The Agony of D'Feet
We arrived at the park where it began, and Gloria Estafan music bubbled loudly from two speakers held by metal stands. We checked in and were provided shirts. I went behind a bush and peeled off the shirt I wore, replacing it with my new one. We then walked to a quiet spot by the river within earshot of the festivities and began one of our usual conversations peppered with horribly dark humor other people would likely find offensive and tried to relax. When it was time to take team photos, we remained steeped in our anonymous, private spot and continued to talk until the walk began. When my friend spotted bobbing, colorful helium balloons, he jokingly complained he didn't receive a "f*cking balloon." I quickly offered to approach a volunteer and ask for just that. And right f*cking now. He laughed at the overly sweet tone I used to express such profanity.
The Walk to D'Feet ALS is not a race. There are no numbers to pin to your T-shirt or striated, muscular legs bouncing nervously about at the beginning of the thing ready to lead the way. This is because ALS takes your ability to ambulate on your own completely from you. If you can walk at all, you are ahead of the game. There were just barely enough people to classify us all as a crowd. The T-shirt I wore said, "Walk to Defeat ALS. Because you can." An ominous string of brand new, empty wheelchairs on display lined the starting area. I tried not to look at them. I made the assumption that most of the people walking were friends or family of those who had passed away from ALS. Many wore stickers that stated they were walking in memory of someone. I only saw a few men in motorized wheelchairs, and they zipped by us with gusto. It was obviously a struggle for one man to speak. Another man sagged forward in his seat, surrounded by loved ones smiling and laughing. My friend noted that he did not see many people with oxygen tanks and ventilators to indicate they have the type that he himself has been stricken with (bulbar onset). I nodded and then glumly noted I saw nobody at all fitting that description.
Not a good sign.
It was strange attending another fundraiser for anything other than WS. Apparently, George W. Bush recently approved a patient registry for those with ALS, which is a step in the right direction. I know what it's like to grapple with something that has no cure, but I do not know what it is like to eventually forfeit the last of your hope and die from it. Amazingly, my friend still has hope most days, despite his slowly progressive symptoms. If anyone can beat this thing, he can. After all, he is the most bullheaded, stubborn bloke I know. He tells me constantly that he is a "gamer." Because of this, it is still really difficult for me to see anything but his strength. He also hides his pain from me. I am largely blind to his physical difficulties, so when they are visible to me, I am positively shocked. As the weeks go by, however, I find myself less and less shocked by the frequent trips to the hospital and the breathing treatments.
We began the walk, and it became clearly apparent I had consumed way too much caffeine. I was very edgy and felt like shooting someone. I was soon able to relax and began to enjoy the sights along the river. We passed beautiful girls clad in Lycra exercising and families lounging at metal tables enjoying juicy hamburgers at a local restaurant. We provided a running commentary of it all, as we usually do. We caught the scent of food sizzling on grills and seafood smoking and groaned obscenely. He apologized for needing to stop halfway at a park shelter to rest. He seemed to be in thinly-veiled agony, fighting one leg that didn't want to cooperate, but he continued anyway, limping to various degrees along the trail. Despite this, we were not last. One more team finished behind us, and we found this perfectly acceptable.
We finished the walk, quietly exited the park, and began our search for food, which my friend now has trouble enjoying because of swallowing and resultant lung infection issues, for which he is on IV antibiotics now. He devoured a respectable amount of food, anyway. To my amusement, the bartender was politely warned that although I definitely looked the least frightening of the two of us, I was horribly dangerous without food in front of me. He laughed at this and hurried to get our plates, which came to us hot enough to raise blisters on our fingertips. We dined on shrimp, chicken, and crab in front of a football game playing out on the screen above us. I savored the way my glass of chilled pinot gris perspired in my palm.
And I tried not to think about next year's walk.