Why is my body betraying me? I’m only twenty-seven years old. This shouldn’t be happening, not to me. I sit down in the waiting room on one of the unsightly chairs that is the color of dijon mustard. I stare at the large, capital letters that spell “Neurology” above the door in front of me, and I know that this is happening to me.
My nervous system is having a nervous breakdown.
The door opens, the nurse calls my name, and I stand. There is a perfect beat, like a metronome, as I walk. My right foot smacks the white tile in 4/4 time. The symptom is called drop foot, which is fitting because my foot just…drops. Like a sack of bricks. My left foot lands with a quiet step like normal; my right foot is heavy and makes a resounding thwack that lets everyone in the room know there’s something wrong with me.
The doctor tells me what I already know. I have multiple sclerosis. An incurable and often debilitating disease. He orders more tests so he can make an official diagnosis, and we talk about treatment. There’s a gift of mild relief in finally having answers.
I leave, trying to hold on to that small comfort. But the clinic is large, meaning so is the parking lot. It’s a long, daunting walk to my car. I’m hobbling down the sidewalk, loathing the sound my right foot makes as it slaps the ground. I can’t control it. My foot rolls beneath me. I fall, hard, onto the concrete. And no matter how desperately I try, I can’t get up.
Everything else has beaten me down over the past few weeks, so why not gravity too?
Again, I try to stand. I literally cannot. I can’t understand why. Why does this simple act feel like a mountain that I’ll never be able to climb? I attempt to use the bricks lining the garden beside the sidewalk as leverage, but even that doesn’t work. There’s nothing else to grab on to, to pull me over this precipice. I’m ready to give up, to throw in the towel. All I want to do is sit here on this sidewalk and weep.
Before I can concede the battle against the invisible force, the driver-side door of a red Honda Civic parked in front of the sidewalk opens. A man with dark, golden skin and salt-and-pepper hair gets out. He has a kind, aged face. His windbreaker is a lighter, more cheerful shade of yellow than the chairs inside the clinic. He steps up onto the sidewalk and offers me his hand. I take it, careful not to give him too much of my weight.
“Are you all right?” he asks as he helps me to my feet.
“I’m fine,” I lie.
My right ankle is definitely sprained. But, oh well. That foot barely worked before anyway. I’m just happy to be vertical.
He asks me if I’m sure. I tell him I am. I say a quick thank you before rushing off to my car as fast as my wretched foot allows. Once tucked safely within the driver’s seat, I cry. It’s not until now that I realize I had been rescued from losing whatever hope I had managed to hold on to. If it had not been for the man I’m sure was my guardian angel, I would still be stuck, struggling, as that last flame of hope died.
I will probably never see him again. The man who saved me on that sidewalk.
Chelsea Thornton is a neurodivergent writer from Texas. She is also a BA student in English literature, an editor for The Aurora Journal, and a reader for The Forge Literary Magazine. Her short fiction has been published in Maudlin House, Bewildering Stories, Emerge Literary Journal, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @chelseactually or online at chelseathornton.com