A Shoaler in the Making, Part 3 by Nelson Linscott
“Joy is of the will which labours, which overcomes obstacles, which knows triumph.” William Butler Yeats
It was April and I worked on my packing list. Making sure you have everything is essential when you are a beat up old guy and your best friend is an even more beat up eleven year-old miniature Australian shepherd. Just the medical equipment, prescriptions, Baxter’s things and his dog food was a substantial load. My anxiety was building. Though I was in treatment for PTSD, the disorder is a constant battle. At home, I didn’t deviate from my unconscious schedule. I don’t swim and I fear water. I avoid groups and certainly don’t seek attention in places I am not familiar with. I’m Buddhist and I didn’t know much about the Universalists. I started dreaming about Star Island on April 14th. In the dream, Baxter was healed and running in open spaces on Star. Since I had only seen photos of the island, my overactive imagination filled in the scenery and people. On April 18th, I came back to Star in a new dream! Though it was April, June 16th was quite a ways to go, I read everything I could find about Star Island. My dreams occurred often and increased in an enlightened discovery of a place I hardly realized even existed a few months before.
As the snow disappeared and the buds of all the trees burst forth in greenery, I traveled around the coast looking out to sea to the islands. Baxter was not walking well, so I bought, with the money my friends and acquaintances gathered together to help me and Baxter, a sling to carry him in. Baxter weighs close to thirty pounds. What was I thinking? My back is in terrible shape with degenerative disc disease. I was thinking of thirty pounds as I thought of it when I was twenty years old. The sling lasted a day. I was hobbling. I thought, “Who will carry me now? Sciatica set in. This is not what I had planned.
I started looking for alternatives. Baxter’s doctor suggested a wheeled contraption that Baxter could be strapped into, lifting his hindquarters off the ground in a harness connected to two wheels. He lent me one. Trying to strap a wiggly, scared dog into one of these carts was difficult. Baxter was horrified and didn’t trust this equipment at all. I returned it the next day. On Amazon, I saw a baby carriage for dogs and with two day delivery and $30 – I soon was pushing Baxter down the road. Baxter loved it! I was still hobbling.
With my back in tatters, I called my pain specialist and agreed, very reluctantly, to epidural steroid injections. I have had several rounds of these shots and I don’t like them and have had very little improvement from them but, “Hey, I am going to Star Island!” In a few days I found myself face down on a table, shirtless under the “C-arm” having my back drilled with needles too big not to be nervous. At least the local anesthesia would give me relief for the afternoon but it would take three days to tell if the injections worked. They did not. Now I was going to rely on ibuprofen and “grin and bear it”. At least Baxter’s problems were solved.
Suddenly it was June. I live in Wallingford Square, Kittery which is the site of Kittery Block Party once a year, every June. It was on the same day as my departure to Star Island. There is no vehicle traffic allowed in the square for the whole day. I carried my baggage from my apartment up the hill to the laundromat to be picked up by my brother, Ronnie, to drive us to Portsmouth. I headed back to get Baxter in his stroller and as I wheeled into the laundromat parking lot, Ronnie pulled in. My heart was pounding in anticipation of the trip. Baxter knew something was going on and was smiling like I was. Off we went.
As I waved goodbye to Ronnie, I had the feeling I was walking into another world. I hadn’t been on a vacation for a decade. Health problems, divorce, poor decisions, continual PTSD and depression had stifled my once indomitable spirit. I stopped, staring at the Thomas Leighton, the people, the river, and took it all in. Suddenly I had cold feet. I was scared. Baxter was fidgeting in his stroller. I got edgy and irritable. “Baxter, take it easy”, I said. I was looking for an excuse to turn around. Change can be a trigger of PTSD. I use an exercise when the “stinkin’ thinkin'” sets in. I physically say “STOP!” and change the direction of my thoughts. I pushed forward. As I neared the people, I heard my name being called. It was Ally Miner, my point of contact, and her smile dissolved all my fears and apprehension. It was the first smile of many I would experience as I checked in and sat with the people also heading to Star Island. My acceptance was unconditional and overwhelming. A tear came to my eye. I was leaving a bag of misery on the dock. I felt like I was home for the first time in a long time, maybe the first time in my life.
Photos by Nelson Linscott