31 December 2005

fijn eindjaar

Almost four years ago, Counting Crows played a mediocre concert of mediocre songs on an overcast spring day at Yale. "A Long December" was musically no better than the other numbers, but it touched the audience with quiet resignation as Adam Duritz poured melancholy over us beneath a heavy grey sky. Today it becomes our story. I did not mean for it to be painful to you, but perhaps that pain is the price of sanctuary.

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember the last thing that you said as you were leavin’
Oh the days go by so fast

And it’s one more day up in the canyon
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
If you think that I could be forgiven
Wish you would

The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl

And it’s one more day up in the canyon
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
If you think you might come to California
Think you should

Drove up to Hillside Manor sometime after two a.m.
And talked a little while about the year
I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower
Makes you talk a little lower about the things you could not show her

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better that the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

And it’s one more day up in the canyon
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean
I guess I should

I'm moving on to a new year and a new life on both legs. I do need to see the ocean again--I need to remind myself of who I am, and I must do it alone.

30 December 2005

sneering at Beethoven

While gingerly reviewing my senior essay reevaluating McClary's interpretation of Beethoven's Fifth (none of which I remember, as I wrote it practically without sleeping), I dissolved into laughter at the following:

Finally, instead of working with existing materials to reach a resolution in the finale, Beethoven instead introduces a new theme, a new mood, and in fact an entirely new member of the orchestra, the chorus. This leads McClary to ask, “How could any configuration of pitches satisfactorily ground the contradictions set forth over the course of this gargantuan composition?” (Feminine Endings 129). Taruskin expresses a similarly indignant response at this “catastrophic descent:” “Who are all this riffraff, with their beery Männerchöre and sauerkraut bands? Our brothers? And the juxtaposition of all this with the disclosure of God’s presence ‘above the stars?’ No, it is all too much!” (249). The finale rushes onstage and shoves the other movements off as the storyline becomes too grim, and it uplifts the audience with a song and dance. While effective, grandiose, and beautiful, the finale trivializes the material that preceded it, for it answers few, if any, of the painful issues raised throughout the piece. Instead, it distracts listeners with its “beery,” grossly idealistic, and rather male chauvinist message of brotherhood. Even a contemporary critic agreed that the “An die Freude” was a travesty:
Wie konnte ein Mann, der Göthes Geist im Egmont so tief erfaßt hat, solche Trivialität dem Schillerschen Hymnus zur Einleitung geben?…Aber die Behandlung des Schillerschen Textes selbst zieht das hohe, schwungvolle Gedicht tief herab und mißhandelt die Poesie auf eine unbegreifliche Weise. (Berlin Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung 1826, quoted in Kunze 490)


I thought that cleaning the infected wound and removing infected tissue was awful. But now that the infection is gone, it's quite apparent that those buggers ate quite a ways under my skin past the wound, and surgery might be required to remove the skin above it, depending on Dr. Vandenberk's assessment next week. It is not pleasant to watch a significant length of gauze being put into a tunnel beneath your skin. Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew... I was definitely not cut out for the medical profession.

29 December 2005


Thanks to Ben's kind email--which was very much a relief to read--I searched for information on fractures of the femur, and found an article that explained a lot about my experience and the care they gave me in the hospital. It even explained why I had to wear those goddamn anti-embolism stockings, a question I tried in vain to answer for weeks.

The femur is the longest, strongest, and heaviest bone in the body. Exactly how fast was that car going?

27 December 2005


Tonight I discovered that I could dance again (goofily). That was the result of discovering that I could be angry again. I also realized that I am incapable of keeping appointments even when my schedule is nearly empty.

The infected wound on my calf has gotten deeper (almost 4 mm, I'd say) rather than shallower over the past week, so the doctor instructed me to have a nurse clean and dress it daily. Peter was a nice fellow, but admittedly I was glad to think that after my last shot (to maintain my circulation), I would never see him again. No such luck. At least I'm not going to grow feverish and nearly faint every night (and some mornings as well) picking out infected tissue again. The nurse can pack bandages into that thing as much as he pleases, and I ain't gonna look.

I might just be angry enough to go to school tomorrow and start practicing again. Thank you, Lisa. I've never met you, but thank you, thank you, thank you.

24 December 2005

how to attend midnight mass

Alice mentioned midnight mass to me when I joined her family for Christmas Eve dessert, describing it as a service in Dutch after which everyone sang "Silent Night." It hardly sounded exciting, but at 23:50, I googled "midnight mass" and found, to my astonishment, an article at eHow.com entitled How To Attend Midnight Mass, like a direct answer from God above. The mention of lots of music drove me to crutch as fast as ever I have to the OLV-o/d-Dijle kerk. It was my first time back since the accident...and worth every hop-step in the dark. Perhaps to most of the congregation, there was nothing out of the ordinary about it, but to me, attending my first midnight mass on a Christmas Eve that I had expected to spend alone, in a beautiful church, listening to familiar texts being sung in Dutch and reading from medieval notation, it was a wondrous hour. Belgium being small as it is, I ran into Eddy and his family afterwards, as well as church organist Wannes Vanderhoeven. And now I know that the organ is again within my crutching-reach.

Christmas with the Bordleys was fun and filling and finally exhausting. Sandra Collins (yeeeah girl DJs!) and Vello made alternative fashion statements, Sandra with a boy-beater depicting a baby in a soldier's helment declaring, "BORN TO DIE." They're flying to NYC to play at a new year party and then flying back into Belgium. Man. Eddy took out his three-liter bottle of Corsendonk, making the entire crowd happy until Vello inadvertently chugged down the unfiltered dregs. A distracted game of Yahtzee later and I was passed out in a corner. JR made a surprisingly thoughtful call as I miserably contemplated the ceiling...the second one this month. What's on his mind? But nobody wanted me to be driven home... because they were involved in an intense game of dice. Finally Eddy took me downstairs and showed me his beautiful living quarters and to Adegemstraat we went.

23 December 2005


Had a fine evening Christmas shopping by crutching around Mechelen and "crutching" hordes of Belgian holiday shoppers out of my way.
Interesting fact: Turkey, the traditional American Thanksgiving meal, is eaten for Christmas in Belgium. Also, all the cool postcards come from Antwerpen.

17 December 2005


and so tonight i greet the world a crippled twenty-three-year-old. hello world.

01 December 2005

a new life

The nurses woke me early in the morning and gave me a cloth and a little yellow tub of water to wash myself, but they had to do most of the washing for me. Intense pain seized my body each time they shifted me slightly, and as they pulled my broken leg back, I cried out, "Mijn been is gebroken hier!" They laughed, because they already knew, and because I pronounced gebroken as if it was German.

"You sound like you're saying your leg is baked, gebakken!" A few tears leaked from the corners of my eyes. I was not amused. "I think she's scared." They giggled.

They told me I was washing myself for the surgery in half an hour, but my anticipation waned as the empty hours drifted towards noon. Lifting myself for the bedpan was torture, but the only useful action of which I was capable. And suddenly they came at once, and they were wheeling me away. Hands plucked my white teddy bear Snuggles, which Alice had brought the night before with a bag of my things, out of my arms without a word. I reached up weakly after it. "Awww," a nurse exclaimed, but Snuggles was not returned to me.

They wheeled me into a waiting room with three eerily empty beds and left me to wait. I thought alarmedly of patients who had received too little anesthesia and had felt every last incision of their surgeries unable to move or scream and resolved to plead with the anesthesiologist to ensure that did not happen to me. But when Dr. Mattheussen came with warm and caring questions, I was at a loss for words.

Finally the sterile blue and white walls of the operating room slid into place around me. Dr. Vandenberk introduced many people, but I remember only that his lanky young assistant was named Tony.

"I've already performed three surgeries this morning, so I'm warmed up," the doctor said, standing over me smiling. I shuddered as they began to undress the bloody rack. Please don't move my leg from that thing until I'm out, please... please, oh please...

...I couldn't tell whether I was in the same room because it was wheeling relentlessly around me. Tony was standing to my left. "Why does it hurt so much?" I whispered.

He knelt beside me. "On your right side? It's normal." I shook my head fervidly. "But why does it hurt all over my lower body?" Silence. "It's going to be okay." I clasped his outstretched hand and cried myself into darkness.

They were standing to my right, perhaps five of them, silhouetted against the window of my hospital room, everyone and everything spinning out of control around me. Outside, dazzling golden clouds draped themselves against a brilliant blue sky. They stood with their hands folded behind their backs, looking down solemnly at me, silent shadows. The sky shone like a vision from another world, so close, so far. I had to tell them. Did they speak English? "Les nuages sont très beaux," I whispered. They did not react, and the weight of their gazes rested leadenly upon me. It broke my heart that in the midst of such beauty, all they could see was sadness. But then they too spun away into the void.

Nightmares began to wake me repeatedly in the evening, alone there in the dark, my shocked body drugged with untold amounts of narcotics. Vision after terrifying vision passed before my eyes until Tom arrived, and thank god he did, because the night would have been unbearable without him there to anchor me in reality whenever I awoke crying or screaming. I babbled deliriously to him, offering every appropriate and inappropriate thought that swept into my mind in my desperation to fling forth words that would hook into the reality that kept slipping away from me. "You must be so exhausted," I said in a moment of relative clarity, ashamed that he had been sitting at my bedside for hours as I prated. "Please, go home if you need to."

"Are you kidding?" he asked incredulously. "I'm not leaving you like this."

I surfaced into rationality and drowned in madness time after time, tossing my head from side to side to fling away the visions, trying to sleep but terrified of what awaited me in my waking dreams, until finally I awoke from a long doze at 2 am to find myself fully and sanely conscious. Tom fell asleep in a chair across the room, still keeping me company in that now mercifully empty darkness until sunrise.

The hospital had kept me on a strict diet of white bread, but on Sunday they brought me a hot, steaming lunch with witloof soup. I could only pick at the main course, but as I smelled the soup deeply, I realized it was the first real food I had enjoyed since Friday. Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks.

And so my recovery progressed, visitors came, my table filled with flowers and cards, and my closet filled with lovingly chosen inpatient clothes from Alice. She and her husband brought me homemade tomato soup and newspapers in which the same article appeared:
Fietser gewond
MECHELEN - Aan de Uilmolenweg gebeurde een zwaar ongeval. Aan het kruispunt met de Stuivenbergbaan werd een 22-jarige vrouwelijke fietser gegrepen door een auto toen ze de rijweg overstak. Het slachtoffer werd met ernstige, maar geen levensgevaarlijke verwondingen naar het ziekenhuis gevoerd.
I was perfectly outraged. The police had omitted every interesting detail possible. An American student studying the carillon in Belgium had been hit by a car! I had nearly attained carillon martyrdom or sainthood, nearly outdone Jo himself. But luckily for me, that honor must wait.

"Did you know that there was a terrible three-car pileup on Saturday morning, and they brought the victims here?" Alice asked me. I thought of the three empty beds in the waiting room. My operation had been delayed because others had arrived more seriously injured than me. I had been fortunate...

Sessions with the physical therapist became the highlight of each day, as he brought me first a walker and then crutches and taught me to "walk" further and further from my room. My parents flew in on Tuesday from San Francisco despite my protestations, and a few minutes after they saw me for the first time, a hesitant, unfamiliar woman appeared at my door. Sensing who she was, I beckoned to her to enter, and she introduced herself in Dutch as the driver of the car that had hit me: Emilia. She looked from my crutches to me sitting at the table and back at the crutches and began to cry. We could hardly communicate in each other's languages, but I reassured her as best as I could that I wasn't angry at her, not at all, and gave her a hug--she seemed to need it most of anyone in the room.

On Thanksgiving Day, I was released from the hospital earlier than expected, but when I called Alice, she already knew. The day before, her neighbor had come rushing in to tell her, having heard the news from her husband, a colleague of Dr. Vandenberk.

Marie-Claude drove me to the BAEF luncheon that I had been planning to attend for weeks. Right on schedule (well, 40 minutes late, and I couldn't give the carillon concert I had promised). As we held up our glasses around the long, elegant table, Dr. Boulpaep declared that most of all they were thankful to have me there, but I could not help but be thankful most of all for the miracle that had been my disaster. You see, today at home I saw my bicycle for the first time. I had expected it to be crumpled in half, having sacrificed itself for me, taken the brunt of the impact. I brought a close friend along to ensure that someone would tear me away from the thing when I threw my arms about its broken frame and tried desperately to revive it. But when I hobbled into the foyer and opened my eyes, bracing for the worst, my bike stood in near perfect condition before me, gleaming silver in the light. A bent fork, an out-of-true wheel, a frayed brake cable, handlebars off axis...

I was incredibly fortunate to emerge from the accident with only a broken leg, my bike came through with perfectly reparable damage, and even my five-euro windbreaker showed no sign of the disaster that had befallen its wearer. My guardian angel was watching over me that day as I wheeled jubilant and free out of Vrijbroek park--and my guardian angel Alice then took up the slack.

Outraged as I am about it, I simply cannot remember my life flashing before my eyes or my body being flung into the windshield. But during those days in the hospital, I lived my life from a new beginning to the present. I arrived screaming and crying in the hospital, frightened and helpless. Two kindly Belgians rushed in to take me in as their own child. I could do nothing for myself, couldn't move my leg a few millimeters when it was seized with pain, couldn't use the toilet, couldn't shower. I had no idea what the back of my bed or the wall behind it looked like until the physical therapist taught me to walk again, and each day my world grew as I huffed and puffed further down the hallway, and eventually up the stairs and back down. Slowly, I began to discover the world, to regain independence as I struggled into the bathroom for the first time and washed my own hair after the nurses had told me it would be impossible that day. Alice brought my English-Dutch dictionary, and because some of the nurses spoke only Dutch, I learned to talk as well as walk again. With visitors streaming in each evening, I discovered new friends I'd never known I had.

And finally, on the day of my coming-of-age, I struggled awkwardly into business casual with my parents' help and huffed and puffed my way out of the hospital into the 'real' world. That world had never seemed so perilous before--bitter cold, rainy, filled with roaring traffic, lined with narrow, unprotected cobblestone sidewalks and uneven steps, sprouting slippery, narrow nineteenth-century stairways--so many obstacles that could threaten an exhausted, helpless woman on crutches.

But even in my room at home now, the world reveals new gifts. The first snow of the season graced my second night here. A card arrived from Kim in Texas, telling me she had been unable to play for six weeks in Mechelen after breaking a finger, but that her playing had improved as a result. My aunts and uncles in Australia and Hong Kong sent me flowers and offered to buy me a used car, showering generosity and caring upon me beyond my imagination. My new flatmate Wendy heard me sobbing one night, and although we were barely acquaintances, she came and plucked me off my bed, talked sense into me, and resolved to take me home for Christmas so I won't spend it alone on my crutches in this little room.

Soon, we'll be out there again, me and my other half, wheeling out into the unknown, alive as ever, reborn.