Staggering the Line

The line I stagger, the line many people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) stagger, walk, or straddle, wavers over time, from time to time. It jumps, rolls. It scribbles.

Line 1

In the exam room, we walk the line, heel-toe, if we can. When we can. The line does not reveal itself, nor does it reveal the effort exerted to trace its trajectory. We imagine the line there before us, a tightrope. Someone is usually there to catch us, white sleeved safety net, in case we stumble.

Line 2

The line divides. Some say the line defines us. On one side we are disabled. On the other, we are able-bodied. What is seldom recognized is that for people with RRMS, that line is hard to locate. I’ve sent out search parties, but none have returned. Meanwhile, the arch of my left foot absorbs the line and holds it as numbness. At such moments, the line reminds me of its potential to push me one way or another.

Or is the line ever-permeable, a barrier that absorbs qualities from either side? Quite possibly, this is where I live. It has its comforts.

Line 3

The line wants to determine our needs. If symptom y is x, then treatment z is needed. I never know when. At what point, for instance, are steroids needed? The line determines certain treatments to be necessary even if you haven’t crossed the line. In this regard, the line categorizes us all as one. Take your medicine, the line says, regardless of symptom. For some, its necessity is hard to believe. It might be easier to understand, in time. Some say the treatment’s worse than the medicine. I’ve been there. But there are many medicines now, says the line, encouragingly. The line reminds us of illness, but the line reminds us of life. These are not opposites.

Line 4

The line says keep moving along, as long as possible. The line claims to be infinite. Sometimes the line says cane or it says walker. The line says wheels and chair. The line tries to measure necessary assistance, who needs what and for how long. The line told me long ago, “You don’t need recordings for the blind. This is temporary.” Just how temporary, the line never divulges. The line has also told me, “You don’t need a scooter. Think of the money. You can still muddle through in the heat.” During the year I couldn’t drive, I thought of installing hand controls in my car, but never did. Seven years later, my hand quit, crossed the line.

Where is the equation measuring the bisecting lines of need and time? If we had one, would we trust it? Would it know us?

Line 5

If I lay all my canes on the floor tip to tip, they form a single line. The walker, the chair, are intricate, sturdy sets of lines. The wheel, if you unpeel it, is an unending line. Harmless. These lines can be stronger than any dividing line.

Have you ever seen through a line? After MS affected my vision, I wore bifocals for a while to help me read. My gaze often rested on the line between the upper (distance) and lower (near) portions of the lens. This beveled edge blurred and burned as it caught light, too painful, but also a reminder of my recovery. As though near and far folded in on themselves, the line diminished any difference or division, any clarity, leaving only an indefinable haze for a moment, until I turned my gaze elsewhere.

The other day, in line at the post office, I was instructed to tape my own package. The dispenser was heavy and cumbersome. Instead of a straight line, the tape came out folded or crinkled, its “Priority Mail” inscrutable. How could I tell the clerk that I needed help when I appeared fully able? I crumpled the tape I couldn’t use into a large tangled ball, and kept trying to get the lines straight.

13 Appreciate this

Laurie Clements Lambeth, Author

Laurie Clements Lambeth’s MS diagnosis at the age of seventeen brought her to poetry. Her first book Veil and Burn (University of Illinois Press, 2008) was selected for the 2006 National Poetry Series. Currently at work on her second poetry collection and a book of creative nonfiction about MS, she also teaches in the Medicine and Society program at the University of Houston, where she earned MFA and PhD degrees in Creative Writing. To learn more about her work, please visit