Beth Townsend and Aidan Randall met in a coffee shop. Aidan had been going to the shop for close to a year every Saturday and Sunday morning like clockwork. Generally, Aidan ate a light breakfast and drank coffee as he read the morning paper by himself. The staff of the restaurant all knew and liked Aidan.
The morning Beth and Aidan met, he was approached by one of the waitresses, a sweet old woman named Muriel. As she poured his coffee, Muriel said, “Here you go, Aidan sweetheart.”
Aidan smiled up at her, “Thanks, Muriel.”
“Do you think you could maybe do something for me, Aidan?” Muriel asked.
Muriel smiled. “One of my grandsons, he’s twenty-two years old and he just got hurt in a motorcycle accident. Now they say he’s going to be in a wheelchair the rest of his life.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Aidan said. “But it’s really not so bad.”
“He’s real depressed,” Mildred went on, “and I was thinking maybe you could talk to him. Tell it’s not so bad. That you still meet girls and all that.”
Aidan’s stomach sank. The last thing he wanted was to start talking to a real para. There was no better way to be discovered. “Let me check my schedule and see when I’ve got some time,” Aidan said, hoping he could put this off as long as possible.
The whole encounter made Aidan feel very self-conscious. He looked down at his legs, covered by thin slacks. He didn’t need to wear the braces anymore to keep from moving his legs and he knew how atrophied his muscles were. Under his pants, he could just make out the bulge of the legbag. To almost any able-bodied person, he looked like a para.
“Excuse me, sir...”
Aidan looked up. And there was Beth, although he didn’t know it was her name at the time. All he knew was that he was staring up at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. Soft light brown hair framed her oval face and inquisitive eyes. Her body was petite, but her breasts neatly filled out her green sweater. Aidan never had a problem hitting on women, with or without his chair, but Beth made his mouth go dry.
“Are you done with the fashion section?” she asked.
“The paper has a fashion section?” Aidan asked, amazed.
Beth laughed, although he hadn’t been joking. He allowed her to leaf through the paper until she found the pages she wanted. Their hands brushed against each other slightly and Aidan felt himself getting hard.
“I’m Beth,” she said.
“I’m Aidan,” he said.
She wound up sitting down with him and they talked for the next few hours, over several more cups of coffee. She didn’t seem at all uncomfortable with his wheelchair and he told her the same story that he told everyone else: car accident, T12 para. There was no reason for her not to believe it.
Aidan took things slow with Beth. He was honest in his confession that this was his first relationship as a disabled person. Beth was extremely understanding and agreed that she didn’t want to rush things.
He didn’t kiss her until their third date. They were sitting in a restaurant, waiting for their food to come and Aidan leaned forward and kissed her without warning. A second later, she kissed him back. “I was beginning to think we were just friends,” Beth commented. She touched his arm. “What a tragedy that would have been.”
They first made love at the five-month mark. It was longer than Aidan had ever dated a woman without sex, but he didn’t want to screw things up with Beth. He wanted to make sure he felt like a real para for their first time. He practiced masturbating with objects balanced on his legs to make sure he didn’t move them. His legs were fairly atrophied from the lack of use and the bandages he often wrapped around them, so he wasn’t able to move them very well even if he wanted. But he wasn’t about to take any chances.
The night they made love, Aidan prepared a meal in his accessible kitchen and served it to Beth by candlelight. When they finished the meal, Aidan leaned toward her, took her hand and said, “Would you like to go to the bedroom?”
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Beth asked.
He transferred to the bed by himself. He began to unbutton his pants, but Beth stopped him. “I’ll do that,” she said.
She gently pulled down his pants and Aidan concentrated on keeping still as she exposed his thin legs. She touched the skin of his leg, “You can feel me?”
She removed the condom catheter on his penis along with his legbag, and brought them to the bathroom. “Are you going to be okay with out it?” she asked him.
“Yeah, I’ll be okay,” Aidan said, glad that he was really continent.
Beth undressed in front of him. She did it slowly, as he grew in front of her eyes. By the time she was naked, Aidan truly wanted to jump off the bed and take her right then and there.
As Beth lowered herself onto him, Aidan realized that he had never felt so happy as he did at that moment. He kept his legs still and Beth rode him as he gripped her narrow hips. He came inside her harder than he ever had before in his life.
Beth rolled off him, into his waiting arms. “Good?” she asked.
Aidan nodded breathlessly.
“I got your legs to tremble,” said Beth.
Aidan froze, terrified that she had discovered his secret. But when he looked at her face, she was smiling. She still had no idea.
That day, Aidan fell completely and totally in love with Beth. He thought it was fate that he met her while he was in the chair, because now he was the person he wanted to be, in the relationship he always wanted to have. Aidan was slightly insecure about the fact that she had to do most of the work with they had sex, but he made up for it by eating her out until she screamed and nearly ripped out his hair at the roots.
Beth was everything Aidan had been looking for in another human being. She was really beautiful, intelligent, sweet, funny, athletic... he could go on for days. This was his first real relationship as a disabled man and he loved every minute of it.
There were some small aspects of the relationship that were troublesome. Aidan wished he could hold Beth’s hand when they walked together, but he needed both his hands to work the chair. Also, Beth loved to go down to the Village for dinner and drinks, which was an inconvenience due to the fact that he couldn’t take the subway and the bus trip down there took forever. Additionally, many of the small places she liked to go to were decidedly inaccessible. Sometimes Aidan wished he could just leave his chair for a minute and walk into the restaurant, but he knew that would destroy the illusion. Besides, he wasn’t even sure he could walk well enough anymore to make it to a table.
Aidan’s insecurities about Beth were real. She was a beautiful woman and he was concerned that she didn’t want to spend her life with a man who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) walk. As far as Aidan was concerned, he was never leaving this wheelchair for the rest of his life. So if Beth couldn’t love him this way, then they had no chance together.
His epiphany came one night when Aidan wet the bed. It had, in fact, been a complete accident. He had trained himself so well not to hold it in that he lost the ability to control himself when he needed to. Aidan had been very embarrassed, but Beth had taken the incident in stride. As she helped him change the sheets, he realized that she loved him very deeply.
But Aidan knew he had made a mistake when he asked her to marry him. He got greedy was the problem. He knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her and he hadn’t thought about the consequences. Beth wasn’t pushing for the big wedding, but she at least wanted both their families to be present. But Aidan’s parents didn’t know he had been living his life in a wheelchair—he was never close with them and he hadn’t seen them in years. He never thought he’d have to tell them about the way he had decided to live his life. But now if they saw him in the chair, there would be too many questions. Pulling this off without anyone discovering the truth would be like some twisted episode of Three’s Company.
No, he had to tell Beth the truth.
Maybe she’d love him anyway.
Before Aidan told Beth the truth, he practiced walking. At that point, he hadn’t walked even a step in nearly two years and he wasn’t certain he could do it anymore. He still had some muscle tone in his legs, but they were startlingly thin compared to the way they used to be.
Aidan practiced in the bedroom before Beth came home from work. He transferred to the bed the way he always did, doing all the work with his arms. When he was sitting on the bed, he flexed his ankles a little bit to test them out. Then he flexed and extended his knees. Not too bad. Finally, he placed his palms flat on the bed on either side of him, then pushed himself up into a standing position.
Immediately, Aidan began to fall. He had known this would happen, and he grabbed onto the nearby dresser. He held onto it, not allowing himself to sit down. I can do this. I can walk. In a way, Aidan felt pleased by the difficulty he was having. This was what he had wanted all along. God, I’m such a fucking freak, he thought.
Aidan continued to practice walking. An hour later, he was able to successfully take five steps by himself without falling. Just barely.
He wasn’t sure how long it would take to get himself to walk normally again. Probably a while, he guessed. He didn’t know if he could wait that long to tell Beth the truth. She deserved to know the truth sooner.
“Does it bother you,” Aidan Randall said, “that I won’t be able to stand with you at the altar?”
“No, darling,” Beth said. “Not at all.”
Aidan looked like he wanted to say something to her. She squeezed his hand to encourage him. Aidan was wearing a loose tee-shirt today, but Beth could still see his significant biceps and triceps. He had a great body above the waist.
“Beth, what if...” Aidan bit his lip. “What if I could stand? What if I could walk?”
Beth rolled her eyes. “Come on. You know I don’t care about that.” She wished Aidan would stop being so insecure.
“Would you still love me if I could walk?” Aidan asked her.
The question caught Beth off-guard. He had never asked her anything like that before. For a second, Beth allowed herself to picture Aidan as an able-bodied man. He’d be about 5’10” and he’d be able to look into her eyes while standing...
But this was a pointless exercise. Why imagine things that could never happen?
“I’d love you no matter what,” Beth said.
Then Aidan did something that was even more surprising than when he pulled out that diamond ring. He held onto the table and pushed himself into a standing position. As she watched him with wide eyes, he began to walk unsteadily, keeping his hand poised to grab onto the table.
“Oh my god, Aidan!” Beth cried. “I can’t believe it! It’s like... a miracle!”
Beth jumped out of her seat and hugged Aidan tightly to her. She had reacted without thinking, but now that she started to think, the whole thing seemed very odd. Aidan never mentioned that he was getting any movement back in his legs. And why did he seem so unhappy? Didn’t he want to be able to walk again?
Slowly, Beth pulled away. “Aidan, what’s going on?”
Aidan sank back into his wheelchair. “Beth, I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’ll just say it straight out. I’m not a paraplegic. I’m... not disabled at all, I guess. Not technically. I’ve been using a wheelchair all the time for the last few years. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”
Beth stared at him. This felt like some kind of bizarre dream. “What?”
“I’m not a paraplegic,” Aidan repeated. “I just... live my life that way. Anyway, it’s been so long since I’ve walked that... I can’t really do it that well anymore, as you can see.”
“Oh my god,” Beth breathed, burying her face in her hands. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. This was too crazy to be true. But she had seen Aidan walking with her own eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Aidan said.
“Fuck,” Beth said.
She looked up into his blue eyes and she could see the fear and worry. And love. He did still love her. But god, he was really fucked up. “What if... what if I asked you to stop using the wheelchair?” she said.
His eyes filled with tears. “Beth, I can’t,” he said. “I need it.”
“I used to smoke,” Beth offered. “But I quit. It was really hard, but I did it. I think... maybe together, we can get through this.”
“I don’t want to get through it,” Aidan said firmly. “I want to continue using the chair. And I... I’d like you to accept me like this.”
Beth bit her lip. Aidan had seemed so normal except for his insecurity, but clearly she had been way off. Aidan had major, major issues, and Beth wasn’t sure if she was a good enough person to deal with him. “What if I can’t accept you like this?” Beth said.
“Then I’ll fucking throw myself off a building so I’ll be crippled for real,” Aidan said.
“You wouldn’t!” Beth gasped.
Aidan leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. I wouldn’t.” He thought for a minute. “Maybe there’s some way I could... get a doctor to cut my spinal cord...”
Aidan frowned at her. “Well, what do you suggest, Beth?”
“What if... what if you tried just using the chair around the house and outside you walked normal?”
Aidan shook his head. “Look at me, Beth. I can barely stand up. And... I prefer it this way.”
Beth felt tears rising in her eyes. “What if I said, me or the chair?”
“Don’t say that. Please.”
Beth stood up and grabbed her purse off a chair. “I have to get out of here. I... I have to think about this, Aidan.”
Aidan nodded. She couldn’t look at him the same way. She had always thought of him as this wonderful guy who was dealing really well with his situation. Now she knew the truth: that Aidan had created this situation for himself. And she wasn’t sure if she could ever accept that.
When a week went by and Aidan still hadn’t heard from Beth, he became convinced that he had lost her for good. He had known she’d be upset when she found out about his lie, but he had believed in his heart that she’d eventually come around.
Aidan fell into depression. He knew that in some ways he was lucky he didn’t have to deal with all the problems of a real paraplegic, but he didn’t care. He was tired of being a phony. Maybe it was too late to get Beth back, but what had happened with her was symbolic of the fact that he couldn’t keep going with his lie.
But Aidan had been telling the truth when he said he didn’t have the nerve to throw himself off a building or anything that drastic. He didn’t want to risk losing his life. There had to be some way to become a paraplegic with minimal risk.
Aidan found his answer a month after his last contact with Beth. He was on a mailing list for individuals who longed to live their life in wheelchairs, “wannabes” as they were called, and one member mentioned a doctor in Europe who would perform surgery on people to sever their spinal cord.
Tell me more, Aidan wrote to him.
At first, he hadn’t been entirely serious. But the more he thought about it, the better an idea it sounded like. He could go to Europe, have the surgery, and come back to the states as a real paraplegic. And then his life would finally be complete. Sure, there was a risk of complications involved, but it was a hell of a lot safer than jumping out a window.
Aidan made up his mind to have the surgery.
To be continued....