"Well, it will be hours," Mom said. "What are we supposed to do with you?"
"I'm 24 years old, I think I can manage myself for a few hours," I said. Except Mom didn't really go for that, especially considering how much trouble I was having wheeling on the carpet. But luckily, Grandpa had even less desire than me to go to the mall, so he said he'd "keep an eye on the kid." I'm pretty sure he still didn't know who I was. Or at least, he thought I was my father.
Mom made sure I had my lunch before everyone took off in the van. Once they were gone, the house just seemed so... quiet. It made me realize how little I'd been alone since my injury. That needed to change. Even though I was a quadriplegic, I was still an adult. I needed some privacy.
When I finished eating, I looked at the photos hung up in the kitchen. There were about a million photos of Dad and his two sisters. It's funny because I've always been told that I looked much more like my mother than my dad, but when I saw those old photos of my father, something about him really reminded me of myself. Maybe it was the eyes, I don't know. No wonder Grandpa was getting confused.
After I got bored of that, I decided maybe I'd watch some TV. Actually, it was a good thing Grandpa was here, since there was no way I could turn on the TV myself or even get out to the living room that easily. I wondered if they had Comedy Central. "Grandpa!" I called.
Fuck. He was probably asleep.
I sighed, and put my hand on the wheel of my chair. I'd gotten a little better at wheeling it, but not a lot. I wondered if I could make it out into the living room. It was about five feet to the door. "Grandpa!" I yelled again.
I knew that I didn't have a choice at this point, if I didn't want to spend the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen. I laced my splint into the spokes coming out of the wheel and pushed as hard as I could. I moved a whopping five inches forward and two inches backward. But it was obvious my grandfather wouldn't be helping me, so I kept at it. It took me about fifteen minutes, but I made it out of the kitchen.
In the living room, I saw Grandpa sleeping in an armchair. His head was slumped forward and there was drool coming out of his mouth. "Grandpa!" I yelled, as loud as I could.
He didn't budge. Fuck, fuck, fuck!
It was obvious there was something wrong with him. But what the fuck was I supposed to do? There was a phone about ten feet away, if I could get to it.... but then how would I dial? I'd already nudged the fork out of my splint so I couldn't use that to help me.
I didn't know what to do, but I guessed my best bet was getting to the phone. My right shoulder was already hurting me, but I had to do this. Grandpa needed help. I couldn't even imagine my parents coming home and I'd have to tell them that he died right in front of me.
I did my best to wheel as fast as I could to the phone. It took me almost half an hour just to get across the living room and I was swearing the whole way. My face was drenched in sweat by the time I got there. I decided right then and there that I was never traveling anywhere without a power wheelchair ever again.
The phone was the oldish kind that had a receiver and then buttons on the base of the phone. It least it wasn't rotary though. I looked down and saw there was a button for 911. Thank fucking god. I reached out and knocked the receiver off the base. I then mashed my splint into the emergency button.
By this time, the receiver was on the floor, but there wasn't much I could do about that. I heard a voice saying, "Hello? This is emergency services."
"Help me!" I yelled as loud as I could. "We need an ambulance!"
All I heard was the voice saying: "Hello? Hello?"
"Help!" I screamed. "Ambulance!"
I was about to panic when the voice said, "We've traced your address and we're sending a dispatcher."
About five minutes later (impressive), I heard a knock on the door. Of course, there was no fucking way I could answer it, even if I could have gotten to the door in less than an hour. I yelled as loud as I could that the back door was open, and amazingly, they heard me. An officer wandered into the living room, and I almost cried with relief.
"Did you make the call?" he asked me. "Do you need help?"
I nodded and gestured at my grandfather. "I can't wake him up."
The officer nudged my grandfather’s shoulder, trying to arouse him. He groaned a little but didn’t wake up. “All right,” he said to me. “I’m going to call for an ambulance. Do you need someone to stay with you when he leaves?”
“No,” I said.
Except I guess the officer didn’t believe me, because he got his officer buddy to stay with me after the paramedics wheeled my grandfather off in a stretcher with an oxygen mask on his face. Apparently he was alive but they couldn’t tell me much more than that.
When the rest of my family got home, the officer was waiting to fill them in on what happened. Even though I was there, nobody expected me to say anything or explain anything. Grandma started to cry when she found out, and Dad just got this dazed look on his face. Even though my grandfather was obviously not in the best shape, nobody expected anything like this.
Just so you know, hospitals are the worst fucking place to be if you’re disabled. As I sat in the waiting room outside the ICU, about three nurses came over to us and asked if my parents wanted them to bring me back to my room. I probably would have been better off if I were in my powerchair, but my manual wheelchair looked much too much like their hospital-grade chairs.
Actually, I was talking to my mom, right in the middle of a fucking sentence, when I felt someone seize the handles of my chair and I started moving backwards. “Sorry, visiting hours are over,” a voice said. “I’m going to have to take him back to his room.”
“I’m not a patient!” I practically screamed.
The orderly who had started wheeling me looked shocked by my outburst. Everyone did. Even Grandma stopped crying for a minute. Glad I could be a distraction.
I wheeled myself back to where I had been. The good news was that this chair glided pretty easily on the smooth hospital floors. It was still like pushing a mountain, but maybe a smaller mountain.
“Maybe we should go out and get some fresh air,” Mom suggested. “We’ve been sitting here for hours.”
“I can’t leave,” Grandma insisted. “What if something happens?”
“I’ll stay,” Dad volunteered. He looked at me, “And Ryan will stay too.”
I didn’t want to stay. I wanted to get the fuck out of this hospital. Permanently. But I didn’t think that request would be honored.
My grandmother was reluctant, but finally Mom dragged her out. And that left me and my dad, all alone. It was really awkward, partially because Dad and I had gotten along like shit for… well, my whole life. Dad kept looking like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t for a long time. But finally he spit it out.
“I wish he’d die,” Dad said.
I stared, unable to believe my ears. That wasn’t what I thought Dad would say. I thought he’d tell me we had to pray or something lame like that.
Then he added, “That’s how you feel about me, isn’t it?”
It wasn’t. Well, okay, maybe it was. There were definitely times when I wished my father would drop dead. Although I figured there was probably a down side I wasn’t thinking of.
“In my father’s eyes, I was always a fuck up,” he said. “Even when I stopped being a fuck up, I still was to him.”
I didn’t know what to say to all this, so I was just quiet.
“I guess what I’m trying to say, Ryan,” Dad said, “is that I don’t want us to hate each other anymore. I want to trust you and believe you’ll make the right decisions on your own.”
“I probably won’t,” I said. “I never do, right?”
I was sort of trying to provoke him, but to my surprise, Dad grinned. “I believe that you can. And you will. After all, you don’t want to live with your mom and dad forever. I’m sure you want your own place someday.”
His words made my heart pound. I had taken it for granted that I was going to be stuck living with my parents for the long haul. But he seemed to be saying that he believed that might not be the case, that I might have the power to get back on my feet (figuratively) and make it on my own.
My father had never believed in me. He always acted like I was the biggest fuck up on the planet. This felt weird. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with it. But it wasn’t a bad thing.
“Things will be different from now on, Ryan,” Dad said, and he laid a hand on my shoulder, in a place I could feel. I wasn’t sure if I believed him, but I badly wanted to.