One morning in June, I put my right foot up on a kitchen chair and tenderly caressed my knee. Then I leaned down and kissed it. “Goodbye, my friend,” I said tearfully. My husband watched with that look of amusement he gets when I’m being silly. But when I asked if he’d like a turn, he leaned down and kissed it, too.
At 62, I was about to lose my patella, or kneecap, in a partial joint replacement surgery. It would be my first body part to surrender to the scalpel, unless you count my appendix in 2019. But I didn’t miss that useless sac. Most of my life I didn’t even think about it until one night it made its presence known in a very unpleasant way.
My knees, on the other hand, have been out front and ahead of me, in plain site, for my entire life. Call me sentimental, but I knew I’d miss the first of the pair to leave. I wanted them both to know what they have meant to me.
A Letter to My Knees
Knees, you have served me well over the years. At four, when I played house with friends and insisted on being the kitty cat, you didn’t mind getting scuffed on the carpet as I meowed for milk. (Remember Dad nicknamed me Karen Kitten?) At ten, covered in bandaids, you rarely complained no matter how often I scraped and bumped you. And, at fourteen, you gave my little brothers and sister a handhold when I bounced them on my foot, playing “horsie.”
My legs would have buckled when I learned my 11-year-old son had a brain tumor, had my knees not stalwartly refused to lose control.
In young adulthood, you knelt side by side in church with my college sweetheart’s sturdier, knobbier counterparts, and supported our I dos, although we were clueless about what lay ahead. And don’t even get me started on the old house projects. I apologize a million-fold, friends, for all I put you through. Climbing a ladder to the porch roof and another ladder to the peak of the house to paint the trim. (And you know how afraid I am of heights.) Crawling on the porch to scrape lead paint from the railing. Staining the kitchen floor by hand, dragging you across the wood floor.
And, of course, you were instrumental in raising our sons, Matthew and Stephen. You lowered me to their eye-level to kiss and bandage their own banged-up knees, to investigate creepie-crawlies on the sidewalk, to bundle them in snowsuits before heading out to the park, pulling the sled behind us.
My legs would have buckled when the radiologist told us Matthew, eleven, had a brain tumor, had you not stalwartly refused to lose control. And I lost count of the times you held me in prayer during his long recovery. When kneeling became more than you could bear, I sat on the bed and rested my hands on you, and you steeled me for another difficult day ahead.
My Unhappy Knees
I’ve known for awhile you haven’t been happy. Even in my 40s, I couldn’t plop down the last two inches onto a toilet seat without a painful “oomph.” After I lost weight for the Nth and final time, you rallied so well, I took you for granted. Then, throughout my 50s, you protested more often, refusing to hold me upright until I rested and iced and elevated you back to better health. I applaud you speaking up for yourself and practicing self-care, two lessons I would do well to learn.
In my 40s, I couldn’t plop down the last two inches onto a toilet seat without a painful “oomph”
Last summer, you’d had enough. You tried, but couldn’t let me kneel in my garden, no matter how invasive that Creeping Charlie became. And you warned me, “Forget about that walk in the neighborhood.” Sometimes, you cried, “That end of the kitchen is much too far away.”
I’m sorry you had to shout so loudly for me to hear you. But I finally listened. I took you to physical therapy, the chiropractor, and the orthopedist, who subjected you to that cortisone injection. But it was too little, too late. You needed me to make the hard decision, and because I love you, I did. I saw the orthopedist again. He said you were both “shot.” (I hope you didn’t take it personally; think of it as a badge of honor.) I had to choose who would go first, and, Right Knee, you and I both knew it would be you because you suffered the most. I scheduled the date to formally say farewell, wondering if I was doing the right thing. Then, that morning, I kissed you goodbye and I felt you relax into the decision.
I welcomed your replacement made of plastic and metal. It’s cold but sturdy, artificial but reliable. We’re not friends yet. My thighs and calves don’t like the intruder, and they battle every day, leaving me exhausted and in pain. But I’m determined to make it work—I owe that to you.
Now you’ve gone to the great joint heaven in the sky to await your twin’s arrival within the year. My other body parts may not leave me as completely as you; they are more likely to wither and weaken and finally fail. But, like you, they have allowed me to live a life full of doing and thinking and feeling, a life of joy and sorrow, pain and exhilaration, beginnings and endings.
Like family and good friends, you, my beloved knee, are truly irreplaceable, whether you’re with me in body or spirit. Farewell, my friend, and thank you for your service.
Bionic knee in place, Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, perseverance, and people-pleasing, an entangled mix told in her memoir GROWTH, available for representation. You can see more of her work at www.karendebonis.com.