Today was the worst fucking day of my life.
There’s some strong competition too. Like the day I graduated from high school and got busted for buying weed during the ceremony and actually got carted away by the cops during the principal’s speech to us. I didn’t end up going to jail or anything, but that night my dad packed up all my shit and threw it on our front lawn and said he was tired of my crap and he didn’t want to see me again. I tried to go to my best buddy Jay’s house to sleep, but his grandmother told me to fuck off, that I was a bad influence. So I ended up sleeping on the sidewalk.
So yeah, that was a really bad day. But today was worse.
As a teenager, I was all about rebellion. Everything I did practically, I did it to piss off my folks. Every time I pierced something, tattooed something, snorted something, I pictured my parents finding out about it. That fueled me. I was always trying to fuck with them, trying assert my independence or some shit like that. Even though it sucked getting thrown out on my ass, I was psyched to be out on my own when I was eighteen. I went to live in New York City, where I found a lot of people who were really similar to me. The next six years were honestly kind of a blur that could be summed up in three words: lots of drugs. Mostly, meth. But I wasn’t picky.
Culminating, of course, in my dirt bike accident. Dirt bikes are pretty dangerous. And they’re especially dangerous, I guess, when you’re really fucking high. It’s probably a miracle I didn’t get hurt sooner, or maybe that I wasn’t killed. Actually, I don’t look at it as a miracle that I wasn’t killed. I’d say that was kind of a shame. Would have spared me a lot of shit. Would have spared me having to get through today.
My parents arrived at the rehab center right on time to pick me up. There were no surprises, considering they had been by to “get trained” every day this week. They were getting trained to take care of me, because there was no fucking way I could do it myself anymore. It’s funny how for eighteen years, I did everything I could to get away from my parents, and now, at age twenty-four, I was suddenly dependent on them for everything.
When I crashed my bike, I broke my neck at my C4 vertebrae. Six months ago, that would have meant nothing to me. But I woke up and couldn’t move my arms or legs or even breathe on my own, so I learned quickly. It took the doctors a few weeks to admit to me that my paralysis was probably permanent.
Things got a little better luckily. I learned to breathe on my own, so that rocked. Also, my arms went from not moving at all to…. drum roll please… being about to bend my right elbow against gravity. I know, exciting. But actually, it was life changing. Once I got that little bit of movement back in my elbow, I could feed myself again. I could brush my teeth and comb my hair. I mean, I needed a shitload of special adaptive equipment and someone to help with set up, but I could do it. That was huge. Now all I needed was some adaptive equipment to help me jerk off. (Just kidding about that. I can’t feel my dick anyway.)
Now, at my discharge, I’d been classified as a C4/C5 quadriplegic. My doctor said he didn’t expect much more in the way of improvement, so that was how it was going to be from now on. For the rest of my life.
Obviously my parents and I had a pretty rocky relationship prior to my injury, so they lay down some ground rules for me before they agreed to let me come home again:
1) I had to look respectable. That meant dressing in a way that they thought was reasonable, not the punk get up that I sported back in high school. Not that I was much of a punk in my more recent years. My bigger problem was not washing my clothes for months at a time. But since I wasn’t going to be doing the laundry again ever, it was pretty much out of my hands. Then there was my hair. When I was in high school, I kept it bleached and dyed some crazy color, usually blue or green. I got sick of the hair dye after leaving high school, but hadn’t cut it in the last four years. My hair was getting pretty damn long, but now it was cut about an inch from my scalp, in a fashion that my parents deemed “respectable.” Hey, at least it wasn’t a military cut. Anyway, who the fuck cared what my hair looked like?
2) No drugs. You’d think this was a given since I was lying in a hospital bed these days, but not so much. I’m resourceful, ya know? As soon as I was stabilized, one of my buddies snuck in some cocaine and I snorted out from a line he made for me. Long story short, a nurse noticed, I had to take a drug test, and shit went down. So now my parents were watching my ass.
3) Behave respectfully and no swearing. This was going to be fucking hard.
4) I had to go to church every Sunday. This more than anything was the part that made me want to poke out my eyeballs. But this was really important to my mother. She felt I lost my way and sitting through a fucking boring sermon every Sunday was going to help me figure things out. Whatever. It’s not like I had anything better to do anymore.
So all this should explain why I wasn’t too excited about my homecoming. But I always felt like there’s no point in getting upset about shit you can’t control. So I was trying to make the best of it.
In preparation for my parents picking me up, my physical therapist Angela got me into my wheelchair. I use a kind of bulky joystick controlled wheelchair which I operate with my right hand. Since my left arm doesn’t move at all, Angela placed my curled up hand in my lap. I had a strap across my chest, across my lap, and across both my feet. At least I wasn’t falling out of the chair so easily.
My mom showed up fifteen minutes early. She was kind of dressed up, like this was some sort of special occasion. I have to be totally honest: my mom is hot. She is! She’s got a really pretty face and a great body. In school, all my friends had a boner for her. It’s hard to say that kind of stuff about your own mom, but she was close to fifty now and she still looked great. Most people think I look a lot like her. I was always really good looking and never had any problems getting girls. Back then.
My father, on the other hand, is a lucky fucker for having such a hot wife. He’s bald, for starters. And he’s kind of an asshole. When I try to remember a time when I actually liked and got along with my father, I really can’t. He’s such a jackass.
“Are you all packed, Ryan?” Mom asked me. As if she hadn’t packed all my shit herself yesterday. I was going to point out to her that I hadn’t been up early this morning packing or anything, but I held my tongue. I had to keep the peace.
“I’m all set,” I said.
“Great!” She beamed at me. “Daddy is in the van waiting for us.”
My parents actually bought an accessible van for me to ride in. They also spent a fortune making their house wheelchair accessible. When Dad had told me how much he spent, he paused a really long time. Then he said, “Well, aren’t you going to say thank you, Ryan?”
In the olden days, I would have told him to go fuck himself. But instead I bit my tongue and said thank you.
My parents live out in Loserville, Long Island. Compared with the city, I was going to be dying of boredom. I guess it’s a great place to live if you want to have a big house with a bunch of kids and not ever go out and actually have some fun. But it wasn’t exactly my dream to be stuck in Long Island at age 24. Oh well. It was probably more accessible than the city anyway. We’d taken some outings since I’d been in rehab and it was always a pain in the ass to do pretty much anything in my wheelchair.
I went around saying my goodbyes to everyone in rehab. I kept it short because I knew Dad was waiting downstairs and he was going to be pissed off if I took too long. My father has a really bad temper. He’s one of those guys who flies off the handle when everyone doesn’t do shit his way. Honestly, it’s amazing he didn’t kick me out the house sooner. I guess he was waiting for me to be eighteen.
“Stay in touch, Ryan,” Angela told me just before I left, running a hand kind of fondly through my hair. Angela and I had been kind of flirting ever since I’d been in rehab. She had an okay face and a smoking body. She was engaged though. Not that anything would ever happen even if she wasn’t.
Sure enough, Dad was sitting in the car outside looking pissed off. “What took so long?” he said.
“I blew a tire,” I said. “We had to pull over and find a mechanic.”
I thought that was kind of funny but Dad apparently didn’t. He was fuming under his breath as he got out to help load me into the back of the van. I appreciate that my parents bought the cripple-mobile, but I feel so fucking lame when the ramp is being mechanically raised for me to get into the van.
Mom babbled through the entire drive. I forgot how she used to talk all the time. It used to drive me fucking nuts. She was mostly talking about my brother Sean, who is in college now but still living at home. Sean has always been the good kid, the one that my parents loved the most. I don’t think Sean ever smoked a joint in his whole life. You can imagine that Sean and I hadn’t been the best of friends.
It took nearly two hours to get out to Long Island. I remember in high school, I used to take the Long Island Railroad to the city a lot of weekends in order to actually have some fun. I remember the ride back home on the LIRR always filled me with dread. But that was nothing compared to what I was feeling right now. As the house where I grew up and lived for eighteen years came into view, I felt ill.
“Are you okay, Ryan?” Mom asked me, looking back at me. “Are you carsick, honey?”
I guess I looked as bad as I felt. “Yeah, a little,” I said.
“Just hang on,” she told me, putting a hand on my knee, which of course I couldn’t feel.
Dad took his sweet time getting me out of the van. I had lived in this neighborhood a long time and I knew who lived in every house, and I was willing to bet every single one of them was watching my homecoming. I mean, NOTHING ever happens in this freaking neighborhood, so somebody breaking their neck and becoming a quadriplegic was a big deal. I felt like I could almost make out the neighbors staring through their windows.
It was only a matter of time before someone came out to get a closer look. It turned out to be Patty Haynes, who lived in the house right to the left of ours. Patty was in her sixties with two grown kids, both of whom were undoubtedly doing better than me. She had always kind of clucked her tongue disapprovingly at me. I remember one time when I was about sixteen, she caught me stumbling home at seven in the morning after a night out of heavy partying. Actually, she caught me vomiting in her bushes. She informed me that I was a disgrace to the neighborhood and I informed her that she was an ugly bitch who should mind her own goddamn business.
“Ryan,” Patty cooed now. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“Uh huh,” I said as my dad lowered the ramp down to street level.
“You look wonderful,” she told me in a really condescending voice.
I wished I could slug her. I looked down at her feet, wondering if I could run them over with my wheelchair.
“We’d love to have you over to visit sometime,” Mom said.
“That would be lovely,” Patty said.
I thought that would be a great cue for Patty to piss off, but instead she and my mother chattered as I made my way down the walkway to the new ramp at the front. The ramp was plenty long, but the junction between the ramp and the walkway was a little steep and my wheels jammed a little. My wheelchair isn’t one of those gigantic tank-like machines that runs over everything. I wanted something a little smaller and the price I had to pay was that non-even surfaces were harder to wheel over. At the time, I couldn’t imagine where I was going to be going that I’d need a super duper wheelchair.
I pushed my splinted hand into the joystick and I still wasn’t moving. “Shit,” I said.
Dad heard me. “Ryan,” he said warningly. “What did we say about your language?”
Shit isn’t a fucking curse. What the hell was wrong with him? But okay, whatever. I held my expletives and gave the joystick another push and this time bounced onto the ramp. Awesome.
I had to wait for Dad to unlock and open the door for me. It fucking sucks that I can’t even open most doors. I can’t operate a key and I can’t turn a doorknob, so yeah, not gonna happen. It’s such a basic thing though. I mean, a door. Needing help to open a door makes me feel like I’m about five years old. Actually, that’s not even true, since a five-year-old can open doors. I’m more like a two-year-old.
My parents had redone their house for me, but the second I saw the inside, I got filled with anxiety. Even though the doorways had obviously been widened, there was too much furniture around. I could already see places where my chair was going to be a tight squeeze. Believe it or not, it’s not that easy to operate a power wheelchair without having any use of your hands or wrists. I was concerned.
“Looks great, doesn’t it?” Mom said to me.
Once again, I found myself holding my tongue. I think if I wanted to live peacefully with my parents, I was going to have to become a mute.
My brother Sean was sitting on a couch and he stood up when I came in. While I mostly resemble our mother, Sean looks a lot more like Dad—tall and very angular. He’s 21, in his last year of college, and kind of a dork. I hadn’t seen him since he was fifteen, but even then we didn’t get along so hot. I remember he caught me smoking up in my bedroom and immediately ran to tell Dad.
“Hi, Ryan,” he said, looking down at me. I hated the fact that everyone had to look down at me now. I used to be close to six feet tall, but now even my fucking mother was looking down at me.
“Hi, Sean,” I said back.
Sean had the same almost military-short haircut I now had, and was dressed in preppie clothing, but the crazy thing is, that all this was his choice. He wasn’t being forced like I was. He actually enjoyed being a huge tool.
“We turned your father’s study in your new bedroom,” Mom told me. My old bedroom had been on the second floor, but obviously I wasn’t going in there any time soon.
She strode off in the direction of my new room and I tried to follow her, but just as I suspected, the living room was too crowded with furniture. I got stuck trying to navigate between the couch and the coffee table. I backed up and tried a second time, but it was obvious I wasn’t going anywhere. “Mom…” I said.
Sean noticed I was having trouble and moved the coffee table so that I could get through. Barely. I couldn’t fucking believe I was going to need people to move shit for me just so that I could wheel across my own goddamn living room. They were going to need to get rid of some furniture or something.
At least the doorway to my new room was wide enough for me to get through. “Ta da!” Mom said as I wheeled in.
I wasn’t excited. My old room was pretty awesome, probably one of the reasons I was sorry to get kicked out. The walls had been plastered with posters of my favorite bands (I don’t even remember who I liked back then, I think it was some punk shit), and I had a bunk bed that I shared with Sean when we were kids and I had gotten it in the split. I had a mini television and my shelves were filled with my favorite CDs. Best of all, I kept a good supply of weed and pills nestled in the drawers. I wondered if Dad had just tossed all my shit because nothing in this room looked familiar. Instead of a bunk bed, there was a pressure relief mattress with a sling so that I could be easily transferred into the bed. The walls were bare except for a framed photo of the four of us from when I was about ten years old. The best part of the room right now was the computer in the corner, which had my special typing splint set up next to it. It looked like the room of a handicapped person, which I guess made sense.
“What do you think?” Mom asked me.
“Um,” I said. “Yeah, great. Awesome. I love it.”
“We bought you all new clothing,” Mom told me proudly.
I suppressed a groan. I didn’t know what kind of stuff they had bought me, but I suspected I wasn’t going to like it. I was scared they were going to want me to try on all the clothes and model them or something. Instead Mom told me she was making dinner and I should go in the living room and watch TV with Sean.
To be continued....
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