A prisoner of his own making

By Melissa Peterson melissa@glenrockind.com

An abandoned, rusted wheelchair rests out of place against an exterior wall, as if pushed there by the biting winter wind. The old concrete foundation and haze-covered windows foretell the dark and eerie scene inside: steep, narrow stairs cluttered with long-discarded wiring and lighting fixtures leading to a dimly lit room.
The dark brown paint is faded and chipped. The wallboard creates a patchwork of white spots beneath.
Dead plants fill a once lush greenhouse.
This is where Ray Pittsley watches the days go by.
Confined to a wheelchair, the 68-year-old Glenrock resident in many ways mirrors his home. His hair is greying. His eyes are dark and void of joy, the lack of light in the musty basement masking their true color.
Ray doesn’t want pity or even attention, preferring instead to remain in the shadows of his basement, out of the spotlight much like his Glenrock home that was once a bar and day care. He even seems content these days in his basement.
Once an active and vibrant businessman, Ray and his family moved to Glenrock in 1991. They started running a flower arranging business from their home in 2004. He added a chain saw and small engine repair business soon after, but an infection in his foot in 2016 left him in a wheelchair.
He’s not depressed, Ray insists, though he prefers to stay in the basement away from people and has virtually given up his repair business. His wife Cindy tries to keep the flower shop going, though she struggles with it on the main floor, out of sight of Ray’s comfortably dark confines below.

The Beginning
The first time he walked into the building in 2004, he saw nothing but junk and a money pit. He was overwhelmed with disappointment. A vandal had broken into the building, and sprayed a fire extinguisher on the walls and floor, leaving a residue that took Ray a month to remove. The building had been a military bar in the 1950s, then a roller skating rink and later a day care before being abandoned for a time.
Today, it is their home.
“We saw an opportunity to make money,” he says now. “But, of course, it never turns out like you expect.”
Ray had worked with mechanics all his life and tinkered with anything from snow blowers to his most popular item, chain saws. The business was never a booming enterprise, nevertheless he enjoyed working from the shop he built himself and being able to mend whatever was brought to him.
Until 2016.
Ray developed a staph infection in his foot, yet he rarely noticed it at first. As the year went on, the pain became intolerable, and he began to take antibiotics. The infection spread, swelling to abscesses across his back. When in November he couldn’t move because the pain was so intense, Ray was carried from his home to the waiting ambulance and spent the next 60 days in the hospital.
He struggles to remember anything from the first few days, besides the immense pain. During the surgery to remove the abscesses, nerves in his back were cut, removing the ability to move his legs.
If he had endured another day at home, he would have died.
Returning home, he struggled to live in the world around him. Unable to walk, Ray confined himself to the basement.
“It doesn’t bother me that I can’t go outside,” he says, “now that I’m not doing anything.”
After returning home, he wrestled with what to do about his mechanic business. Not wanting to give it up, but also refusing to see it rot outside, he decided to sell after his health ceased improving and money became sparse.
“I kicked the decision around a long time. I was hoping my legs would get better, but eventually this whole place will be for sale.”
The doctors are unsure if the damage to his nerves will be permanent, but after trying physical therapy for three months and seeing little results, he gave up, despite the fact he can walk 20 steps before his legs fail and he returns to his wheelchair. Even in the chair, his legs feel constantly numb and like they are being stabbed with needles.
“I don’t think you ever adjust to it,” Ray says offhandedly, obviously shunning the sympathy that would normally be attached to his situation. Unable to do all the things he is used to, he now spends his days staying inside, determined there is no life for him outside the four walls.
“I just mope around here and do what I can.”
He pauses for a moment while the afternoon light streams through the small windows, briefly filling the darkened room with light which reveals a half-finished puzzle on the table next to him.
He convinces himself that he can fend off the depression by simply talking himself out of it. During the day, he will fold laundry and clean the house, until he is reminded of what he can’t do, such as sweeping the floor.
“I used to sit around here thinking of things I could get done, but something always got in the way,” he says somberly.

The future
He has been married for 49 years and has a family spreading to 21 grandchildren, none of whom seem concerned about him living everyday with no desire to step out the front door. It’s not that he can’t leave, he simply doesn’t want to. After his stay at the hospital, Ray says, he can’t hear anything from the outside world calling to him.
Dec. 23, 2017. That was the last day Ray spent outside. Sitting at his dining room table positioned next to a converted kitchen area, Ray admits he misses the things he used to do.
At the end of the day, there is no swarm of negative or positive feelings from him. Sometimes, the prospect of leaving the house in the future piques his interest.
Still, being alone doesn’t worry him.
Maybe he could call someone, he concedes, and they could come to his house and help him up the long concrete stairs to the world outside. Ray, though, feels there would be no one answering his call, plus he’s just fine where he is.
“I can’t do anything when I get out there. So, what’s the point of going?”


Glenrock Independent

Physical Address:506 W. Birch, Glenrock, WY 82637 Mailing Address: PO Box 109, Douglas, WY 82633 Phone: (307) 436-2211

The Glenrock Independent is located in the Bronco Building

Office hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday - 10:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday - 9:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

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