, tries to get out of my way the same time I am trying to avoid them, I can tumble to the ground even if we don’t collide. I can zig, you see, but not zig-zag. That sudden shift causes a loss of balance, triggering the laws of gravity.  This is a fate I try to avoid at all costs, and have managed to circumvent so far.

Narrow office hallways, which seem like the norm from my perspective, are always fun. It can be snug for able bodied people to pass one another in these conditions. Me? If the oncoming person doesn’t see me coming and step aside, which happens about half of the time,  I stop, place my back to the wall, and let them pass.

At home, and particularly in the kitchen and laundry areas, I feel enormous. That’s because as K is darting about in her typical multi-taking mode, I try to lend a hand, but often wind up getting in her way, which can be annoying for the both of us. Annoying to her since she can’t operate at the speed she wants to because I seem to be in the way at every turn, and annoying for me because I’m trying to help, to feel like a productive member of the household, and feel like I am anything but, which only magnifies my physical shortcomings.

To feel perfectly secure, I need a safety zone around me that is about three feet in circumference. With those three feet, I am not a danger to anyone else or myself. I have enough space to ensure I won’t be bumping into anyone, or be in danger of being bumped into and falling. I won’t be a nuisance to anyone either because I won’t be in their way.

That is what I want and need, but it isn’t something that can be demanded or communicated. Folks who have known me for a while know to give me a wide berth and do so willingly and without judgement. Sometimes they go a little overboard by offering to do stuff I am capable of doing, which can be annoying, but their heart is in the right place.

In public places though, like an airport, like Fenway Park, the mall, or the grocery store, not so much. It certainly isn’t as easy to negotiate these kind of environments as it used to be, but I have learned to become hyper-vigilant in these situations in terms of who is entering and leaving my orbit. My one blind spot is, obviously, what is behind me. If I suddenly stop, and somone walking behind me is looking at their phone instead of what is in front of them, the resulting collision could be nasty. This has happened only once, in an airport, but I was fortunate enough to have my cane planted in front of me, which allowed me to push back and remain upright as my knee crumpled and I was on the verge of going down in a heap

Here is the irony: on one hand I can become agitated about how oblivious and rude people can be in these situations, and bemoan the fact they are so self-absorbed they can’t or won’t pay attention when someone like me is around. On the other hand, I get agitated at myself when I become aware of these feelings. Why? Because I have never wanted nor expected special privileges or accommodations, other than parking, for my condition because that would be conceding that I am damaged, or somehow less of a person. It is therefore my responsibility to be acutely aware of my surroundings, not their’s.

So yeah, I need room to operate, but understand it isn’t something I should feel bad or  self-conscious about. This inconvenient truth isn’t something that is going to prevent me from going where I want to go either, as seven trips to Fenway this season prove.

Besides, it could be worse. I could be in a wheelchair, which would not only consume more space than I currently require, but restrict what I can do and where I can go. So I’ll happily keep the status quo, as frustrating as it can sometimes be.

Author: Steve Markesich

I am loving husband, a doting father, a Red Sox fanatic, an aspiring novelist and MS advocate. Feel free to check out my stevemarkesich.com web site.

10 thoughts on “Taking Up Space”

  1. Although we are facing a lot of different challenges due to the differences in our conditions, I am so often struck by how completely I relate to so much of what you write about. I have tried to explain the feeling of taking up too much space, to family and friends, but I think they have a hard time understanding it. I am going to share your post with them, as you have explained it beautifully, Steve. Although admittedly on the chunky side, I am just over 5’0 tall , and still small in stature, even with the unwanted pounds. But, when I am walking around, I feel as if I take up so much space. I find the constant vigilance to be exhausting at times, but know the independence is so important. At home, I often feel the same as you, in the way as Joe rushes around and I try to help, while tripping over animals and end tables and whatever else may be lying around. I also stub my toes with regularity, which I find very frustrating. I guess this is my very long winded way of saying, I totally get it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I hear you. The three feet I mentioned also protects anyone around me so should stuble and fall, and also prevents me from accidently bumping into things and knocking them over.

      Keeping my fingers crossed that the light bulb goes on for folks you share this with.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Since you have seen me walk and know that we both walk very similarly (except I haven’t found my glenda or zorro yet), I think you do quite well. I also think that you deserve the 3 feet all the way around you, and should raise you head high while you are taking every inch!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sometimes we get what we don’t want. The hard part is coping with the knowledge of what it is doing to you. Sometimes I wish I was unaware or so self-absorbed I wouldn’t care. BUT. That’s not going to happen for me, and I don’t think you either. Sorry, my friend. Ever thought of wearing a hoop skirt? That may be too intimidating. Well, maybe K could just pick you up a hula hoop with suspenders… make way for the dude with the hula hoop! (You know I like guys with canes, very dapper, so I’d probably be the first person to get in your way!) Personal space is an art form… may it become stylish once again, like personal hygiene. Fingers crossed!

    Liked by 2 people

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