Chapter 20: Rollerboy part 6
After my trip to visit my old friends from college, I return to Raser City and a new semester of grad school feeling good. I set up the squirrel shaman statue Borek gave me in a place of honor on a bookshelf in my tiny studio apartment. When Rollerboy comes to visit, he spots it right away.
"Ugh, what the hell is that?"
I explain how my artist friend made it and gave it to me as a gift, but he's unimpressed.
"I feel like it's staring at me," he complains. "It's fucking creepy."
"It's not creepy; it's awesome," I retort, feeling slightly wounded.
"There's something wrong with you," he says, dismissing my artistic taste with a sneer as he turns away and wheels over to the couch. I watch as he lifts one foot then the other onto the carpet, scoots forward to the edge of the seat, then swings his butt onto the couch. I sit down next to him and put my arms around him, trying to ignore what he just said. I missed him while I was away, and it feels so damn good to see him again. Those blue eyes get me every time. I kiss him long and hard.
"Did you miss me?" I ask. He nods, his forehead pressed up against mine.
We don't really talk again for a while. The sex with him is so good, and each time it just keeps getting better. I love the feel of him against me, the combination of his strong arms and weak hands, the unique way he moves his fingers by bending his wrists. I know the location of every scar, like a secret map.
He transfers back to his chair, then to the bed. We both like it a bit rough, pretending to wrestle in the bed, rolling around and around. I still can hardly believe that this guy wants to be with me. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I think of the contrast between his upper body, writhing and gripping me, and his still lower half, and start to let myself go, sinking into my dev fantasy come to life.
Rollerboy breaks our embrace and stares at me. "Knock it off."
"What?" Muzzy with desire, I have no idea what he's talking about.
"Those noises you were making, like 'uhhh, uuuuhhhh,'" he says, imitating my voice in a mocking tone.
"So? I thought guys like it when girls make noise. Isn't porn full of that kind of thing?"
"Yeah, but you're, like, faking it."
"What?! No I'm not!"
"Yeah, you are. No one makes noises like that for real."
I pull back to look him in the eye. "I wasn't faking! Do you really think it's impossible for someone to be that turned on for you?"
He looks away. "That's not it. You just sound totally fake, ok?"
"Whatever." I don't want to fight. We go back to having sex--even toned down, I enjoy it anyway.
I feel like I have gotten the hang of SCI sex. Strangely, the biggest adjustment for me was about his erection. He only gets hard from direct stimulation, physical only, nothing mental, and the minute I stop touching his penis, it gets soft again. I never realized how much meaning I attached to a guy's erection as a sign that he's into me. For a while, I kept catching myself wondering why he wasn't seeming turned on, then reminding myself it doesn't work that way.
Because he has an incomplete injury and has sensation all over his body, he doesn't have the extra-sensitive ears or neck that I heard some SCI guys get. He can still feel his penis, and he wants to come every time we have sex, even though it takes a lot of work to make it happen. I'm happy to oblige.
Even though we have sex a lot, it's mostly oral or mutual masturbation. We don't do penetration very often, because I'm not on birth control, and using a condom makes it difficult to get the intense sensation he needs for a reflex orgasm. But I'm hesitant to do it without the condom because even though most SCI guys have low sperm count, he did get his ex-girlfriend pregnant a few years ago. She had an abortion, but I really don't want to go down that road with him.
So I decide to look into a prescription for birth control pills. I know I'm a bit socially slow, considering that I'm twenty-seven years old and have never been on the pill, but I never had a boyfriend that lasted long enough to consider it. Except K, but we had to use condoms because we were never monogamous. The other reason I have hesitated until now is I get migraine headaches, and I've heard the hormones can mess you up.
I head down to the student health clinic, intending to just talk it over with a doctor and get more information. But it turns out that if you tell a doctor who sees college girls all day that you want birth control, you are not walking out of that office without a prescription. The doctor, a grey-haired no-nonsense Chinese-American lady, waves away my questions and shoves the scrip in my face. I go home with several circular pill packs and start taking it that day.
The next weekend, it's my turn to drive the three hours out to East Bessemer to visit Rollerboy. I've somewhat conquered my fear of driving. At least now I have a system of laying out snacks and CDs on the passenger seat so I can grab them easily and relieve the tedium a little. It's a chilly, gray winter day. I make it through the traffic around the university and merge onto the highway when it starts to rain. I turn on the windshield wipers, but nothing happens.
I start to freak out slightly. I can't pull over, and if I take an exit, I'll get stuck in the same weekend traffic I just crawled through. I drive on, trying to make up my mind what to do. The rain gets harder, but I'm going so fast it just rolls away. It's not so bad, I realize. I can see just fine, and I really don't want to turn around and go home. I've been thinking about Rollerboy all week, looking forward to seeing him. The disappointment would be crushing. In the end, I just make the whole drive out there without wipers.
When I arrive and tell Rollerboy, he seems impressed. I was half expecting him to tell me I'm lame for even worrying about it, but to the contrary, he's touched that I wanted to see him so badly. "That was really brave of you," he says, hugging me. It feels so good.
On Sunday afternoon when it's time for me to leave, he comes out to the parking lot with me to say goodbye.
"I just hope it doesn't start raining again," I say nervously. I've been worrying about this drive home since I arrived.
"Where's the fuse box?" he asks. I have no idea, but we soon locate it under the dash, next to the door. I pop off the cover, revealing two rows of fuses. He's sitting in his chair next to the open door, and I'm in the driver's seat. He leans over and whacks the fuses with the side of a half-open hand, and suddenly the wipers start moving again.
"You fixed it!" I squeal with delight and relief. "I love you!" I fling my arms around his neck and kiss him on the cheek.
"I didn't do anything," he says, laughing a little.
"Yes you did! At least now I know it's the fuse, I can go get it fixed tomorrow."
I feel so giddy with relief I don't even realize until I'm halfway home that I just said "I love you" to Rollerboy for the first time. Shit! The first I love you is supposed to be a big deal, not "thank you for fixing my windshield wipers." Did he even notice? Is it too soon? I decide to play it cool and not mention it again, at least not for a while.
Over a long weekend, Rollerboy and I decide to drive to Arcadia and stay in a fancy resort hotel. I've never been on a romantic getaway before, and now that I'm on birth control like a real grownup lady, I feel very sophisticated. Having to call ahead to book a wheelchair accessible room is like the devilicious cherry on top.
"My boyfriend uses a manual wheelchair. We need to be sure the room has a fully accessible bathroom," I inform the bored-sounding receptionist in my most officious voice.
"Yes, we have you down for one handicap room," she assures me.
Since Arcadia is west of Bessemer, the plan is for me to drive to his apartment and leave my car there, then he drives us over the mountains to the resort. As usual, he's weaving in and out of lanes and tailgating, one quad hand on the wheel, with his seat leaning back like he's in a game of Gran Turismo. I try not to worry about how fast we're going, but as soon as we get up into the switchback roads in the mountains the snow starts coming down hard and the panic sets in.
"Shouldn't we slow down a little?" I mutter as we pass a car embedded in the huge pile of snow on the embankment.
"Pff, it's fine," he snorts. "I don't plan on getting in a wreck today." He says it like it's a conscious decision he makes every morning. Today: live or die? Maybe that is how he thinks of it. It's not a reassuring thought. I grip the handle with white knuckles and scan the road for black ice.
Seeing my discomfort, Rollerboy guns the engine and takes his hand off the wheel for a second, laughing as he sees my panic-stricken face. "Imagine if my hand slipped! I'm a quad--it could happen so easily! Ha!" He waves a limp hand in the air and laughs again. "Relax, it's fine."
He's right, it is fine. We arrive at the hotel without incident. I stagger out of the car with weak knees.
Despite dire warnings I read on the internet about unreliable hotel accessibility, the hotel room is also fine. More than fine, it's gorgeous--a huge, open suite with a plush white carpet, a Jacuzzi and a stunning view of the mountains.
The second evening, we fill up the Jacuzzi and slip in together. It's so big and deep, it's almost like a small swimming pool.
"How is it?" I ask.
"Nice. Weird but kinda nice. I still feel like my butt is trying to flip me over. It's like trying to sit on a beach ball." We float around in the water and embrace, but there's no way to get enough traction to actually have sex.
Once again, the mood is totally broken when we try to get out. He can't get enough leverage to pull his butt back onto the edge of the tub. I try getting out and lifting under his armpits, but I'm not strong enough, and he flops around in the water like a wet noodle. He starts cursing, and I can hear the panicky edge to his voice. I'm cursing myself too. I can't believe I've made the same mistake a second time.
Eventually, we figure out that if I sit in front of him and brace his legs, he can lift himself up and back. Once he's precariously balanced on the edge of the tub, I jump out and help him balance as he transfers to his chair. The white carpet is soaked by the time we're done, but I figure that's the hotel's problem for surrounding a tub with shag carpeting. I'm just relieved to have gotten through another tub incident without having to call for help, which would have been way worse than a wet carpet.
Sex is still our main activity, not just at the hotel, but every weekend. Sex without condoms is easier, but not as easy as I had hoped. It still takes a lot of really hard, fast rubbing to make him come, even with Viagra. Penetration alone just doesn't do it. I've gotten a bit more adept at my bouncing technique, but my legs get tired after a few minutes and it's hard to keep up the pace. We get the idea that maybe a sex swing could help. Rollerboy buys one online, but installing it requires a trip to Home Depot to buy a stud finder and electric drill.
The whole process is occasion for many juvenile jokes (stud finder, haha). Even something as stupid as saying Home "Dehpo" instead of "Deepo" is enough to crack us up for hours. I'm the one who has to drill the hole in the ceiling over the bed, of course, getting drywall and sawdust in my eyes and hair and all over the bed.
As it turns out, the setup is the only fun part. As soon as we get the swing hooked onto the ceiling and installed, it's obvious it will never work. When I get in it, I sway gently six inches above his prone form. We try lowering it, but the straps go slack and don't hold me up enough to make any kind of difference. We consider trying to get him in it, but I'm not strong enough to lift him and without core control, he's just too floppy. It's like trying to get an octopus into a hammock. I take down the swing and ball it up on the bedside table where it collects dust.
I arrive at Rollerboy's apartment Saturday afternoon to find him pushing back and forth in the kitchen, in a state of seething rage.
"That fucking asshole! I'm gonna kill that faggot!"
"What are you talking about?"
"That fucking devotee!"
"Can you please just explain to me what is going on?"
He pushes angrily over to his computer, which is on the dining room table right next to the tiny kitchen area. "Look at this bullshit!" he exclaims, waving a hand at the screen.
I see a Geocities blog with a photo of him and some text underneath against a light blue background.
"Some asshole stole my photo and made up a fucking blog about his life as a quad. It's all about how hard everything is, how much I have to struggle." His voice drips with resentful sarcasm. "Give me a fucking break! I got this quad shit down, motherfucker. It ain't a struggle. Like he even knows what it's like. And the worst part is he made me gay. What the fuck!"
"Do you know who did this? How did he get your photo?"
"Yeah, I know. It was some fucking fag in Utah who pretended to be a devotee chick."
"I thought you decided to stop writing to those devotees online." Instead of answering he just glares at me. I bite back an I told you so and instead say, "You can try writing to Geocities and ask them to take the page down. I'm sure it's a violation of their terms of service."
He starts pacing around in his chair again. "Whatever. Like they fucking care. I can't believe my face is on this bullshit!"
"At least just try writing to them."
"I'm going to drive out to Utah and fucking kill that motherfucker."
"Please, just send an email to Geocities. I can look it up for you."
"I bet I could find his address online. I bet he thinks that because I'm a quad I can't shoot a gun. But I could. I just need a mount on the side of my car. Set it up and just pull the trigger. He thinks I couldn't but I fucking can. I don't need my fingers to blow him away. I can do it with my hand."
The conversation goes in circles like this for a while longer, me trying to come up with a practical solution to get the site taken down, and him fantasizing about shooting the person he thinks is responsible. I understand why he's so angry, even if most likely no one he knows will see the site. It's a violation, a kind of identity theft. It sucks, and I feel angry for him too. But the glee with which he turns to fantasies of violence is also disturbing. On the other hand, he doesn't own a gun, and as far as I know, has never actually used one.
I look up a tech support email for Geocities and give it to him, but I don't know if he ever writes, or even if the site gets taken down. I don't want to get him worked up again by asking about it. He doesn't mention it again.
I wake up one morning with a pounding headache. I've had migraines since I was a kid, but this is nothing like that. This feels like a metal stake being driven right through the center of my brain. It feels like my brain is going to explode. The slightest exertion makes it pound even more, like an aneurysm about to blow. The pain is so intense it causes my eyes to water and my nose to run.
I go to the urgent care in the student health clinic, where a doctor gives me a shot of something that cures it almost instantly. But foolishly I don't get the name of the medication. Two days later, the headache is back. I go to urgent care again, but this time there's a different doctor. I tell her about the magic shot, but she looks at me like I'm hallucinating.
"It sounds like a migraine brought on by birth control pills," she says. "We usually don't recommend hormonal birth control for someone with your history of migraines." I'm seething because this is exactly what I was worried about but the gyno who prescribed them to me gave me the brush-off.
"It doesn't feel like a migraine," I insist. "It feels like a blood vessel about to burst."
"That's not how it works. You typically don't feel anything." That's not very reassuring but ok. "Here, I'm switching you to a progesterone-only birth control. You should feel better soon."
But I don't. The headache continues around the clock with no relief. If I stay very very still, it's only just bearable, but the second my heart rate rises even the tiniest bit, it's excruciating. Even rolling over in bed triggers the pounding, enough to wake me out of the deepest sleep.
For the first time in months, I tell Rollerboy I can't drive up to see him on the weekend. It's all I can do to keep up with my coursework. A week passes in a painful haze, then two. I see multiple doctors who give me an array of garden-variety diagnoses--migraine, cluster headache, tension headache. I have an MRI but nothing unusual shows up. The progesterone-only birth control makes no difference, so I quit it altogether, but still the pounding through the center of my skull continues.
In the third week, Rollerboy drives down to visit me. At first he's kind and solicitous. "What do you wanna do?"
"I don't know, something relaxing that won't get my heart rate up."
"So no sex, huh?"
"I'm afraid not."
I give him an apologetic look, but his face falls. We both suck at hiding how we feel.
Since it's a nice day, we decide to go to a little park near my apartment. It's basically one small city block, a square of green grass ringed by trees. Some kids are playing soccer at one end. We settle down in the shade at the opposite corner. I carefully lie down in the grass and he transfers out of his chair to lie next to me. I spend the next hour trying not to move. If I lie completely still, the pain abates to a bearable level, the squeezing sensation in the center of my skull receding to the edges of my consciousness. But even the tiniest movement, the slightest shifting, and it all comes back, like a pickaxe through my head.
After another hour, Rollerboy starts getting antsy.
"Are you feeling better yet? Are you sure you don't want to go do something else?"
I put on my apologetic face again. "I'm sorry, I really can't."
He starts to make jokes about how "it's all in my head" and drop references to frigid housewives claiming to have "headaches," references as subtle as a stake through the skull.
We go out for a subdued dinner, then he opts to go back home rather than staying over. Normally I would be upset, but under the circumstances, I have to admit it's for the best. I can't face an evening of rebuffing his sexual advances, and even under the best circumstances, it's not that comfortable to sleep next to him in my Ikea double bed. His legs spasm at night while he's sleeping, not a lot, but enough to keep me awake. His foot will start going like a metronome--1, 2, 3, shake. And if I accidentally brush his leg with my foot, the spasms go crazy and wake him up, then we're both awake and cranky. I'm just too wrung out to deal, so we say goodbye after dinner and he drives back to Bessemer.
Through all of this, I'm still attending classes in my graduate program. Over lunch with my classmate Sarah (she of the glorious copper curls and Buffy superfandom), I fill her in on my latest phone conversation with Rollerboy.
"And then he said I need to just get over it! Like I'm faking or something." I poke at my pasta salad angrily.
"You'd think that having a disability himself, he'd be more sympathetic to your problem," she replies tartly.
I glance up at her uneasily. "It's not really the same, you know." I know where this is going.
"He isn't the only disabled guy out there," she ventures hesitantly. Sarah's been not so subtly nudging me to dump Rollerboy since she first met him a few months ago. I told her all about me being a devotee and she's cool with it, but she keeps pressuring me to find someone else. "He just seems like an unhappy person..." She trails off.
We've had this conversation so many times we don't even need to say all the lines. I kind of know she's right. But I love him, dammit. I just have to let things play out, see where it goes. Just like with K, I always hang on to the bitter end.
Rather than continue this futile line of discussion, I change the topic back to my headache. "It's so infuriating. There's literally nothing to see, so it's like there's no proof there's anything wrong. I feel like everyone thinks I'm making it all up. Even the doctors."
Sarah nods. "I feel the same way." She has thyroid disease, and often feels like crap for no outwardly visible reason.
"At least you have a diagnosis. All I get are shrugs. How long is this going to go on for? Months? Years? The rest of my life? Seriously, the pain makes me want to fucking kill myself." I'm sort of kidding, but my eyes fill up with tears.
"Go back to that one doctor and ask her to give you the shot again," Sarah suggests.
At the end of the fourth week, I finally follow her advice.
When I go back to urgent care, the doctor from the first time is there again. She gives me the shot, and within an hour, the headache is gone. I feel like I won the freaking lottery. I ask her what's in it (morphine? ecstasy?). She says it's a form of injectable acetaminophen. Seriously? I could have taken Tylenol all this time? But whatever, I'm so relieved I don't question it.