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New Life, No Instructions: A Memoir

New Life, No Instructions: A Memoir

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Published by wamu885
An excerpt of "New Life, No Instructions: A Memoir" by Gail Caldwell. Copyright © 2014 by Gail Caldwell. Reprinted by permission of Random House. All Rights Reserved.
An excerpt of "New Life, No Instructions: A Memoir" by Gail Caldwell. Copyright © 2014 by Gail Caldwell. Reprinted by permission of Random House. All Rights Reserved.

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Published by: wamu885 on Apr 01, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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04/07/2014

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Cald_9781400069545_3p_all_r3.indd 5 1/14/14 2:27 PM
1.
 
Cambridge
2
0
11
 
M
y first tip-off that the world had shifted was that
t
h
e dogs looked lower to the
ground.
I dismissed the
 p
e
c
ep
t
i
on
 as a visual misread: Because I was on crutches and
co
u
l
dn
t
 bend down to touch them, of course they would seem
a
r-
ther away. Then a friend came to visit, a striking
w
o
m
a
n
whom I’d always
considered
tall. She was
standing
a
c
o
ss the living room and I was smiling, happy to have her
t
h
e
e
,
and I
thought,
Tink
is small! And I never realized it
be
 f 
o
re
.
 The fact is that Tink is
about
my size, but until that day I had looked up to her in more ways than one. I was j
u
st
home from five days at New England Baptist
Hosp
i
t
a
l
,
where the chief of joint
reconstruction
had built me a
n
e
w
hip and
lengthened
my right leg by five-eighths of an i
n
c
h.
 The
measurement
sounds deceptively slight, but then
 p
i
,
 
5
 
 
Cald_9781400069545_3p_all_r3.indd 6 1/14/14 2:27 PM
Gail
 C
a
 
l
 d
w
 
e
 
ll
 
unexplained,
doesn’t mean much, either. What the e
xtend
ed
hip
 bought
me was
about
two inches of
additional height,
 because I was no longer bending
forward
in pain. It gave
m
y leg
something immeasurable:
an ability to reach the g
ound,
and the chance and
anatomical equipment
to walk right f 
o
r
the first time in my lif 
e.
 Almost as
dramatic,
at least in the
 beginning,
was the
e-
orientation
of my physical self in space. My
 p
e
s
 p
ec
t
ive had been jolted to the point that trees and cars and
o
t
h
e
r
markers
of street life felt closer to me, within reach in a
w
a
y they hadn’t before. I could sense the effort involved in
m
a
- ing these neural
adjustments:
In a simple
movement
like
a
step
forward, particularly outside,
there would be a lurch
o
f visual
confusion,
then
acceptance.
It
happened
quickly
a
nd
 brilliantly,
and my
comprehending
it changed eve
y
t
hin
g: What had seemed to be mere dizziness was in fact the
 b
a
i
n
s
 ba
lle
t
.
 These were
transient phenomena,
the brain being a
nimble
choreographer
of time and space. Within a few weeks I would be
accustomed
to the
additional
height and leg le
ng
t
h
; our bodies, perfect feats of design,
respond
to what is i
n
front of them, usually
without
even
 bothering
to let us
kno
w
.
But the dance I found myself doing with the physical
w
o
l
d
in the first few days and weeks after surgery signaled
some
- thing larger, more
long-lasting,
that I would have to le
a
n
and relearn in the
following
year: the
notion
that life has
a
n
agency, some will and
forward motion,
greater than
on
e
s own wish or
intention.
The force that
through
the gree
n
 
6
 
 
Cald_9781400069545_3p_all_r3.indd 7 1/14/14 2:27 PM
 N
e
 
w
L
 i fe, No I
n
 
s
 
t
 r
u
 
c
 
t
 ion
s
 
 fuse drives the flower,
Dylan
Thomas
called it. The i
d
e
a
that the whole blessed shebang doesn’t have to be a free f 
a
ll after
all
.
 I caught polio when I was six
months
old, in 1951,
du
i
ng
one of the last years of the U.S. epidemic, before the v
a
c- cines. The virus, which destroys
neurons,
can lead to full
o
r
 partial permanent paralysis;
it affected the muscles in
m
y right leg, and I didn’t walk until I was past the age of
t
w
o.
Still, the mark on my family’s door was relatively f 
a
in
t
: no
March
of Dimes crutches or iron lung, just a
a
l
t
e
i
n
g leg that often went
unnoticed.
The fact of the
d
ise
ase
 —
important
 but hardly
central—had
long been i
n
co
 po
a
t
ed
into my
shorthand self-description: writer,
grew up in
T
e
x
a
s
,
slight limp from polio. Part of the story I’d told myself
a
ll my life was that polio had made me a
fighter—that
I
w
a
s hell-bent on being strong because of it—and that much
w
a
s still true. But in the past few years, within the joys and
d
e- mands of raising a young dog, I had begun to e
xp
e
i
enc
e  pain and lameness I’d never
known
 before. The mystery
o
f this decline cast a
shroud
of defeat over what I feared l
a
y
ahead.
It seemed that the
aftereffects
of the disease had
e- emerged, ghostly and
conniving,
like a stalker who’d
n
eve
r
left
to
w
n.
 And then: A
standard
X-ray,
ordered probably
fi
ft
ee
n
years after it was called for, revealed that the
scaffolding
o
f my hip was a
 junkyard
of bone.
However compromised m
y leg had been by polio, muscles can’t work
without
a
st
u
c- ture to hold them up. That I had been walking
around
at
a
ll
,
 
7
 

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