Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Circles II

This story originally appeared on the Secret Garden Website and is archived here at the request of author Doug Rogers.

 Circles I

I think I woke up fairly soon after coming back from surgery. I say 'I think' because I'm really not sure of anything that first day. I was drifting in and out a lot. Of course, the doctor had told me that would be the way of it. He was keeping me pretty well sedated to let the major healing begin and keep me out of pain. That suited me just fine. Somewhere in there it occurred to me to look down at the foot of the bed. At first I thought the operation hadn't been done yet: I saw the twin rises of my feet right where they should have been; there was no void on the left side. I drifted back into the blackness again.
It was, I think, the next time I drifted into consciousness that I became aware of the tight feeling all around my left thigh. I focused again on the shapes at the foot of the bed. Ah! Of course! I was seeing the instant prosthesis that Dr. Burns had promised he would fit me with. He said he did that for most of his younger patients after amputation anyway, but after what Corky had told me about being able to get up and actually walk after a day or two, I wanted to be damned sure I was one of the guys who got one!
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Thank God! It was over! The twin specters of the horror of having a leg chopped off and death were both past now, one having banished the other. The cancerous knee was gone. The doctor had promised me the night before that the tests showed it hadn't spread; they had caught it early enough. Gingerly, I tried to lift my left leg. It seemed to weigh a ton. I simply shook my head, smiled a silly grin, and drifted back to sleep.

"Earth to Randy Hankins," a voice was calling from somewhere far, far away.
I was trying to decide if I wanted to open my eyes to investigate or sleep some more.
"Earth to Randy!"
The call was sharper the second time. I was going to have to respond to it. I propped one eye open, peering toward the direction of the voice. The sharp features and dark hair of Corky Anderson stared back at me, a radiant smile across his lips. I smiled back at him.
I closed my eyes at first, but then something hit me and they snapped back open. I looked around. Yes, I was in the hospital there in Carson City. "What are you doing here?" I asked incredulously. "You're supposed to be in Needles!"
Corky smiled crookedly. "Hey. I'm supposed to let my new best friend go through this by himself?" He gestured to the hospital bed.
I reached out my arms to him and he bent forward to hug me. "Thanks for comin', man!" I whispered in his ear. "I've been so fuckin' scared!"
"Why I came," he whispered back.
"Have you seen my folks yet?" I asked.
"Oh yes! They're right outside in the waiting room. I told them I'd come get them when you woke up."
"How's my mom taking it?" I asked, remembering her weepy eyes the night before.
"Better now," he answered. "When I got here they were doin' your surgery. She was pretty torn up, but I think it helped when the doctor came in and told her that he was sure they'd gotten all of the cancer and that you were going to be fine."
I nodded. I was glad to hear that myself, even after the assurances of the night before.
"It was kinda funny. The first words out of her mouth were 'Thank God', then the next ones were 'But Dear God, how will he ever manage now!'"
I just shook my head. Mothers are so predictable.
"I think she was embarrassed. She looked at my leg real quick, then opened her mouth like to say something else, then closed it back and turned red as my shirt!"
Again, exactly what I had expected. "What'd you do?" I asked, stifling a giggle.
"Just what we'd talked about while you were waiting for them to come get you when you were at my place last week." He looked down at the prosthetic leg extending from his own short pants. "I walked and jumped and danced around the waiting room and showed her that us one-legged guys are not cripples! Then I took it off right in front of her and let both her and your dad look at the leg, then I made her look at my stump. She did pretty well with it, too. She even touched it and decided that it had healed up really well. I chattered on like a magpie about how being an amputee was just no big deal!"
"Did she buy it?"
"I think so. At least I think she's better with it than she was." He paused. "How are you with it, Ran? You okay?"
I looked down. I'm fourteen years old and I'm lying here casually chatting with the guy who one week ago was my first sex partner about the fact that they've just whacked one of my legs off! And we're both using the same tone of voice to do it that other guys use to talk about who won a basketball game last night! "I guess so," I finally said. "I still don't think I realize it's really gone." I looked at Corky seriously. "Would you pull back the covers so I can have a look?"
"Let me get a nurse in so we can raise the bed first. You're not gonna see shit flat on your back."
"Here's the control." I grabbed the handheld unit from the bedside. Corky snatched it from my hands.
"Uh-uh!" He said emphatically. "I want someone to say it's okay for you to sit up. I don't need you bleeding all over the place for no good reason and it being my ass!"
"Awright, awright," I pouted. Corky pressed the call button and a few moments later a white uniformed nurse came padding in wearing those cleater-clopper rubber soled shoes that they sneak around in.
"Yes?" She asked.
"He wants to sit up," Corky told her. "That okay?"
The woman looked at her watch, then referred to a chart. "I would say so," she answered. "The doctor actually expected you to be awake before this." She picked up the bed controller and raised the head about 45 degrees. "How's that?"
"Fine!" I told her, and she was gone. "Okay, help me get these covers turned back," I told Corky. He did as I asked and for a moment I wished I hadn't insisted.
You have to understand. I was ready to have the amputation done. I had already been through all the anguish and fear about being hurt and crippled as well as the fear of dying if I didn't let 'em do it! Just meeting Corky and finding out from him that not only can you live through cancer, but having one leg is only as big a deal as you let it be had made me okay with what I had to do. I'd called my folks to come and pick me up, giving up the short life of a dying run-away and trading it in for a hopefully longer one as a one-legged kid that would have someone I really think I love in it. Corky had done all of that for me in one short day!
Still, when he pulled those covers back and I saw what was hiding there it was a shock. I was wearing one of those hospital gowns, so what I saw at first was what looked like a black piece of pipe sticking out from the hem of the garment with a crude plastic foot with no toes stuck on the bottom of it. I don't know what I had expected an "instant prosthesis" to look like, but this wasn't quite it somehow.
Still, I had started this process of discovery, so I pulled up the bottom of the gown. As the cloth inched up my leg I saw a funny shaped round assembly where the knee should have been. Apparently that was my new knee, at least for the time being. Above the gizmo was more of the black pipe for another three inches. It terminated in a rounded mass of plaster of Paris. I pulled the bottom all the way up and was surprised to find that the cast ran all the way up to the bottom of my butt cheek!
I said nothing as I looked at the blunt shape the white plaster suggested. Yes, that was what was left of my leg. Dr. Burns had cut it off exactly where he'd told me he was going to. Suddenly, as I was trying to take it all in and deal with it, the door to the room opened.
It was like the Santa Anna winds coming in off the desert. My mother tended to fill any available room with her presence. The nurse had apparently informed the folks that I was awake and they had rushed to my bedside to comfort me. Of course, it was Mom who needed comforting! She took one look at the pipe monster attached to me and started wailing like it'd been her leg they'd chopped off!
The old man took it better. "Having a look at the new parts Major Austin?" he asked. I didn't 'get it' for a second until I remembered those 'Bionic Man' reruns he watches all the time on TNT. I tried to grin and nodded. I just wished Mom would shut the hell up! If she didn't stop she was going to get me bawling about it!
"Hey, Mrs. Hankins," Corky said, walking to her side. "It's okay. Didn't the doctor tell you that this was just a temporary leg to get Randy back walking sooner? It's not the final piece!"
Mom dried her tears and blew her nose in that ridiculous lace hanky she always carries. "I... I just didn't realize..." she wailed as she broke down again.
"Dear Lord, Edna," my father was saying. "Would you have rather come in here and just see a mass of bandages around the boy's leg? Stop crying! This monster he's wearing may not be pretty but it's going to get him up and around a lot sooner! Dr. Burns told us all about the advantages of this idea when we were all together Thursday night!"
"I...I'm sorry," she finally blubbered. "I just didn't expect to see it first thing." She came over and kissed me. "How are you, Randall? Are you in pain? Do I need to get the nurse in?"
"I'm okay," I told her. "I'm still a little sleepy." I looked outside. It was light. "What day is this?"
"Saturday," my father answered. "You've slept just about 24 hours."
Saturday! Damn! They'd come in and taken me up about noon the previous day! I gestured to Corky to help me pull the covers up, which he did without fanfare. "How long have you been here?" I asked him.
"Your Dad called me Thursday night after the doc told him they had moved the surgery up a day. I came up on the bus yesterday. Like I told you, I got here while they were working on you."
"Oh yeah," I said shaking my head.
"We've been here all night, son," my father volunteered. "We wanted to be here when you woke up."
"Thanks, Dad," I said weakly.
"Well, I'm going to take your mother home. We need some sleep too!" He turned to my friend.
"You coming, Corky?"
He looked at me. "You gonna be okay? I'll stay if you want to talk."
"Naw," I answered. "I've had enough excitement for one day. I want to sleep some more." Corky gave me a high five and followed my folks out the door. I marveled at how smoothly he walked. I was ready to do as well when they let me give this new leg of mine a try!
"Take it and stick it up your ass!" I yelled at the top of my voice.
The recipient of my admonition was Dr. Bartholomew Burns. The subject was the instant leg he'd stuck on the end of my stump three days earlier. I was too busy yelling at the good doctor to notice Corky slip in the door.
"Randy, I assure you that you're worrying about nothing. Your stitches are not going to come open. You just have to put a little weight on it to get used to it!"
"What's the matter?" Corky asked.
We both turned to greet him. Dr. Burns started to explain, but I cut him off. "The problem is, you lied to me, you son of a bitch!"
The boy on the prosthesis looked at me like he didn't have a clue.
"You told me that it didn't hurt all that much after they did it! That you were up in just a couple of days walking!" I glared at him. "Well, it hurts like hell when I put weight on it! And I can already tell that walkin's gonna be a bitch on this thing!"
"Randy, it's your first day to try it, for heaven's sake," the doctor began.
"Both of you get the hell out of here! Go away!" I screamed.
Burns grabbed Corky by the arm and ushered him out. I sat there on the side of the bed, tears streaming down my face. I don't know what made me madder, the fact that I'd had my leg cut off or that I felt like everyone had lied to me!
It was about a minute later when Corky peeked back around the edge of the doorframe. "Ran? I'd really like to come in."
"Go away, you lying bastard!"
"Well, if you'll let me come in, you might not think I'm quite the lying bastard," he offered.
Somehow I didn't have it in my heart to keep him out. "Fine!" I snapped. "Do as you damned well please."
He walked over to the side of the bed. "What's wrong?"
"It hurts!" I cried.
"Does it hurt when you're there in the bed?" he asked.
"Well, no. Not really."
"So what hurts?"
I took a deep breath. "Dr. Burns came in a few minutes ago and said he thought it was time for me to get up and learn how to use my new leg." I looked at Corky's prosthesis. "I mean, you walk so good and so easy..." I shook my head. "He hands me a pair of crutches and tells me to take a step using the crutches to help. I tried to put weight on it and it was like a dozen wasps stinging me all along the bottom of it!"
Corky smiled a little sadly. "I'm willing to bet he told you to put a little weight on it... not everything you've got you red-headed fool!"
"Well, yeah, but how much is a little? You don't seem to have any trouble."
Corky rolled his eyes as if he were trying to explain something to a small child. "Look, doofus. Let's think about what's happened here, okay? They took a knife and cut through all the muscles and shit in your leg all the way down to the bone. Next they took a saw and cut the bone in two. Finally, they sew the whole mess up with about a thousand stitches."
I looked uncomfortably at the plaster-clad stump of my leg, the horror of what had happened becoming real.
"Now, less than half a week out you, like the moron that you are, try to just step down on all of this like it was your old foot." He tapped his own artificial leg. "I've been doing this for over five years! It's gonna take some time, dude! Yeah, the first few steps you take are gonna sting a little, but what's a wasp sting compared to what you've been through? I guarantee you that if you'll gut it out for two days, it'll stop hurting enough to complain about. Inside a couple of weeks you're gonna throw those crutches away, and before you know it, they'll be fitting you for your first real leg." He grinned. "Then you can complain that you don't walk as good as I do!"
"I dunno..."
"Here." Corky handed my the crutches. "Stand up on your good leg and put these under your arms."
I did as he said.
"Great. Now, shift just a little of your weight to the left side. Just enough until you get the first twinge of a sting."
I did, and winced as the small but somewhat sharp pain hit.
"Enough," he said. "That's how much weight you ought to be putting on that thing today. Let the crutches take the rest of the weight. Now, we're gonna take a little stroll across the room here. Let the crutches take most of the weight. Just put enough on the new leg to let it barely hurt."
I took several clumsy, uneasy steps, Corky at my side.
"Now," he said. "Is that more pain than you can stand?"
"No," I answered grudgingly.
"Well, if you can take that, then you're ready to let Dr. Burns take you down to physical therapy!" he exclaimed. "I'll go get him!"
It was like that for the next month. Even after I got out of the hospital and was there at home, Corky was busy making sure that I didn't get frustrated or upset. More than once it hit me that my leg was really gone forever and that for the rest of my life I was going to have to use some contraption or the other to get around. I got the blues over that several times, but Corky was always there to make me feel like a dunce for feeling that way. If he ever thought that his being one-legged was a big deal, he never showed it.
At night, after we'd settled into the twin beds in my room, we'd talk into the night. Sometimes it was stories about things that had happened to us growing up. Sometimes it was Corky telling me how he made allowances for his artificial leg when trying to do some of the things that were tough, like the first time he tried to ride a bike after he got his new leg. He spent two days trying to keep the false foot on the pedal. It wasn't until he happened to go with his mother to Walmart and was strolling down the bicycle aisle that he saw some fancy pedals with decorative straps that ran across the top. Problem solved. He put one on the left side and never gave it another thought!
And to be honest, the weeks that followed were not without their humorous moments. The plaster 'instant leg' I had learned I could, indeed, get around on was not removable. I had to sleep with it in place. About the fourth night after I came home, Corky and I had stayed up late watching Mission to Mars on Showtime. It had been about two in the morning when we'd finally stumbled into our beds. I reached down and pulled the sneaker off my right foot and crawled under the covers. We were both asleep in record time.
The humor came the next morning when my mother woke me up. She was puttering around the room picking up clothes. Finally she shook my shoulder. "Randy? Where's your other sneaker? I'm straightening up!"
I looked down at the side of the bed. "Isn't it there, Mom?"
"No. All I see is the right one." She held it up.
By this time Corky was awake too. He rolled out of the bed and slipped his leg on to join in the search. They must have spent five minutes turning the room upside down looking for that damned shoe! At the end of that time, I pulled back the covers, deciding I better try to help.
"Randall!" my mother snapped.
I knew I was in trouble. I'm only 'Randall' when I'm in deep shit. I followed her line of sight down to the foot of my bed where there, resting safely on the now somewhat soiled whiteness of the sheets was my plastic foot, still clad in its sneaker! I don't know what she was madder about, the time she'd spent looking for the shoe or insisting that now she had to wash the sheets. I didn't see the big deal. Mothers!
Three times during the month, Corky and I screwed our courage up and he would hop (literally!) over and crawl into my bed with me. It was tough, but we were real quiet about it as we loved each other in turn. "You're gonna turn me into a devotee," he whispered in a giggle as we were snuggled in each other's arms enjoying the glow. "I can't wait for that plaster monster to go away so I can feel yours just like you feel mine!"
We were always careful to be in our own beds when morning came, and nothing was ever said about it.
August was on the horizon. Corky had been with us about five weeks.He'd just come to be my guardian angel and I never thought another thing about it other than to be thankful! It didn't even dawn on me that he never once called or wrote his parents. A few days before the first of August the other shoe dropped.
UPS showed up with five large boxes all addressed to Corky Anderson.
"Whatever is going on?" Mother asked as Corky and I were fiddling with the small stack of pasteboard now filling the entrance hall.
Corky dug the toes of his right foot into the carpet a bit but said nothing.
"Well, let's see whatever is in these boxes!" she enthused.
Corky looked at me, his eyes imploring me to do something, anything to stop her, but mom is a juggernaut not to be deterred when she decides to do something! She reached for the brass letter opener that stays on the sofa table in the hall and slit the cellophane tape that held the top of the first box closed.
As she pulled the flaps back it was obvious that the box contained clothing, all neatly folded and packed tight. Mom looked at the clothes, then at Corky, her eyebrow arched in the implied question. As she pulled the second flap of the box back, the unfolded handwritten note that had been placed on top of the box's contents sprang into view. Her eyes fell on it, and she read it aloud before anyone could do a thing:
"Since this is the kind of life you want, here's the rest of your stuff. I hope you and your gay lover will be very happy together!"
There was a long moment when I was afraid that mom wasn't going to breathe again. Then, after I took a moment and what she'd read had sunk into my brain, it occurred to me that it just might be better if she didn't! She looked at Corky with an impossible to read expression and then at me.
"Well," she began officiously, "I see that you've finally figured out the way you are!"
Now it was my turn not to breathe. When my wits finally returned I managed to sputter: "You... you know?"
Mom smiled. "Honey, I've known for at least two years. It might have been harder for me to figure out if you had ever had a girlfriend, or if I'd found a copy of Playboy in your room instead of The Advocate." I opened my mouth to protest, but she shushed me. "I was just wondering when you were going to get around to telling us!" She hugged me.
"I... I was so afraid," I whispered. Despite her totally unexpected acceptance, I found myself sobbing.
"It's all right, baby," she whispered. "I was a social worker before I married your father. Remember? I've told you about the time before you were born when I was working. I know all about sexual orientation, and I understand. I love you."
Suddenly, my mind turned to Corky. Obviously all was not as well with him as it apparently was with me! He wasn't crying, but he looked like he might start at any moment. I looked at Mom and she nodded for me to go and comfort him.
"I, uh, I didn't know how to tell anyone," Corky began, his voice catching every few words. "When your folks called and told me when your surgery was scheduled, I told my parents that I wanted to come here to be with you. Of course my father, who doesn't think anyone should ever do anything for someone else, wanted to know why I was going to run all over creation to be there for a guy I hardly knew!" He took a deep breath. "Before I knew it, I was mad and I just blurted out that I had realized I was gay after being with you and that I loved you and wanted to be there for you!"
My mother gestured to the boxes. "I can see that news didn't go over that well."
"Not very well at all," Corky said, a sad smile on his lips. "My father told me that if I didn't straighten my ass up I was going to find it out in the cold. He wasn't going to have a queer-bait for a son and if I walked out the door it was for good!"
I looked this incredible boy in the eye. "And you came anyway."
He returned my gaze. "I came because I love you," he said quietly. "That, and I remembered lying there in a hospital bed the night before they amputated my leg, praying that this was just a bad dream and I'd wake up. Then, after they did it and I woke up, I remembered what it was like and how afraid I felt even then! I wasn't going to let you live through that nightmare alone!"
He looked at my mother. "That's why I was so relieved when you and Mr. Hankins insisted that I stay here with you guys as long as Randy needed me. I didn't have any where else to go!" He swallowed hard. "I still don't."
Mother looked from one to the other of us for a long minute before she spoke again. "Well, boys," she finally began, "I think we've got our work cut out for us this afternoon."
"What's that, Mrs. Hankins," Corky asked.
"You've got a ton of stuff here, Corky!" she answered. "I have no idea where I'm going to find room for it all." She looked at me. "I'm assuming that you will make the small accommodation to me of letting Corky move into the guest room?"
He and I looked at each other. Our collective expressions could have lit a small city. "Mom? You mean..."
"I don't know how Randy would have managed all he's been through without you, Corky," she began. "I don't know how any of us would have managed. Randy and I would have both been basket cases over his... his leg and all. You just waltzed in here and suddenly things didn't seem black at all." She hugged him. "And you said it yourself, Corky. You don't have anywhere else to go. Fine. I think we can handle that, at least for the time being. My husband, as you know, is a lawyer. I believe your father is going to find out it's not quite that simple to kick a child out in the cold. If he doesn't want you at his house, I believe we can make legal arrangements to allow you to stay here, and to make sure that your family provides for you as the law requires."
Corky and I hugged each other tight!
"I am, however, going to insist that you have separate bedrooms," she added. The lights went out of our faces. "I don't know that I'm ready to go to bed each night thinking of the two of you going at each other like rabbits," she said. Finally she grinned. "I know neither of you is going to knock the other up, but it's just going to take some time for your father and me to get used to the idea of the two of you being... is 'married' the word I want?" She shook her head. "God! Fourteen is so young!"
Corky winked at me. Sneaking around a little might makes things more fun at that!
"I don't know what to say," he told mom.
"Don't say anything," she returned. She looked at the two young men before her, our artificial limbs in plain view. "I think you've both lost enough. It's time to find something instead." She smiled. "I'm glad you found each other."

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