Monday, December 27, 2010

Greatest Christmas gift ever

Morgan and I brought home Max’s shiny new wheelchair on Boxing Day two years ago. It was the most thrilling part of our Christmas that year when we pulled the sparkling chrome contraption out of the box and assembled the various pieces. When put together it looked like a cart with two small mountain bike tires slightly angled at the rear and a couple of metal arms that would run along each side of Max’s body, parallel to his back.

I flipped through the instruction booklet, examining the different straps and clips that would attach the cart to Max, hoping to make his introduction to this apparatus as smooth as possible. But enthusiasm gripped us. We had been searching for a chair for Max for three months by then and had been thinking about it at least four-times as long. In our excitement we descended on him like a pair of ravens investigating a particularly shiny object in the snow.

“The strap goes over his head like this and under his chest.” “No, wait, that’s backwards. Take it off again. It goes like this.” “His leg goes through here. Wait. It has to go in this way. That’s right. His legs go like that and that piece clips in there.”

It was an intense flurry of activity as we poked and prodded, but Max just stood there patiently dipping his head down for a drink from the bowl on the floor in front of him while we pulled and tugged and adjusted straps.

When he was ready, we opened the door and shunted him outside. He stood there for a moment in the fading light, the snow a cool slate blue all around him while we waited anxiously, barely breathing. He took his first step, followed by another and another and then he was trundling around the open area in front of our house, snow caking into the tread on his tires.

“Good boy Max!” both Morgan and I cheered, while Bear skipped about in the snow looking for a ball, completely oblivious to the event at hand. Max looked at us as if to ask what all the fuss was about and was the camera really necessary?

I don’t know what it must have been like for Max to suddenly be able to walk again, to go effortlessly where he wanted to go, but he seemed absorbed in the moment when he trotted down the snow-covered driveway. I had to run to keep up with him.

He planted his great front feet with purpose, one in front of the other pulling him along the road faster and faster while his back legs hung down, scissoring in time with his front legs as though helping to propel him. Max jogged determinedly down the road he hadn’t been able to walk along in months. It was like he had a score to settle.

I suppose he did. By the end of the summer that road had defeated him. He couldn’t go any farther than the end of our driveway before his back legs gave out. I began sneaking past him to take Bear and Murds for walks while he dozed beneath the trees outside our house. More often than not, when we were halfway down the road I would look back over my shoulder and see a tiny Max in the distance his front legs dragging his collapsed backend toward us, sending up small plumes of dust from the dry dirt road. We’d hurry back and I would half-carry an exhausted Max up to the house.

That first evening in his new wheelchair must have felt like a victory. I stopped jogging with him and he continued on his own, barely noticing my absence. I watched him beeline down the road, seeing for the first time the shape I would soon be so accustomed to, as Max became a tiny blue shadow with wings in the half-light of the snowy landscape.


  1. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing this special memory. It brought tears to my eyes, imagining that moment of joy and freedom - from both his perspective, and yours. Maybe one of these days you could do a guest post about Max for my blog. I would love that, if you'd be interested.

  2. Speaking from personal experience drawn when I use my wheelchair, and having witnessed Max in the moment, and hundreds of times after that, I think as Brenda said "joy and freedom" are right.

    Feeling so very much alive, and feeling so capable again.

    Like finally being able to float to the surface of a fast moving river, to leave the spot where your body had settled on you like a stone, and now you are able to simply drift away, floating on freedom once again.

  3. Heather, you write here somewhat quietly but with such purposeful resolve that the achieved effect resounds with deep and authentic feeling and real beauty. The heart simply stops at such prose. You avoid sentimentalizing the situation, as a more immature writer might have; you avoid using easy emotional cliches to catch the reader's emotions. It would have been false to your own heart and, more importantly, to Max's. Under your finger tips, Max and his struggle and his ultimate victory,as well as your own and Morgan's determination to see Max walk again, simply take on a life of some emotional reality. The images of Max stay with me long after I've finished the article: Max slowly dragging his body down the dusty road in pursuit of you. But what stayed with me long into the night was the tiumphant vision of this brave dog on a "beeline" into the distance of this same road now as "a tiny blue shadow with wings in the half-light of the snowy landscape." Your beautifully natural prose finds its own wings just as Max, finding joyous release from his physical imprisonment, takes, once more, to the air. We smile, though somewhat tearfully, with Morgan and you and Max. Powerful writing, Heather. Max will ever run through jade-green meadows and white landscapes.