In 1995, MSer Melissa Cook moved her young family to a tiny village in North Alaska with a population of less than 100
Melissa Cook lives with multiple sclerosis (MS) and spent 20 years living on the Alaskan coast and then on an island in the Tongass National Forest. She’s written her story in her new book, which documents erupting volcanoes, 100-mile-an-hour winds, needing a pistol for bear protection, and all the other dramas of living in such an extreme location, all while navigating the course of her condition and finding humour in unique situations.
Here she recounts a time when unpredictable symptoms inspired her to pen a poem.
The Dockside Cafe sat right on the the edge of a Pacific Ocean inlet in the tiny, remote community of Craig, Alaska. It had been an hour’s drive into town on icy roads, and I was ready for a meal. I parked my truck in front of the small log cabin restaurant, held my hood tightly under my chin, and dashed for the door in the blowing snow. The waitress seated me at a table and asked if I wanted anything to drink.
“Hot cocoa, please,” I said with a smile. She knew how I liked it – loaded. I looked forward to dipping the whipped cream into the hot chocolate one spoonful at a time. I shivered to warm up as I looked across three empty seats at my table and watched the storm in the bay. Most of my friends worked during the day. I left teaching for medical disability more than three years ago. My friends envied my freedom, while I longed for their sense of belonging and accomplishment found in showing up for a day’s work. Now, I blogged on www.MSsymptoms.me from home, alone.
Steaming hot chocolate was placed on the table in front of me. It was perfect with its fluffy whipped cream drizzled in chocolate syrup and dotted with colorful sprinkles.
My hand reached for the spoon. Instantly, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I held the spoon in my hand much like a toddler holds a crayon for the first time. “That’s strange,” I thought to myself. I struggled with the spoon, which felt foreign and was now upside down as I fumbled with it. Using my other hand, I awkwardly set it in the correct position. Several minutes passed. The whipped cream drooped from the heat, and the color bled from the sprinkles. Carefully holding the cup with both hands, I sipped my drink instead.
I never figured out how to hold the spoon that day. Though I was concerned about the odd new symptom, I was also used to MS sneaking up with its bag of tricks to surprise me. Some surprises were more significant than others, but they were surprises nonetheless.
The next day, I woke to an empty house as usual; my husband was already teaching in his classroom. I could hold a spoon again. So weird. I sat down to the computer in my pajamas, looked out the snowy window, and decided to write a blog post. Out came the only poem I’ve ever written, “Sometimes.”
Sometimes, I need a little help now and then, so I have learned to ask.
Sometimes, I have pain, so I have learned to manage.
Sometimes, I am lonely now that I am on disability, so new friends I have made.
Sometimes, I miss my career, so I have learned to write.
Sometimes, I feel sadness, so happiness I choose.
Sometimes, I must figure out how to do things differently, but I still do.
“Sometimes” is in Melissa L. Cook’s memoir, “The Call of the Last Frontier: The True Story of a Woman’s Twenty-Year Alaska Adventure.” (2021)