In 2001 I was in a terrible motorcycle accident and lost the use of my right arm. My left arm has a congenital condition whereby it is quite a bit shorter and I have four fingers. That’s important information for the story.
Also, I believe that all great stories are love stories.
In Plato’s Republic it’s said that when Zeus created people we had four arms, four legs and two heads. We had so much fun we stopped listening to the gods. So in his anger Zeus cut us in half so now we have two arms, two legs and one head. But we’re always looking for our other half, we are always looking to reconnect. (I love what Zeus said after that, ‘and if you don’t knock it off you’re going down to one leg.’) I have a friend who is a psychiatrist. His practice mostly involves working with returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. He says the sentence that has saved more lives than any other is ‘you will find love again.’
Here’s the story…
I’m sitting in the coffee shop, carefully sorting my bus change. This is a strange-looking ritual, but after my accident when the bus comes I’ve got to be ready to spring into action.
As careful as I am, a quarter drops to the floor.
I know if I take off my shoe and sock, I could get it. My feet have become downright prehensile over the last few months. Not that I can deal a round of blackjack, and I totally understand it if you don’t want me to open your can of Sprite, but I could get that quarter. I feel my head getting hot, and people around me are beautiful and healthy and smoking, and I, like Richard III, “sent before my time into this world, scarce half-made-up. Since I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair, well-spoken days, I’m determined to prove a villain.” In other words, sometimes I just lose it. But not today. I let the quarter go.
Part of everyday life if you have a disability is frustration. It’s a given.
But there are times when information and emotion simply overwhelm. At these times, it’s imperative to have an advocate, somebody who can think clearly and speak for you. Because if you can’t find a person, you will develop a persona. Someone you don’t like very much but will get the job done. I have an alter ego, and he’s based on Richard III, the ruthless king depicted by William Shakespeare. My Richard is from northern Minnesota, so I call him “Dick da Tird “. And he is a massive jerk.
I came across him during performance where an able body actor played Richard the Third.
He put a glove on with one hand that sent the audience into hysterics, I thought, ‘Wow if this place saw me put my socks on there wouldn’t be a dry seat in the house.’ But he did a good job for an able-bodied man, but best of all he was ruthless. He seemed like the perfect channel for when darkness overwhelms me. I can just say, ‘That wasn’t me that was Dick.’
But the problem with Richard was, he never found love. And he says that in his first soliloquy. He says, the reason he’s a villain is because he never found love. And to me love is imperative.
Even Frankenstein’s monster finds he needs love. He goes out in search of a mate and when that proves fruitless, he demands his creator, Dr. Frankenstein, build him someone to love. This is when Dr. Frankenstein learns the dilemma of creation, when you have created a monster how do you stop? Mary Shelley was only 19 years old when she wrote this book, where did she acquire this wisdom?
My favorite ending is ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’ It starts out with the description of the cemetery. ‘To that deep charnel house, where so many human remains and so many crimes have rotted in company, many great ones in this world, many innocent people, have contributed their bones. As for the mysterious disappearance of Quasimodo, about 18 months or two years after the events which terminate this story, they found among all those hideous carcasses two skeletons, one of which held the other in its embrace. One of these skeletons was that of a woman; the other, which held this one in a close embrace, was the skeleton of a man. It was noticed that his spinal column was crooked, his head seated on his shoulder blades and that one leg was shorter than the other. Moreover, there was no fracture of the vertebrae at the nape of the neck, and it was evident that he had not been hanged. Hence, the man to whom it had belonged had come thither and had died there. When they tried to detach the skeleton which he held in his embrace, he fell to dust.’
So there we are, the grotesque holding tight to beauty, beauty embraced by the grotesque, light surrounded by shadow, and our lives rounded by a little sleep.
I’ve learned a lot from the accident, it’s a gift though not one I would’ve chosen for myself. I no longer have tolerance for heartless actions, it takes very little to make me cry, and most of all… I don’t want to become Richard the Third, but I can see how it happens.
Back in the coffee shop I take out another quarter and head to the bus stop.
Kevin Kling, storyteller/author, lives in Minnesota. His plays have been produced worldwide including off Broadway’s Second Stage Theater. He has received numerous awards including the Whiting and an NEA grant and was named the Minneapolis Storyteller Laureate in 2014. He has written five books.