And one night he starts to do that. He just decides he's going to go, with no idea where; he is going to sail away forever. But then, as he is heading out to sea, he starts to think about what he has in his life, how grateful he is for his wife and his children. Because, during the days, you see, he's changed. His kids are less afraid of him, and they're playing with him, and his wife . . . they're clearly in love. He is coming out of his depression.
So here he is doing the thing that he loves most for himself, thinking that he could sail on and forget the world. But along the way he begins to realize what he is leaving behind. He turns the boat around and comes back. And he goes straight to the dock of the older man who has always loved this boat. He ties up right at the dock, and when the old man comes down to greet him, our man says, "Here, this is for you." He gives up the boat. He no longer needs it. And he goes back to the hospital, and he wakes up, and he's frozen and he's a quadriplegic again. But he has an entirely new basis for the future with his family and toward recovery.
That's the gist of it. Of course the story comes from my experience, but it's not my story. I'm different from this man because my family saved me at the very beginning. When a catastrophe happens it's easy to feel so sorry for yourself that you can't even see anybody around you. But the way out is through your relationships. The way out of that misery or obsession is to focus more on what your little boy needs or what your teenagers need or what other people around you need. It's very hard to do, and often you have to force yourself. But that is the answer to the dilemma of being frozen-at least it's the answer I found.
Yet these dreams of being able to move and to live again in your former life can be very real, very powerful. When I was in denial about my condition, they were even stronger. And it's always a shock in the morning when you wake up and realize where you are. You think: This can't be my life. There's been a mistake. It took a lot of adjustment. It still does. Less so now than it did.
I wake up in the morning. I sleep with my mouth open, so my throat is excruciatingly dry because of the drugs I'm on and the lack of humidity in the room. I may have spasmed to a very uncomfortable place, and my neck is often twisted into a painful position. And I'm lying in this narrow bed, alone, because it's not big enough for Dana to share, though she always sleeps in the same room with me. She has a single bed next to me so we can be near each other and talk and wake up and know we're together.
On Memorial Day 1995 I was headed down to Culpeper, Virginia, with my horse, Buck, to compete in a combined training event. I was getting to be a pretty good rider; I had taken up the sport about ten years earlier, when I was cast as Vronsky, a captain in the cavalry in a film version of Anna Karenina and wanted to do some of my own riding. I had been allergic to horses since childhood, but to prepare for the part I loaded up with antihistamines and took daily lessons at a barn on Martha's Vineyard, where I usually spent part of the summer. By the end of a month of intensive training, I could walk, trot, canter, and gallop fairly respectably. The horse was a huge Trakehner stallion named Good Boy; but when Charlotte, my instructor, would say "good boy" in a praising tone, she wasn't talking to me.
I went off to Budapest in the fall of 1984 to begin filming and quickly discovered that the other riders in the movie were members of the Hungarian national equestrian team. One of the highlights of the story is a steeplechase in which Captain Vronsky's horse is injured and he has to shoot him on the spot. I didn't feel quite ready (to say the least) to jump four-foot hedges at twenty-five miles an hour, but I did feel prepared to gallop on the flat along with the team rather than use a double. In the nineteenth century races had no starting gates; the riders walked their horses around in a circle, and when the starter dropped the flag everyone turned from the position he was in and started down the track. I asked the team coach how I would know when to start if I was facing away from the flag, and he replied, in his thick, broken English, "When your horse sees others are going, he is going too." This proved to be a major understatement. The cameras rolled; the flag dropped; the professional riders spurred their horses; and suddenly I was flying down the course in the middle of the group, going so fast we outran the camera truck that was supposed to keep pace alongside us. After a couple of takes the director gave the truck more of a head start.
Use of this excerpt from Still Me by Christopher Reeve may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Christopher Reeve. All rights reserved
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