Terrible, Thanks for Asking

Tiny & Snail - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Tiny & Snail.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

Listen to the episode here.


I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”

I am personally a DDIYer, a DON’T do it yourselfer. I am the exact opposite of today’s guest, Leah. Because Leah loves to DIY. She LOVES to make things.

Leah Nixon: I've always been a maker. Since I was 3 years old, I was drawing. And in college, I sort of started building, like, my canvas frames and things like that. And like, I went to visit my sister one time and I was... I can't remember I was making some little craft. She's like, “Leah, you can't stop making things, can you?” I was like, “No, I just like, I need to make stuff every day.”

Nora: What are the kinds of things that you like to make?

Leah Nixon: I've done felt painting before, which is where you take a little needle and you poke these fibers into felt. So I've done some pretty realistic dog portraits with that method. I studied oil painting in college. I've done like, papier mâché and, well, tiny houses. I started a weasel comic in college, and I did it for like three years every day, and then I kind of took a break. 

The weasel in the comic was Leah. And even though she stopped making it after a while, she never stopped making things. She went to art school for college and then, like so many of us, college was over, and Leah was like OH GOD, WHAT NOW. Holy crap, what do I do now?

Leah Nixon: I came home from college, and I was feeling extremely lonely and lost. And, you know, I was living with my parents again, because I didn't really know, and I didn't really have a clear plan of what my future was going to look like. So I just moved home. And I have an adopted sister, sort of. She's from Afghanistan, and she lived with my family for a number of years. And she was going to the School of Mines, which is a really good engineering school in Rapid City. And she was going bowling with some friends one night. And I said, “Hey, can I come along?” And she was like sure! And so Kelsey actually came to our door and picked us up. And I was like, oh, he's kind of cute. And then we got in the car, and I remember saying, “Hey, so what did you do today?” You know, just like it was the most natural thing to ask this dear old friend of mine, like, what was your day like? You know?

Kelsey is an engineering student, and he’s so interested in what Leah does. He doesn’t look down on it. He doesn’t see it as frivolous. He’s really interested in her, in what she thinks and how she thinks. Sometimes the bar is very low, not even just when you’re young. But honestly, just a person paying attention to you and being interested in you is sometimes kinda all it takes.

Leah Nixon: So we bowled, and then he would like, ask me if I wanted to go cliff jumping, or if I wanted to go on a run or something like that and very quickly, I just kind of fell for him, and like... it was interesting because he wasn't really like, the type of person that I would typically want to date.

Nora: Why is that? 

Leah Nixon: Well, I think I'm more attracted to like, quieter people, in a way. And Kelsey was pretty loud, and I don't know, I guess I was more attracted to like, hipsters. But the one thing that really hooked me was that he was so honest up front about his past that I was just like, I can deal with this. Like, you are a truthful person, and I know you're going to tell me the truth, and I don't really care what happened in the past. I just care that you're telling me the truth now. And so I think it was that acceptance, and just like, a really healthy base to a relationship. So, yeah, we dated for like, eight years. 

Nora: Eight years, oh, my God. You're from the Midwest, it's like... how crazy did that drive your parents?

Leah Nixon: Oh, my mom, she could barely handle it. And I was just, like, very afraid of commitment for some reason. You know, we got along pretty well, but I think at the back of my mind, I always like, "Well… maybe there is a hipster out there somewhere for me."

So Leah keeps that back door open in her mind, as the years tick on with Kelsey. Kelsey moves onto his masters degree, and Leah, who is still a maker, moves on to a bigger project.

Leah: And then I saw a friend on Facebook who was living in a tiny house with her husband. And I was like, oh, my gosh. Like, that looks so cool. I want to do that. And I told my boyfriend about it and he was just like, "Huh, ok." And then like six months later, one of his friends was talking about building a tiny house. And he was like, oh my gosh, Leah, we have to build a tiny house. I was like, "Yeah? OK. I'll let you pretend that that was your idea.”

Kelsey had just gotten a job in Kentucky working at an aluminum plant. So the tiny house was going to be something that they could tow on down to Kentucky. And Leah, who is highly creative, helps Kelsey design it, she helps him build it.

Nora: What was your background in building before the tiny house things started? Like where did you get any of these skills?

Leah Nixon: YouTube? [laughs] I don't know, I mean, I researched the heck out of it online and… you know, Kelsey showed me a few things. But, I mean, I think you're always going to be scared the first time you do something like that and you just have to keep doing it.

So they keep doing it. It’s a lot of testing. It’s a lot of seeing what works. And Leah actually gets to do a lot of the building, because Kelsey is finishing his masters degree.

Leah Nixon: Of course, I hadn't really built anything on such a big scale before, so I didn't really know what the whole process was even going to be like, but we tried to use as light of materials as possible. So Kelsey actually welded the aluminum frame for the trailer. And we even used like, cedar instead of pine because it's slightly lighter. And I built all the windows, which was probably a pretty bad idea because windows are really hard to build. So....

Nora: What do you like about the building process?

Leah Nixon: It's just really magical when all of a sudden, you know, you put the walls up and you're inside of a structure. I don't know. And there's something about like, small spaces that I really enjoy, too. Like, they feel kind of burrow-like to me, and I enjoy that. And then just like the creativity that's involved, doing something and seeing how it works and changing it a few if it's not working properly, which I think so many people are afraid to do these days, especially on, you know, homes that cost like over a hundred thousand dollars. It's kind of scary. But with that, I just kind of got to do whatever I wanted. 

The tiny house project is so exciting, so fulfilling to Leah that she takes on another big tiny project. 

Leah: I called it my tiny studio, and it's literally built on a snowmobile trailer, so it's like eight feet wide by roughly 13 feet long, so it's probably around 100 some square feet.

The tiny studio is exactly the right size for Leah and for Leah alone. Because even though she moved down to Kentucky to be with Kelsey, she’s just… a little bit scared of making a big commitment. She and Kelsey aren’t married, they’re just moving cross country to live together. So the studio is her teeny tiny plan B — an escape hatch on wheels. 

Leah Nixon: One of those sort of things that was going through my head was that if Kelsey and I were ever to get married, it would be me that would have to change and not him. And I didn't even know where that really came from, I guess. But it I just kind of like, heard that a few times in my head.

The tiny house and tiny studio are great. Even Kelsey is great! But there’s that voice in Leah’s head saying maybe there’s something else. Kelsey has a job, but Leah doesn’t really have anything she’s passionate about outside of her art. Kelsey’s the one making all the money, which also feels off.

Kelsey and Leah have been on and off for years at this point, but they always find their way back to one another. But eventually, that voice in Leah’s head just keeps getting louder, and even if she DOES love Kelsey, she does not love living in Kentucky. She goes back and forth like this, and her family tells her, look, you have a car and you have your teeny tiny house. Pack up and leave if you aren’t happy.

Leah: I don't know if I could do that. Like, he's my best friend! 

But eventually, she knows she has to go. She has to break her best friend’s heart. So Leah packs up that tiny studio and moves back to South Dakota. 

We’ll be right back.

We’re back. And Leah has just left her boyfriend of several years back in Kentucky, and headed back to her hometown of Rapid City, South Dakota, where she has… no real plan.

Leah Nixon: I decided that I really need to distance myself from the situation of the relationship, and so Kelsey and I basically didn't talk for three months, I think? Which was hard, and like, the way that I sort of coped with that was whenever I really wanted to tell him something or text him something, I would just open up a Word document on my computer and type it into there. 

That little escape hatch she built — the itty bitty studio — is now her home, parked on her friend’s land. Now all Leah has to do is find a job. 

Leah Nixon: And my mom was like, “Oh, well, I just saw something on the bulletin about Habitat for Humanity hiring builders.” And I was like, oh, OK. So then I applied and got in, and I was one of about three or four people who were hired in that round. So at the time, they were kind of trying to switch to a slightly different model in our area of, you know, more consistent, like, hired workers. And so I was the only woman. Actually in the interview process, I asked about maternity leave and he said, "Huh, you are the first person who's asked about that. I have never even thought about that question before." I was like, well, you know, I'm not pregnant. I'm not even with somebody currently. But, you know, it's always good to kind of know about. 

Nora: So what was your day-to-day job like there?

Leah Nixon: Yeah, I'd get into work at like quarter to eight and fire up the big diesel box truck and drive that to the site. I did a lot of interior work. Drywall, mudding and painting and sort of that sort of thing. Like, the project that we were working on was taking these modular homes and some company had donated them to Habitat because they had sat in a lot for too long. And so they had a lot of, like, moisture issues and cracking and we were just basically renovating brand new houses, which was sort of frustrating. And the area that I was in, unfortunately, like attracted people to come in and like, vandalize them sometimes, like punch holes in the walls and stuff like that. So that was just frustrating, you know, to be trying to do this work and then, you know, some random person comes by and tries to undo work that you've done. But you know, pouring concrete, siding. I don't know, just basically everything you can think of in terms of building a house. 

Nora: It sounds so satisfying.

Leah Nixon: It was! Yeah. And one of the things that I enjoyed the most was that I really loved when I got to work with women who would be owning their own houses, because I think a lot of women aren't really shown how to use power tools. So it was something that really, like, empowered me to be able to do, and so I wanted to pass it along to other women.

On top of the job with Habitat, Leah and her sister start a greeting card company together called Tiny & Snail. 

Leah Nixon: Actually, we launched our website the day that I started working for Habitat, which I don't think is a good idea. [laughs] But I've kind of always been like a person who just jumps into things and like, yeah, sure, whatever, like let's do it. 

Leah gets to illustrate AND build houses. So there’s Leah — doing stuff she loves, in a town she feels good about — while the guy she still loves does work he loves, in a place he feels okay about. She still cares a lot about Kelsey, but they’re not speaking. The document gets longer and longer, filled with all of the things Leah wants to tell Kelsey but can’t.

Three months go by, and even though that’s nothing in terms of how long their relationship has been, these three months have been HUGE for Leah. In those months, she’s found work that gives her life structure and purpose and meaning. 

Leah: In Kentucky, I didn't know if it was like, the relationship that was making me so anxious or the fact that I was alone a lot, or that I didn't really have, like, a meaningful job that earned me an income. It was just nice to suddenly be self-sufficient and feel like I was figuring myself out a lot better.

Eventually, Leah and Kelsey do talk. And they keep talking about once a week. Not even romantically, and not even about their relationship, but about all those things that Leah had been thinking about and pouring into a Word document.

Leah Nixon: And whenever we would talk, I just like, enjoyed it a lot. And I was like, oh, this is cool. We can be friends, you know? He traveled a lot for work. So he'd come through Wyoming often and, you know, stop by Rapid and see his sister and stuff like that. So I saw him a few times, and I started asking him like, “So when are you moving back to Rapid City?” 

Kelsey, it turns out, has a five-year plan. He’ll eventually end up back in Rapid City, South Dakota, where Leah is.

Leah: I didn't really know, like, how the situation would be different if he moved back, except that I was really depressed in Kentucky.

Sometimes, for the situation to be different, we have to be different. And maybe that’s a change of scenery, or a change of job, and maybe it’s a lot of things that just add up to change

Leah Nixon: Oh! I'm actually starting to feel comfortable in my own skin, you know? And I was like, oh, maybe this is what it feels like to not be a 20-year-old!

I really loved running on trails. I was just like constantly marveled by the human body, I guess, you know, like, how can you see, like a rock in front of your path while you're running and so quickly translate that to your legs to, you know, adjust for that difference in terrain. And I love dancing. And, you know, dancing is just like, such a joyful expression, and I would love dancing like in the kitchen with my family. And sometimes when I was having a really bad day, I would just like, turn on a good song and start dancing to that.

She’s just started her 30s, and it feels like she’s figuring it out. She’s changing. And you’ll remember what that voice told Leah, right? That if she and Kelsey were going to work out, she would be the one who would have to change, not him. 

In South Dakota, Leah is more than just her relationship with Kelsey. She has a community of friends and colleagues. Her days have a rhythm to them.

Leah Nixon: Mondays we had off, because we worked on Saturdays, so the volunteers could work with us. So Monday I took my dog to the vet to get her shots. And then I also met a woman at the Habitat Office to sign up for supplemental health insurance — kind of like Aflac — because I had been like, dragging my feet on that thing for such a long time and I was like, Leah, you just have to do this! Like, you know? I had sort of an untraditional health care, and I decided that I wanted to take advantage of, you know, whatever supplemental health insurance Habitat was offering. So I just had a really good day. You know? I think it was starting to be fall, kind of or, you know, there was like that sense in the air. It was August 13th and the next day I got up, got ready for work, had a really good conversation with my roommate, best friend, and probably packed my lunch and headed out the door.

This is a typical work day, and also the most life-changing day of Leah’s existence so far. It’s mundane and unspecial in every way. She gets to work and… does her work, which on this day is walking beside a big machine called a telehandler.

Leah Nixon: It's a 22,000-pound machine. It's like a forklift but with a really long arm on it so it can basically lift things up high to like, put you know, framing materials on a second floor or something like that. And what we were going to do with that was put the rafters on the house. And so I like, drove behind my site supervisor who was driving the machine. I drove behind with the flashers on, and we got it to the site. It was going to be a pretty big day because putting the rafters up is no joke. And so we had basically all of the hired hands on deck. And my job was to hold the guide rope for each rafter so that it wouldn't spin around and hit somebody out of the second floor. 

I always tried to be a little macho, I guess, because, you know, you're just working with men. And I have a pretty small build. I was 120 pounds at the time, and I was just trying to use all my strength to, like, keep this rafter in place. But it was hard because of the mud. And I unlike, you know, power tools, saws and stuff, hadn’t gotten over sort of a stress around heavy machinery, whereas I think some people who work with it for a long time feel kind of more casual about it. Just like driving a car, I guess, like… you know, most people don't realize how powerful cars are or like how heavy they are and stuff, but…

Nora: Oh my God. If you think about it, it is bananas that we allow cars to be on the road. Like, you're like, wow, here's a 2,000-pound death machine hurtling down your street at 20 miles an hour. That’s fast!

Leah Nixon: Or 70 on the highway! 

Nora: 70! And I mean 20 is the speed limit on our streets. People are whipping around this corner at 30. And I'm just like.... like your brain lets you forget that, like, these things are huge.

This was a rainy day, and there had been a lot of rain that summer, so the earth at the build site was all torn up, and really slippery.

Leah: I was just sliding around — like ice skating around, basically. And we decided to keep going because we didn't think there were any weather days built into the grant that we were operating under. Which is kind of crazy because like, weather happens and, you know, it affects construction. But after it stopped raining, we would scoop up a rafter, tie a rope around it, and I'd walk alongside it. The neighbor's house is kind of eccentric. He had like a bright blue painted side driveway and like whirligigs and lots of bird houses and bird feeders and a bright blue house. And I was really afraid that we were going to hit one of his whirligigs off of his carport. And I felt like a little mouse leading a big brontosaurus. That was probably my last thought that I remember.

We’ll be right back.

We’re back, and Leah is just waking up. And she’s in the hospital.

Leah Nixon: The first memory that I have was like, this knowledge of sort of... this is the bottom, and I'm still here, and God was sort of sitting with me and the molecules, and I wasn't going to disappear. And there was sort of like this... inky blackness that I would encounter every time, like it was really calling to me, and I knew that if I went into it, I wouldn't be in pain anymore. But every time I was in that place, like somebody I loved would come and hold my hand. And I said, “I mean, I can't. I have to stay here.” And… yeah. I had a baby brother born when I was a sophomore in high school, and he was one of the people, you know, who came and held my hand and I was just like, I can't leave him. 

Leah learns that the telehandler — that 22,000-pound machine she was walking next to that day on the build site — slipped in the mud while she was holding the guide rope. The telehandler tipped onto Leah, and it trapped her for 45 minutes.

Kelsey flew up from Kentucky immediately. Leah’s family crowded around her. They held her hands. They read her poetry. Their school and church communities dropped off every meal for the full month that Leah was in the ICU.

Leah Nixon: I had these deep conversations at 1:00 in the morning with my dad and my sister about philosophy and life and reading poetry. And I had a really good friend come in a few times and play guitar for me and sing. And I was just very aware of like, my body was rebuilding itself and I needed, like, the best of things to try to rebuild it with. So like music and good food and this poetry and creativity and these doctors. And it all just seemed to… it was a very, this sounds so silly, life-changing experience to be in the ICU. [laugh]

I just, like, had a feeling that I was going to go through something pretty crazy when I was like in my early 30s or 40s, and I thought that it was going to be cancer. But when I woke up in the ICU, I was like, “Oh! Oh! This is it. OK! I can deal with this. You know?” It was sort of a relief, like finding out what it was and like, having that premonition beforehand gave me such an immediate sense of okayness with it. Because in some way, I feel like I had been prepared for it. And then it's just ridiculous that I had signed up for the insurance the day before, because between all my bones breaking and the transfusions I needed and being in a hospital and whatever, I got 30,000 dollars. So that was like the worst investment that insurance company ever made. [laughs]

Nora: You know whoever was the admin on that was like, ah, shit. She did sign it. She signed it. God, dangit. Ugh! 

Leah Nixon: [laughs] That basically paid for an adaptive van for me, which is cool.

An adaptive van she needed because the accident that happened right as Leah was feeling like a mouse trying to lead a brontosaurus through the mud… that accident meant that she was now paralyzed. 

Leah Nixon: I was fingerspelling into my sister's hand. She was particularly good at figuring out what I was trying to say, because I had a tube down my throat and I couldn't talk. And so the first question I spelled into her hand was, “Can I still draw?” And I think that was like, super heavy in my mind, because one of my big fears when I was in art school is like, one day waking up and having lost the ability to draw. And like, go to class and I just, nothing’s coming out the right way. And so, like, that is something that I've thought about before. And when I heard that I was paralyzed, I think I was afraid that, you know, I wasn't going to be able to draw anymore.

The doctors were saying that my spinal cord injury was a complete spinal cord injury, but what that means is that I just don't really have sensation or movement below my line of paralysis, but it doesn't mean that it's completely severed. I have nerve pain all the time, so I actually am much more conscious of my lower body every waking moment than my upper body, because it's like every cell seems to be like, vibrating or kind of screaming at me. And so my legs were under the sheet in the ICU. I could feel them, you know, I could feel the pain they were in, but I didn't realize that one was like, partly missing. And I also remember that the doctors were telling me that they had to amputate and then they had to amputate again and both times I said, “It's all right, just as long as I get one of those kangaroo legs.” And they were like, oh shit, she doesn't remember. And then they'd have to tell me again I was probably not going to be walking. So like in the beginning, and I think I related a lot more to like a rotisserie chicken. I just sort of had this image of like a chicken hanging out on ice.

Kelsey is here for all of this. Leah doesn’t remember him showing up, she just remembers him being there, like he’d been for all those years. 

Leah Nixon: I do remember holding his hand and just being really grateful that he was there. But also, I didn't know how to feel about it all, because my heart was kind of numb. I think going through so much physical trauma, your brain just can't handle, you know, these sort of frivolous thoughts of like, “What does this even mean, like what does this relationship mean?” And so I just like I felt like it was important to figure out, but also, I just couldn't. For lack of a better term, I was paralyzed. [laughs]

Nora: Good one, Leah.

Leah Nixon: Thank you. Uh, I have more of those where that came from.

Nora: You had this moment right before the accident where you said, “It's not going to be Kelsey who has to change. It'll be me.”

Leah Nixon: Yeah. It was a radical change, you know. And I think, my pride was getting in my way of me, actually being happy in a way. But when you end up in a wheelchair, your pride is out the window because, you know, you're relying on people for everything, like wiping your butt and giving you a bath and like, adjusting your pillows and feeding you. And I was sitting there and barely talking. And that was what I was contributing to the world at that point. And it was just so wild to think like, what my life could look like in a year or two. But yeah, there was something about Kelsey just being there, and I realized like... Kelsey's always going to be there, you know? And I think that was one thing that really struck me. I remember I got an MRI on his birthday. Have you ever had an MRI? 

Nora: No, but Aaron had them. It's like...

Leah Nixon: It just sounds like you're like in the middle of some Star Wars fight or something, Just this loud pounding and, you know, they give you some pretty crappy headphones to wear. And they said I was only supposed to be in there for like 30 minutes. I was in there for like two hours. And I guess just the whole time I was thinking about Kelsey, because it was his birthday. A couple of days later, I think, Kelsey was just hanging out with me and I said, “I have a question. Would you want to marry me?” He was like, “Of course!” I was like, “OK, yeah, let's do it!”

Outside the window, there’s a rainbow. Kelsey says yes, by the way. Leah spends 29 days in the ICU, and then is moved to a rehab facility to learn her body all over again. 

Leah: So in PT, one of the big things that I was trying to learn is transfers, because obviously you can't, like, stand up on your legs and, you know, get into bed. I still use a slide board, which is basically like a... it's almost like a skateboard deck, and you put it under your butt and then slide over onto the next surface. And we were practicing trying to roll over. And then trying to work my arms to be able to stretch again, because essentially I was sitting in bed for a month before that, so everything sort of sort of like atrophies. And one of the things that happens with paralysis is sometimes you'll be hypersensitive in that like, in-between area, so when people would try to hold my hands, I was just like, “I can't, I don't want... don't touch me, please.”

Nora: Yeah, I think probably people assume, like, well, yeah, you just don't feel anything.

Leah Nixon: Right. That's what I thought! That was totally not true. I have this obsession with trying to explain my nerve pain to people. And recently, one of the things that really clicked was I was watching a lightning storm with my husband and I said, “That's what it is, like, quite literally, like it is electricity.” I mean, I'm on three different nerve pain medications, and I've been on higher doses of other things before, and it just never gets better. Right now today, I think I'm probably about a three out of 10 on the nerve pain scale. But some days I will suddenly jump to seven out of 10 or, you know, there's nothing you can really do about it. 

Rehab is where Leah meets other people who have spinal cord injuries. People who can relate to her nerve pain, to this massive change she’s going through. Who can relate to how to navigate this world. Because Leah and Kelsey aren’t going to be able to go back to their tiny house.

Leah Nixon: Workers comp in the state of South Dakota, at least, they will modify one house to be wheelchair accessible in your lifetime. And so we decided that the best case would be to buy a house and use that one time to remodel right away so that, you know, I could start living life again and having what I needed. And so we found this really cute house in like my dream neighborhood, and my parents bought the house — I didn't have any money at the time. And so they bought the house and we started the remodel process.

There's something about living in a place that you've built with your own hands and you know how it was built. I don't know. I really… I feel a kinship with birds, I guess. The way that they build nests and find beautiful little things to put in their nests. And I feel like the universe just presents me with these beautiful little twigs, and I try to make something beautiful out of it or add it to my home. An example of that is that I found an amazing old liquor cabinet at a thrift store, and it had like, curved glass on it. And it was kind of water damaged. But I was like, oh, my gosh, this is incredible. And it happened to be the half price sale at noon, so I got this liquor cabinet for 30 dollars and I was like, oh my gosh, like, one of those glass panels would cost so much more than 30 dollars. And maybe about a month ago I worked on, like, repairing the veneer on the cabinet doors and sanding the top of it, and I don't know, it's just like such a beautiful piece of furniture in our house. 

I mean, I think almost dying made me realize that, like, our time is limited here and you can't, like, wait forever, you know? But then also, like, I just realized how perfect Kelsey was going to be for me in this new life. Because I don't know, I have bladder spasms sometimes and, you know, I'll wet the bed or you know, I have an invol sometimes and, you know, essentially that means I poop my pants, and it's like, he's fine with that sort of thing, you know? He isn't afraid of getting messy. And so that's one awesome thing. He's also an engineer. And so together, we've kind of come up with a lot of solutions for adaptive equipment and stuff like that for this new life of mine. He's also really strong, like physically strong, and so he's able to get me in and out of his pickup if we want to take the pickup for, you know, a camping adventure or something. And I think the biggest thing is that he wasn't going to limit me. He wasn't even going to let me limit me in this new life.

The greeting card business Leah started with her sister — Tiny & Snail — is still going strong. 

Leah Nixon: I just really gravitate towards illustration because you have to do things well with illustration, or else you don't effectively communicate with your audience. So it's all about like, being able to tell something through a drawing without having to write a dissertation about how people should feel about the drawings. 

The illustrations are sometimes for the cards and sometimes a way for her to try to explain what is happening in her body. The illustrations do what words alone can’t. And her weasel comic is back.

Leah: I draw a lot of weasel comics where basically my head is just above this water line or the surface of the ground, and like, people are up above totally unaware of what is happening below. And it's just like below, it's just like a bunch of static and chaos.

It’s static and chaos and pain, and it’s also… living in a place that she helped to design. It’s adopting a three-legged dog, and it’s being married to the person who has known her since she was in her 20s, so unsure of who she was and where she was going. 

The Big Change that Leah anticipated might just have been her moving back to South Dakota, starting a company with her sister, finding work she loved, finding awe and respect, and a home inside of her body. 

There’s no point in our conversation — or the correspondence before our recorded conversation — where Leah talks about her body or her life with anything other than awe and respect and curiosity. She speaks about herself and her body the same way before and after the accident. In our conversation, there isn’t a version of her life that is better or worse… just different. 

Leah: If somebody offered you a once in a lifetime experience, like you would get the front row seat to this crazy thing that's, you know, history-making. You just have to say, yes, like, are you going to do it? That's basically what it is to like, wake up with a spinal cord injury is like, oh, wow, I get to experience something that very few people get to experience. And like, because I'm at this point in history, I will potentially get to see like a resurrection of sorts for my body. Like, what would it be like to be like, you know, working on walking again or something like that and actually have hope. And, you know, prior to World War II, I think most paras only lived about two years after their accident. So I don't know. I just feel super privileged, actually, for the most part. 

This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. Our production team is Marcel Malekebu, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Jordan Turgeon, Hannah Meacock Ross, Phyllis Fletcher and me, Nora McInerny. We’re a production of American Public Media. Our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson. 

I recorded this episode in my closet, McInerny Studios. I no longer have a desk, so I’m hunched over in between some sweaters. My jeans are too tight. I don’t know if you could tell. I was really having a hard time breathing while also speaking in this episode. Thank you so much to Leah for sharing her story without… without? What is happening to me? What is happening to me. What is happening to me? It is hard to get the words out of my head. What is happening to me? 

Leah’s company with her sister is called Tiny & Snail. We’ve linked it in the show notes. Probably going to share some of her illustrations over on our Instagram page. Thank you for listening to the show. It’s a cool job.

We are public media, so not sure if you know that, but we exist because of the public. Who’s the public? You’re the public!