As if all the excitement over my new power wheelchair wasn’t enough, that evening I got an even bigger treat, which was a shower. Woo. Seriously though, I was like a can of grease and I wanted a shower worse than anything. And it didn’t hurt anything that Casey was the one giving it to me.
First things first, she stripped me down. It frustrated me a little that I couldn’t in any way help her to undress me, but that was another thing I’d eventually get used to. She got off my pants, my shirt, my socks, and even my diaper. I was totally 100% naked, if you don’t count the tube sticking out of my penis and the leg bag strapped to my thigh.
As I’ve said before, I was beginning to have the body of a quad. My legs and arms were an order of magnitude thinner than they used to be, and I had the bulging gut. Yet, I was still a 20 year old man. When Casey looked down at my naked body, I felt convinced that she had to be aware of my masculinity and feel something. I looked at her face, trying to gage her response. She seemed interested, but maybe it was my imagination.
“I’m all ready for my Playgirl photo shoot,” I joked.
“Yeah, you sure are,” Casey said.
I tried to laugh, but it came out a little choked. There was no mistaking the way she was looking at me now. I’d seen that look before. She was into me, but she was trying not to be. I didn’t blame her, considering I was her patient.
If I hadn’t already been convinced, I would have been considering how long it took her to cover me back up again. Boy, she took her sweet time. If I could have felt my body, I’m sure I would have been freezing. Finally, she got the sheet over me and asked for help from another nurse to transfer me onto a stretcher to get me to the communal shower.
Casey pushed me into the hallway and we could hear someone calling her name from the nursing station. “Don’t leave me!” I cried.
“I’m sorry, Ethan,” she said, gently running her fingers down my cheek. “I’ll be right back.”
So there I was, left out in the hallway, naked save for a thin sheet. Not that anyone here gave a shit. Or so I thought until I heard the voice above my head: “Hi, Ethan.”
It was Deanna’s voice. A second later, she had wheeled herself into my view. She was smiling at me and I tried to push aside my anger at her for talking to Dylan about me. I guess she had complained to him before we “made up.”
“Getting a shower?” Deanna asked.
“I think so,” I said. “That or they’re going to discharge me to the streets like this.”
She laughed. “In that case, it’s a good thing you have that sheet.”
“No, it’s a good thing for you,” I said. “If not for the sheet, my manliness would overwhelm you.”
The smile faded from Deanna’s face, “Prove it.”
I raised my eyebrows at her. “Take a look.”
Deanna reached over with one of her gnarled hands that still functioned a lot better than mine and grabbed the edge of my sheet. She lifted it up in the air and peered at my naked body underneath. “Not bad, Mitchell,” she commented.
I felt strange all of a sudden. I was flirting with Deanna. I had never flirted with a girl who was less than a 7 before and Deanna was like a minus-7. She was a freak and here I was, flirting with her.
“Okay, break it up, you two,” Casey said. “Ethan needs his bath.”
As I predicted, the shower felt great. Casey did the cleaning and that wasn’t so bad either. I’d never been bathed by a beautiful woman before and it was pretty awesome. Since I was going to need help with bathing from now on, I decided I was going to make sure that a pretty girl was always the one helping me. She scrubbed my face, then my neck and shoulders, which was great because I could feel all of it. It was actually a huge turn-on, although when I looked down at my penis, it didn’t agree.
I will tell you that if a girl like Casey were giving me a bath six months ago, my penis would have been poking out the eyes of people in China. Right now though, it had no idea how incredible what was going on here was. My dick was completely detached from my brain. For me, that was definitely one of the suckiest parts of being a complete quad. But then again, that didn’t mean I was dead from the neck down either. I watched as Casey started cleaning my dick and it slowly started to grow on its own accord, even with the tube inside. By the time she finished cleaning my genitals, I was fairly hard.
I looked at Casey’s face, once again trying to gage her reaction. She had to be a little impressed. I mean, mostly just bathed kids. Not full grown men with impressive erections.
But Casey just moved on to my fingers and as she separated my fingers to clean in-between them, my erection faded. Pretty fast too. It made me wonder if I could hold out long enough to actually have sex. Probably not without medication. A urologist talked to me briefly about sex at the hospital and told me that if I ever had a sexual partner, I could go on Viagra. I didn’t like the way he used the word “if”. I mean, I was 19 years old… did he honestly think I was never going to find another sexual partner? Did he think I was that undesirable?
I noticed that Casey was having a little trouble separating my fingers. “Am I getting stiff?” I asked, concerned.
“Just a tiny bit,” she told me. “Don’t worry, we’ll work on getting you stretched out. But you have to expect you’re going to get some tone in your arms and legs.”
I guessed these things were all par for the course for being a quad. I was only four months into my injury, still in the adjustment period. I was always someone who rolled with the punches and I felt confident that I’d get used to this too.
A month later, I was still pretty bad at the sip and puff. I could navigate out of my room, but it took me for freaking ever. I could manage a straight hallway with maybe one simple turn. I was beginning to feel like a really dumb lab rat.
“Be honest and don’t spare my feelings,” I said to Linzy, “am I the worst sip and puffer you’ve ever had?”
She laughed at me. “You’ll get it,” she assured me. “I believe in you.”
Linzy believed in me enough that she cleared me to use the wheelchair when she wasn’t around. So I finally had the thing I had been waiting for: independent mobility. She trusted me not to run anyone over, as if I could have at the snail’s speed that she set the controls. There were several other kids in power wheelchairs and they were all able to go like five times as fast as me. Deanna sometimes saw me wheeling down the hall and would jokingly race me.
At the same time as I was gaining my independence with mobility, it was hard not to get a little depressed when I realized how dependant I now was for almost everything else. I needed to be dressed, fed, bathed, and have my nose scratched for me. There was no way I was ever going to be without 24 hour a day care. The occupational therapist was helping me to use a computer by placing it on my wheelchair tray and giving me a mouthpiece to use, but it was agonizingly difficult when I could only press one key at a time. I’m sure there was better technology out there that was easier to use, but it wasn’t available here at the subacute. I wasn’t sure if it would ever be available to someone like me, who was, let’s face it, totally flat broke.
The OT gave me the project of trying to send an email to my mother, so I was sitting in the common area trying to compose something brilliant. My mom had only been out to visit me once since I arrived and that visit lasted less than an hour. She came at around 11, and when the nurse arrived to feed me lunch and suggested my mom feed me instead, she said she had to go. She apparently had an appointment to go to, which was annoying because she needed practice with my care before I went home with her.
I did ask my mother about when I could come home and she said she thought things would be ready in a few months. I was relieved to hear that because the subacute was a lot less fun than I had imagined it. But it wasn’t so much that I didn’t like it here, but that I wanted to make sure she was still willing to take me home. I got some satisfaction out of telling this to the social worker, who was still pushing the nursing homes on me.
Anyway, it was slow going writing the email to my mom, but I had eked out nearly a full sentence: hi mom i’m writng 2 u on the laptop compter they gave me. Yeah, capitalization and punctuation was not going to happen. I started to write a second sentence when Deanna wheeled into the room. “Hi, Ethan,” she said.
Deanna and I had become friends in the last month. She was also my age, twenty years old, and she was the only other patient I felt that I could talk to in this place. I considered her my closest friend here, but I knew she was closer with Dylan, who still kind of hated me. I found out that she and Dylan weren’t an item, but I had a feeling that he had a thing for her. Anyway, she had plans to move to an assisted living home next year. I asked her about that as an option for me, but apparently I was too dependent for assisted living.
“Hi,” I said. As I spoke, the grip of my teeth on the mouthpiece loosened and the stick fell onto my tray. Which was better than the floor, which was where it fell at least 50% of the time. “Shit,” I said.
“Need help?” Deanna asked.
“That’s all right,” I said. I knew that between me and Deanna, it would take like an hour to get the damn mouthpiece back in my mouth. It would be easier to just ask the nurse.
“I saw Marian looking for you,” Deanna said.
Marian was the social worker. She was always looking for me.
“Tell her I went home,” I said.
“Very funny,” Deanna said. She looked a little concerned. “I told her you were in here. Ethan, I know you hate her, but you should try to work with her. You don’t want to end up someplace awful.”
“I don’t want to talk to her,” I said. I attempted to back up my chair to get out, but I hit some kind of barrier. I tried to crane my neck to see, but I couldn’t. I backed up again, but I was clearly stuck. “Deanna, can you…?”
“I’ll go get Marian,” she said.
I made yet another attempt to back up but it was hopeless. I sighed and resigned myself to having to talk to Marian. I knew Deanna thought she was trying to help me, but the conversations with Marian were frustrating. I felt like I was talking to a brick wall. Worse, an unattractive brick wall.
Marian came in a minute later, her blonde hair all poofed up, wearing way too much perfume as usual. It made my eyes water, which was especially annoying when I couldn’t rub them. She flashed me a fake, bright smile, “Ethan, so this is where you’ve been hiding!”
“Yeah,” I mumbled.
“Shall we talk in my office?”
“Okay,” I said. I tried to back up again and I swear to god, if I had gotten myself loose, I would have taken off. But I was still stuck and Marian had to move the table that was set up behind me then she pushed me all the way to her office.
I saw Dylan hovering outside the social work office. Dylan was always hovering somewhere, looking weird. Deanna told me he had cerebral palsy, but he had a normal IQ. But socially, he was a little screwed up, she told me. That was the revelation of the century. Anyway, after Marian pushed me into her office, she didn’t close the door and Dylan was still hovering outside. I flashed him my meanest “get the fuck out of here” look, but he didn’t budge.
“Ethan,” Marian said, “I’ve got some good news for you.”
“There’s a nursing facility only one town over that has a bed,” she told me. “It’s really a beautiful place. Newly opened, you’d only have one roommate, very luxurious. I can set up a tour for you next week.”
I shook my head, “Look, Marian, my mom told me she’d take me home.”
“See, this is a problem,” Marian said. “Because she told me that she couldn’t take care of you.”
“So you’re saying she lied to me?”
Marian sighed. She was about my mother’s age, maybe mid-forties, but not much like her at all. She was all chipper and positive all the time, like we were talking about doilies instead of my life. It drove me crazy. “Ethan, you know you can’t stay here past age 21,” she said. “If you don’t find a facility that you like, then when you hit 21, you’re going to get shipped off to the first place that has a bed.”
“Fine,” I said. I just wanted to end the conversation.
“Ethan, please don’t do this to yourself,” Marian said. “You’re so young. If we get you to the right place, it will make all the difference for you. You might even be able to work on getting a college degree.”
I snorted involuntarily. I had gone to college for a year and flunked out my second semester. I was never very good at school and I didn’t think not having use of my arms was going to make me a better student. “Are we done?” I asked.
Marian sighed again and nodded. I backed up and tried to turn in what I could already tell was going to be an unsuccessful attempt to get out of her small office. My wheelchair is freaking huge, so even if I were actually good at maneuvering it, an office like this would be really tricky. Without my having to ask, Marian came over and helped me leave her office. Dylan was waiting for me outside, staring.
“Was that good entertainment?” I asked him.
“She’s right, you know,” Dylan said. “You’re screwed.”
“Yeah, whatever,” I muttered.
“We’re all here because our parents couldn’t take care of us,” he said. “Your mother is never going to take you home. You’re going to end up in the worst nursing home and you’re going to be stuck there till you’re an old man.”
“Hey, fuck you,” I said. “Just because your parents don’t give a shit about you, that doesn’t mean mine don’t.
Dylan laughed. It was kind of a snort-laugh, like the kind of noise retarded kids make. “You can believe whatever you want,” he said. “I don’t care. We all know what’s going to happen to you. Everyone but you.”
I stared at him as he wheeled himself off. I hated to admit it, but there was a tiny part of me that was scared that he was right.
My favorite days were when Casey was the one who fed me. Of all the nurses and aids, she was the best one at feeding me. I don’t know what it was, but it was like the two of us were somehow in sync. She would always hold out the fork just as I was ready for another bite. She never rushed or seemed inpatient with me. It was great.
At the end of the meal, Casey wiped my mouth off and smiled at me, “Wow, you ate a lot.”
“I was hungry, I guess,” I said, shrugging. I wondered if I should be watching what I ate more carefully. I had lost so much weight since my accident, but now I had no way of burning calories. I didn’t want to end up obese.
“Do you want to stay out here or go back to your room?” she asked.
Deanna was just getting seated at my table, so I said, “I’ll stay.”
Casey readjusted my controls so that I could more easily reach them with my mouth, then she gently ran her fingers through my hair before she walked off. The gesture surprised me and every nerve ending in my body was set on fire.
“Oh my god, you have a crush on Casey!”
I turned my head and saw Deanna staring at me. “No…”
“You do!” she cried. “You totally do!”
“Okay,” I admitted. “So what if I do?”
“It’s kind of cute is all,” Deanna said, giggling.
“Will it still be cute when she and I are hot and heavy?”
Deanna flat out laughed, “You’re so funny, Ethan.”
“I’m not kidding.”
“Seriously?” Deanna laughed again. “You think you have a chance with Casey? You’re out of your mind.”
“Why is that so crazy?”
“For starters,” Deanna said, plucking at a bit of my diaper that was sticking out through my pants, “she wipes up your crap, right?”
The diapers at the subacute were the absolute worst ones I’d seen. They never managed to stay still. They were always sticking out of my pants, and worse, they didn’t have great capacity, if you know what I mean. In the brief time I’d been here, I’d crapped my pants at least half a dozen times, even though I was wearing my diapers. With the exception of Casey, the nurses were not very nice about cleaning it up. They all acted like it was somehow my fault. Um, I can’t control my bowels, sorry. The worst part was that my wheelchair got shit on it too and I sort of felt like they didn’t do the greatest job cleaning it. I was paranoid that I now smelled like shit all the time.
When my mom visited, I had asked her to buy me some new diapers, but she hadn’t been back, so I was still stuck wearing the crappy ones. I don’t know why I seemed to be the only one who had a problem with these diapers. I knew both Deanna and Dylan wore diapers and they never had blue plastic sticking out their pants. Anyway, I’m sure my incontinence is the most fascinating subject to you.
I knew it sounded dumb, but I felt like cleaning me up made Casey and I closer. There was definitely something intimate about it. I think Deanna just couldn’t understand it because most of the nurses she worked with were also female. And there was no chance any male nurse was going to like her.
“You’ll see,” I told Deanna. “Casey is definitely into me.”
Deanna snorted and shook her head, “You’re delusional, Ethan. Good luck.”
I grinned at her. “Don’t need it.”
I was never the most popular kid in school, but I was always someone who tended to be well liked and at least get along with everyone. That’s why it felt weird to me that for the first time in my life, I had an enemy: Dylan.
I didn’t hate him at first, but he hated me and the feeling eventually became mutual. I still think the whole thing had something to do with a crazy crush he had on Deanna, but he never would have admitted something like that to me. He was, without exaggeration, a huge asshole to me.
According to Deanna, Dylan was some kind of genius. He had a really high IQ, but he had cerebral palsy and his body just didn’t work very well. He was 19, my age, but he was already nearly finished with college. Unlike everyone else at the subacute, he had attended regular classes and even advanced classes, and I think it got to him that other kids were more able-bodied than him and could push him around. Now I was here and for once, I was someone more disabled than he was. I think it gave him a bit of a power trip to be able to push around someone like me.
Some of the things Dylan did to me were bordering on bullying. There was one time when I was innocently sitting in the lounge in my wheelchair, watching television, and Dylan reached out and managed to twist my sip and puff controls out of reach. I had to yell for a nurse to come help me. Another time he intentionally spilled a cup of water on my pants to make it look like I had wet them.
As for retribution, what could I do, right? I couldn’t move my arms, so it wasn’t like I could give Dylan a punch in the nose, which was what I wanted to do. Also, I mean, I felt a little sorry for the guy. He was just frustrated and taking it out on me.
Still, much as I tried, it was hard not to lose my cool around Dylan. On one occasion, I was watching television in the lounge, some MTV show about girls with big tits (just because I couldn’t feel my dick, didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy big tits) and Dylan wheeled in, got his gnarled hand on the remote control and shut it off. “Hey!” I yelled.
“This is disgusting,” Dylan said. “It objectifies women.”
“So fucking what,” I said. “I was enjoying it.”
“You know you’ll never be able to get a girl like that again,” Dylan said. “No woman is going to look at you anymore. Except to stare at what a freak you are.”
“Fuck off,” I said.
“I see you’re not denying it,” Dylan noted, his lips curled into a crooked smile. “You know it’s true. You’re never going to get laid again. I mean, look at you.”
“I’m not denying it because it’s so stupid,” I said. “You don’t know me. I get girls, no problem.”
“You used to get girls,” Dylan said. “Before you were paralyzed and wearing a diaper. Trust me on this one. You are never going to have sex again. Not unless you pay for it.”
Before I could reply, Dylan wheeled himself away. I have to say, he left me kind of speechless. Part of me knew he was spouting bullshit just to try to get to me, but part of me was really scared he was right. I’d never seen a quadriplegic wheeling down the street with a beautiful woman at his side. But then again, I had been feeling stronger and stronger vibes from Casey. I was now 100% certain that she was into me. All I had to do was figure out the right time to suggest we take our relationship to the next level.
Dylan was on crack. I was the same guy I always was, and soon I was going to be having mind-blowing sex with Casey.
My mother and stepfather were taking me out to lunch for my twentieth birthday and I was really excited. Aside from being out in the backyard area, I hadn’t been out of the hospital since I’d arrived. They were taking me to a restaurant that was a two block walk from the subacute. I couldn’t wait to rejoin the non-sick universe.
Casey gave me a bath that morning, shaved my face, and dressed me in a nice pair of clothes that my mother had brought for me. The clothes were bought about a year before my injury and although I liked wearing something that wasn’t shorts and a T-shirt, they didn’t fit well at all. I had lost so much weight that the button-down shirt was swimming on me. And the pants were really loose on my legs, yet Casey had to strain a little bit to get them to button at my waist. Still, I was always the kind of guy who cleaned up real good.
“What do you think?” I asked Casey, after I was situated in my wheelchair and she snapped my plastic tray in place.
“You look really handsome,” she said. She sounded like she meant it.
I was waiting out in the hallway for my parents to arrive when Deanna wheeled by. She did a double-take when she saw me. I must have looked pretty grungy before, based on the way everyone was reacting. “Wow,” she said. “You look good.”
“Thanks,” I said.
She pointed to my waist, “You’ve got something showing though.”
I looked down and could see blue diaper sticking out of my pants. Ugh. I was glad someone noticed that before I went out in public with my diaper showing. My mother, although she promised, still hadn’t brought me the diapers I wanted. “Can you fix it?” I asked.
Deanna reached over and did her best to tuck it back in. I could still see it a little bit, but it wasn’t noticeable at all. Good enough. While she was helping me, I noticed a pile of paperwork on her lap. “What’s all that?”
“It’s an application to take the SATs,” Deanna explained. “I want to apply to college.”
“Don’t you have to finish high school first?”
Deanna gave me a look and immediately I felt bad. Of course she went to high school. It wasn’t like she was retarded. “I went to Martin Luther King,” she said.
I stared at her. “Seriously? That’s where I went.”
“I know,” Deanna said.
I frowned, “You do?”
She looked kind of sad all of a sudden. “You and your friends… made some comments about me once…”
“Oh crap, I didn’t…”
“It’s okay,” she said quickly. “It was a long time ago and you didn’t think I could hear. I mean, it’s not like you’re the only one who ever made fun of the kid in the wheelchair.”
I felt awful about it, even though I couldn’t for anything remember. We had a special program at our school for disabled kids and we saw them around from time to time. I guess we sometimes made jokes about them. It seemed harmless. “I’m so sorry, Deanna.”
“You didn’t know,” she said with a shrug. “Anyway, you’re one of us now.”
I laughed, “Yeah, sort of.”
Deanna raised her eyebrows. “Sort of?”
“Well, you know,” I said. “I’m not… well, it’s not the same. You’ve got muscular dystrophy so your whole body is affected.”
“And yours isn’t?”
“You know it’s not the same.”
“You’re going out today,” Deanna observed. “See how people react to you and tell me it’s not the same.”
She wheeled off in a huff and there wasn’t much I could say. She was pissed at me. But it was true. I might have been paralyzed, but I looked like a normal guy sitting in a chair. Deanna wouldn’t look normal no matter what. It was a huge difference.
My mother was over half an hour late, but I was so excited, I didn’t even get annoyed. She arrived with my stepfather Dan, who married her a few years after my dad left. Dan never had a great relationship with me or my older brother. My dad was an alcoholic and so is my brother. I am not. I never had any problem whatsoever with drugs or alcohol, but because of my family history, Dan cracked down on me a lot. He blamed my bad grades and dropping out of college on drugs, even though it was actually just me being stupid. Ditto with my accident. It could be frustrating, but I was determined to get along with him, considering in a few months, he was going to be one of my caregivers.
“There’s my birthday boy!” Mom said, making a big fuss over me. “Wow, the big two-oh. I can’t believe my little baby is so old!”
I grinned at her, “Yeah, I’m an old man.”
Dan was hanging behind her, not looking very happy to be here. “Hey, Ethan,” he said. “Happy birthday.”
The last time my mother was here, I hadn’t been allowed to operate my chair by myself, so I was excited to show off how much better I was. She looked impressed. I made it out the front door easily and it felt great to have the wind in my hair. It was almost fall and the weather was fantastic.
We didn’t talk much during the trip to the restaurant, which was good, because I needed to concentrate on operating my chair. It was a little bit of a challenge to maneuver the curbs, but I handled it very well. The one thing I did notice though, when I allowed myself to, was that everyone on the street was staring at me. I guessed a guy in a giant sip and puff wheelchair was a bit of a spectacle.
We passed a tavern that was right next door to the restaurant and Dan suddenly commented, “Keith’s in jail.”
“What?” I said. Keith was my older brother.
“Got another DWI and they threw him in jail,” Dan said.
I was shocked. Keith had a drinking problem, but I didn’t think it was bad enough to land him in jail. I guess between the two of us, we were giving Mom a lot of gray hairs.
I had been assured that the restaurant was wheelchair-accessible, which was a relief. Mom and Dan went into the place first and I followed. The entrance was wide, but as I’ve said, my wheelchair is really big, so even wide entrances could be challenging. But I got through okay and was patting myself on the back until I got inside.
The hostess area was lined with mirrors, probably to make the place look bigger. I had been getting compliments on how I looked back in the subacute, so I was thinking I looked pretty hot, but then I got a look at myself in a full length mirror for the first time in months. I was completely horrified. I had thought I looked basically like myself, but sitting in a chair. Not even close. I looked just like all the other badly disabled kids at the subacute, my lifeless arms and legs strapped into a wheelchair, my fat gut sticking out and looking ridiculous. And even though Deanna had tucked it in, a large flap of my diaper was sticking out and was really obvious. I couldn’t believe this was how I looked. I felt like I must be staring at somebody else in the mirror, but there were no other guys around in giant wheelchairs. I looked like I ought to be on Jerry Lewis’s Kids or something.
The hostess came out and gave me a really bright and condescending smile before she turned to Dan. “How many?”
“Two,” Dan said. “And him.”
I was angry at the way he said that. I didn’t even count as a person?
Once we were past the mirrors, I tried not to think about it. I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. I was just taken by surprise because I hadn’t seen myself yet, but it really wasn’t that bad. I mean, Casey definitely seemed to think I looked good. Or at least not like a freak. But it was undeniable the way everyone in the restaurant was staring at me as I navigated to our table. It made me really nervous and I tried hard not to do anything dumb that would call more attention to myself. Of course, I messed that up by slamming into an empty chair hard enough to knock it over.
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” the hostess told me quickly, as I sat there while she picked it up and put it back in place.
The hostess pulled one of the chairs away from our table and I brought my chair as close as it would get. The food was going to have to go on my tray. Mom put the menu on my tray and turned it open to the entrees for me.
I tried to brainstorm what would be easiest to eat. Grilled chicken seemed like a good bet. It was easy to cut and easy to chew, so I wouldn’t take forever between bites. My mother hadn’t fed me yet and I wondered how she’d do at it. I guess she had a long time to get better at it.
“So is Keith going out on bail?” I asked.
Dan shook his head. “We’re not bailing him out,” he said. “The two of you need to learn from your mistakes.”
I felt bad thinking of my brother in jail, although he was still better off than me. Then again, I hadn’t done anything wrong. Aside from not being good at riding a motorcycle.
The waiter came by to take our orders. Mom and Dan ordered, then the waiter said to my mother, “And what will your son have?” I was really angry. Why didn’t he ask me directly? Did I look like I was retarded or something?
“I’ll have the grilled chicken,” I said.
“Very good,” the waiter said, “would you like to have it cut up into small pieces?”
“Oh, what a great idea!” my mother said.
The waiter smiled, “We get a lot of kids from the subacute over here, so we understand.”
“How nice,” Mom mused, as the waiter walked away with our orders. I was kind of angry still, but I guessed she was right: I did need the meat cut up for me. This made everyone’s lives a little easier.
“So how are the renovations on the house going?” I asked.
“Renovations?” Mom asked.
“You know, putting in ramps and stuff.” The house that Mom and Dan lived in had five steps to the main entrance, so there was no way I was getting inside without a ramp. The doorways were probably way too small too. There was a lot that needed to be done. It was going to be a lot of work to make that house accessible to person in a power wheelchair.
“We’re working on it,” Mom assured me. “There’s no rush, right? You only just turned twenty today.”
“Yeah, but I feel pressured,” I said. “I think they want me out.”
Mom laughed, “Well, they’re stuck with you for now.”
We chatted about Mom’s job and Dan’s job. I didn’t really have a lot to say about the subacute. It wasn’t stuff I wanted to talk about, I guess. I told them about Casey and I think Mom could tell I was interested in her.
The food arrived and as promised, my meat was cut up into miniscule pieces. Seriously, I felt like if I inhaled hard enough, they would just float into my mouth. The waiter placed the food on my tray and I looked at my mother expectantly.
“Let her eat her own food first,” Dan said.
“Well, at the subacute, they say you should take turns giving me a bite and giving yourself a bite,” I suggested.
“Um, I could do that,” Mom said.
“No, eat your food, Maggie,” Dan said.
“Well, I think we should develop a system for when I come home,” I said.
There was a silence and finally, Dan put his fork down, “Goddamn it, Maggie, can you just tell him already?”
“Tell me what?”
Mom wouldn’t look at me. “Dan, please, it’s his birthday…”
“Mom, tell me what?”
“Ethan, you’re not going to be able to come home with us,” Mom said.
I felt sick. For a moment, everything started fading out and I was down to just tunnel vision. I could hear my mother’s voice still talking but she sounded really far away.
“…we just feel like it will be too difficult with both me and Dan working all day… I mean, we’d have to hire someone to be with you all day… and now with Keith in jail…”
I was so angry, I had to concentrate hard just in order to speak: “So you lied to me before?”
“I didn’t lie to you, honey,” she insisted. “We were hoping it would work out, but it just can’t.”
“So what am I supposed to do?”
Mom was biting her lip so hard that her lower lip was white. “Well, Marian said there were some really good nursing facilities in the area.”
“I’m twenty years old… you expect me to spend the rest of my life in an old folks home??”
Mom started to say something, but Dan held up his hand. “No Maggie, stop coddling him. Ethan, you made your own bed, now you have to lie in it. Your mother and I told you a million times not to drive drunk.”
“I wasn’t drunk!” I cried. “I had one beer!”
“Please, Ethan, do we look stupid to you?” Dan shot back.
“Mom,” I began, but I could see from her face that she had already decided. Or at least, Dan had already decided. That was it: my whole future down the tubes. I would never even close to be able to take care of myself, so a nursing home was my only option. I was going to spend the rest of my life surrounded by demented old men.
I felt my lower lip start to tremble, but I didn’t want to give that asshole Dan the satisfaction of crying in front of him. “I’m not hungry anymore,” I said. I sipped on my control to get away from the table, but I was so upset, the chair turned instead, slamming into the table and spilling my mother’s water. As she jumped up to clean my mess, I successfully backed away from the table and started heading for the entrance. I heard Dan yelling something after me but I didn’t listen. I felt the tears starting to spill down my cheeks and I just had to get out.
I was almost out of the restaurant when I snagged a chair against my footrest. I backed up and slammed against it again as fast as my chair would go, and the seat toppled to the floor. It made a really loud noise and I knew everyone was staring at me, but I didn’t care. I made it out the front door of the restaurant.
Now the tears were flowing hard. I was starting to really sob. I hadn’t cried like this since I was a little kid. It felt strange to have no control over my emotions like this. I was snorting and sniffling and hiccupping. I hadn’t even cried when they told me I’d never move my arms or walk again, but this was just too much.
I saw the tavern next to the restaurant and thought of Dan’s words: I told you a million times not to drive drunk. I never had a drinking problem but Dan was such an asshole that he never believed me. Well, I never had a drinking problem before, but it wasn’t too late to develop one. What was worth staying sober for, anyway? I puffed on my controls and headed in the direction of the tavern.
I was at the doorway to the tavern and my chair suddenly stopped short, causing my paralyzed body to jump. There was a single step at the entranceway. I backed up and tried to somehow jump the step. I knew my wheelchair didn’t have that kind of capability, but I was hoping maybe if I went fast enough, I could do it. Instead, I just banged against the step once again. I backed up and tried again and again, my wheels spinning in place, tears streaming down my cheeks. A crowd had formed at the entrance, watching me, not sure what to do, I guess, and I heard someone say, “Sir, are you all right?”
Finally, I felt the controls being pulled away from my mouth. I looked up and Dan was at my side, looking more pissed off than I’d ever seen him. And I’d seen him pretty damn pissed off. “Ethan, you’re going back to the subacute right now,” he said. “And I don’t want to hear another fucking word about it.”
Dan pushed me back to the subacute himself. I was crying the whole way… I didn’t think I could stop anymore. My mother was nowhere in sight and I guessed that she couldn’t take seeing me like this, so she had gone back to the car to wait for Dan. Dan pushed me through the doors of the subacute and by now, I was really a mess. My face was probably all red, my eyes felt puffy and filled with tears, my face was sticky with tears, and there was snot running out of my nose that I obviously couldn’t wipe away.
Casey was there and looked shocked when she saw me. “What happened?” she asked.
“He may be twenty, but he’s still a child,” Dan said. I wanted to punch him in the face. “We’re leaving. Ethan, you can call us when you’re able to discuss things civilly.”
I was coughing and hiccupping now, totally out of control. Even in the subacute, where everyone was a freak, they were all staring at me. Casey gently stroked my cheek. “Ethan, Ethan, calm down…” she whispered. But I couldn’t. She pushed me to my room, calling for another nurse to come help her. The other nurse brought a suctioning machine and stuck it in my throat, which didn’t feel too good but sort of helped. Then a third nurse came in and gave me a shot into my arm. All the while, Casey was setting up the Hoyer lift to get me back into bed.
I figured out they had shot me up with a sedative because I suddenly felt a lot calmer and very sleepy. I stopped crying and watched as Casey stripped me down to my undershirt and diapers. Because of all the excitement, I hadn’t even noticed that I had shit my diaper so badly that it had leaked onto my pants (again). I watched silently as Casey changed me and I suddenly felt really embarrassed. I thought I had accepted the fact that I was going to be wearing a diaper for the rest of my life, but suddenly, it didn’t feel okay anymore. I was an adult in my twenties and it was embarrassing that I was totally incontinent. I remembered the way I had looked in the mirror at the restaurant, about how crippled and weird I looked and how the diaper was sticking out, giving away my lack of bowel control, and I winced.
I watched as Casey nonchalantly wiped me clean and put on a fresh diaper. I couldn’t believe that when I first came here, I had thought something would ever happen between the two of us. It was obvious all she could ever feel for me would be disgust and pity. I felt embarrassed for having announced to Deanna that I thought Casey and I would hook up. She must have been looking at me and laughing to herself at that one.
Casey left me in my undershirt and diapers, but she came back with a cloth to clean my face. I was so tired, I felt my eyes drifting shut as the cool water wiped the tears from my cheeks. It was the lowest point in my life to that point and at the time, I believed things would never improve.
To be continued...