Column: Why We Won’t Be Serving Meatballs for Christmas By Susan Parker

Tuesday December 20, 2005

For the past 12 years we have patched together a room for my husband that has become our command center, our corporate headquarters, our personal Ground Zero. This is where Ralph eats, sleeps, works, and goes about his daily business. 

We have gradually installed wheelchair accessible desks, rows of shelving, special lighting and electronic devices. We’ve covered the walls with Ralph’s favorite photographs, filled the shelves with his belongings, strung party lights around the perimeter and prayer flags in the doorways. 

We have added, added, and added but never taken away a single item. Ralph’s room is about to explode. 

Three years ago, a bedsore gone wild resulted in multiple surgeries and a doctor’s firm recommendation that Ralph remain prone as much as possible. 

So Ralph now runs our household while lying on his back in our former living room, a computer keyboard in front of his face, a mouthstick clenched tightly between his teeth. He no longer uses the desks that were custom-built for him when he spent most of his time upright in his wheelchair. Against the walls, makeshift shelves bend under the weight of too much stuff, some of it important, but most of it obsolete or unreachable. Ralph’s room cries out for a visit from Extreme Makeover Home Edition’s demolition crew. 

Recently, I studied his room from every angle. I consulted with friends, family members, and the various handymen who have helped us over the years. Everyone agreed the room needed an overhaul. Several people suggested I visit Ikea, where I could find inexpensive shelving and storage units requiring only a screwdriver and a brain the size of a pea in order to put them together. I possessed the necessary equipment. 

I went to Ikea. It was true, they had a plethora of furnishing options. They also had a lot of other stuff. Before I knew it I had a cartload of what-nots, things I didn’t really need, but wow, were they ever cheap! 

I came home sans shelves. I had to get more measurements. I took Ralph back to Ikea with me. We looked at furniture possibilities together, bought more stuff, but nothing for his room. We decided to tear out the old desks and shelving, paint the walls, and then make our purchases. 

Once we got home I realized we didn’t need half the items we had bought so I went back to Ikea again, this time to return the unnecessary acquisitions. I took a number and waited in line. I watched as a cheerful couple methodically returned the contents of an entire house. Finally, it was my turn. I gave back the too-wide bath mat, the oversized potholders, and the sheets I had bought that were the wrong size. I was too embarrassed to return the frozen Swedish meatballs. 

I came home, plugged the electric heater and oxygen machine into a wall outlet, and unintentionally fried some apparently essential wiring, resulting in major blown circuitry and imminent disaster. Ralph’s computer went down, his specialized mattress deflated, alarms went off, lights flickered, meatballs began to defrost, everything went dark. 

Using a flashlight and cell phone, I called an electrician. Seventeen hundred dollars later, Ralph’s bed re-inflated, the computer buzzed, the refrigerator hummed, lights glowed, TVs spoke. 

That night I dreamt I was sitting in the front seat of an AC Transit bus, destined for Ikea. Suddenly, the driver disappeared. I was the only rider to notice we were speeding out of control toward Emeryville. I struggled to disengage from my seat in order to take over the steering wheel, but I was stuck. I woke up in a cold sweat and had an instant epiphany: I didn’t have to go to Ikea for a fourth visit because we had given all our extra cash to the electrician! We couldn’t afford a can of paint, an Ikea storage system, or a single Swedish meatball. 

I could also forget about Christmas shopping. 

To be perfectly honest, I was relieved.