Rollerboy, part 3
As I'm still trying to sort out my feelings for Rollerboy and praying each time the phone rings that it isn't Doug stalking me with more veiled suicide threats, I begin the first semester of my new graduate program at Lester State. Unlike my old department, my new program is bigger and better funded. The grad students even have a lounge, a spacious room with ratty old sofas, computers just for us, lockers and mailboxes. I discover on the first day of classes that most of the grad students spend a lot of their time in the lounge, eating, surfing the internet and just generally hanging out. The other big difference is my old department was a boy's club, whereas the new department has a lot of female grad students. Catty, cliquey female grad students. They make it very clear on the first day that I'm not cool enough to hang out with them.
There's one other girl (or are we women now?) who's also shunned by the cool girls, and we quickly become friends. Her name is Sarah, and she's nearly six feet tall with long curly copper-colored hair. I think she's cute, but she's very self-conscious about her looks and generally pretty shy and awkward. I am too, and that plus the fact that we are the same age is enough to seal our friendship.
After being so open with all my other friends, I don't want to go back in the devotee closet, so I tell Sarah pretty early in our friendship about my weird little interest and developing relationship with Rollerboy. She takes it in stride, like it's no big deal. Yeah, she's pretty awesome.
The key to staying sane in grad school, I realized last time around, is to have something else going on, so you don't spend 100% of your time studying. Since I'm no longer singing with Cyril's Elizabethan re-enactment group, I look around for some other musical group. On the recommendation of a friends, I join the Lester State University Adult Chorus, which sounds slightly dirty but the name is meant to distinguish it from the undergrad choruses. It's for grad students and faculty, but there are some alumni there as well. The first rehearsal is like a casting call for the most nerdy people on campus. But it's ok, the first concert is the Bach Magnificat, and I'm excited to sink my teeth into something real, after years of Shakespearean drinking songs. As a social activity, it's good enough.
My second date with Rollerboy is on a Saturday. I suggest we go to an outdoor concert in Raser City. I have no interest at all in the music, all no-name or cover bands, but it seems like inoffensive fun and an excuse to do something other than sit in a restaurant making awkward conversation. Rollerboy agrees to my plan, although I can tell he's not particularly interested in the bands either.
He picks me up at my apartment. I wait outside so he doesn't have to get out of his car, then jump in when he pulls up. It feels really strange to be back in his car again, after the last time when I was so sure he didn't like me. He doesn't say much, but he seems guardedly happy to see me again. As soon as I get in, he peels out and makes for the highway that will take us to the music festival in a park across town.
I hadn't noticed before because we were only on city streets, but as soon as we merge onto the highway, I realize Rollerboy is a terrifying driver. He leans back with the thumb of one hand hooked on the wheel and the other on the hand controls, barely looking to either side as he guns the engine and weaves in and out of traffic, tailgating each car until he can slip by.
"I know I probably shouldn't do that," he admits, flicking his gaze at me for a second. I'm clutching the grab bar and turning white--I see the cars behind us slide away in the rear view mirror as he careens into another lane.
"Y'know, my accident was really more of a suicide attempt," he says out of nowhere. "I mean, not exactly at that moment. I was doing all kinds of fucked up things, just hoping it would all be over. But if you think you're miserable before, it's even worse if you try and just end up all mangled."
I don't have anything to say to this. I stare at his legs. They're unnaturally skinny even under his jeans, and his feet stay still on the floor of the car as the pedals move via the levers of the hand controls. He doesn't look mangled to me. I can't see his scars and atrophied legs as anything other than sexy.
"I really don't get this whole devotee thing," he continues when I don't say anything. "Since my accident I've been around a lot of disabled people and they're all so fucked up and weird looking. How can you be attracted to that?"
He laughs. "That's true. But I'm not like them. I thought the reason you didn't like me is because I'm not crippled enough."
"No, I like you," I say shyly. I don't want to tell him that the truth is exactly the opposite. I've never met anyone with a spinal cord injury before and it kind of scares me. My only comparison is the heroin coma dude I met briefly years ago and fled from. Rollerboy might really be too much for me, but I don't want to tell him that. I don't want it to be true.
"I thought you wanted someone needier," he continues, drawing the word out with a tinge of contempt. "So like, you could do stuff, you know."
"Like someone who needs a PCA?"
"No. Independent is better." I can tell he doesn't really believe me, but I don't feel like getting into more detail with him. I've gotten better about talking about the devotee thing with my friends, but they never question me in detail like this. And I'm not trying to impress them or convince them I'm not a crazy pervert. Also I'm kind of distracted by the fear of my own impending injury by that semi we're tailgating.
Somehow we make it across town without incident and snag a handicapped parking spot not too far from the park entrance. It's a beautiful fall day, with the sun shining in a clear blue sky and the park all green and lovely, but neither of us is really enjoying it. To get to the music festival, we have to cross a long expanse of lawn and right away Rollerboy starts cursing and complaining and shooting me dirty looks. It's totally flat and manicured, no stairs or hills in sight, so I would have thought it was accessible enough, but apparently it's really hard for him as a quad to push across the grass. I feel a bit guilty for once again not being considerate enough. I know better than to grab his chair without asking, so I suggest as delicately as I can that if he needs help I can push, but he refuses. On the plus side, our admission is steeply discounted.
Once we get in, Rollerboy makes a beeline for the beer tent and emerges with a red Solo cup jammed between his legs. We head over to the open-air stage and pretend to listen to whatever local band is playing. We start at the back of the crowd where everyone else is standing, but when we drift closer so he can see better, we end up blocking other people who are sitting on the grass. I crack some weak jokes about him always having the best seat to cover the awkwardness I feel for not being on the same level as he is. If I stand, I'm towering over him. If I sit down, I'm at eye level with his knees.
Suddenly, without saying anything, he pulls me onto his lap, hooking one arm around my waist and tugging with surprising insistence. It's incredibly sexy.
"Are you sure?" I ask as I sink onto his lap. His legs feel soft under me. "I won't squash you?"
"You're fine," he says with a slow, lazy grin. "I'll let you know if you're hurting me."
I perch stiffly on his lap, trying to somehow be less heavy. He's got one arm around me, while with the other hand he's still clutching his beer, the plastic cup wedged between his thumb and forefinger. But the way he's holding it, his hand is bent way back and to the side. As we fidget around trying to get comfortable, the cup tips all around, coming within a hair's breadth of spilling the beer all over both of us. Instinctively, I make a warning gesture as the beer slops toward me.
"What?" he snarls at me, his grin replaced with a sour look. "You think I don't know how to hold a beer?"
I apologize but still get a lecture on how the first thing he learned in rehab was how to hold a beer, how much beer he has drunk since then, how it's the one thing he can do no matter what, etc. I feel bad again, like I'm failing every devotee test.
He finally mellows out again after another beer and a large bag of fries and chicken nuggets which I procure for us. Once we've finished the food, he invites me back onto his lap. I'm feeling a little more relaxed too, so I lean back against him. He puts a knuckle against my cheek and leans in to kiss me. His kiss is sweet and hot, and a little beery. He pulls me closer, a hand resting on my shoulder, but all the strength comes from his arm. I'm so turned on by odd embrace, with his strong arms and limp hands.
After what feels like no more than a minute, I look up and notice that the grassy field is nearly deserted. How did that happen? The festival ended quite a while ago but we were so into each other we didn't even realize. I'm disoriented, like time sped up or something.
The stage is empty and only a few stragglers are left in the audience, all walking slowly away, except for us. The tech crew have put on a CD while they put away all the equipment. We sit there dazed in the golden sunlight of late afternoon while Louis Armstrong croons "What a Wonderful World" over the sound system.
I see trees of green, red roses, too,
I see them bloom, for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.
I see them bloom, for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.
It's such a perfect moment I don't want to get up, but it's time to go. We make our way slowly back to the car.
Rollerboy drives back to my apartment, where we make out some more in the car. He's made it clear that he can't stay over, not just because of the long drive home, but also because there are certain undefined things he needs and he hasn't brought an overnight bag. I don't press him for details, but I understand having an SCI means you can't be spontaneous.
"But you know, maybe for next time, um, if you want there to be a next time, I think I've figured out how you can get in my apartment," I offer nervously.
He gives me a sly look. "Do you want there to be a next time?"
"Are you sure? We don't have anything in common."
"Look, I already said I like you! You don't have to like all the same things as I do to be with me."
"Ok," he shrugs.
"So look." We're parked in front of the driveway because there are no other free spots. I'm praying none of the other tenants comes home at this particular moment. I point to the back door, right next to where my car is parked along the side of the building. "You can roll up the driveway and go in that door there, then my apartment is on the first floor. There's just one step in the door, it's maybe so high." I hold my hands about six inches apart. "I mean, you can hop one step, right?"
He grunts an affirmative. I realize I've been babbling nervously, but I've messed up so many times already, I just want to be really clear about these access issues.
"So next time you can come in. I mean, if you want to." I hate how awkward this all is, but we have to plan ahead, that's just the way it is.
When Rollerboy comes over again the next weekend, we meet for lunch at another restaurant, one I know for sure will be open, but really we're just marking time until the main event, which is getting him in my apartment. He's willing to try, even though I warned him that the bathroom is not accessible.
This time, the only free parking spot is at the base of the steep hill where I live. About halfway up, Rollerboy relents and lets me help push him. It's fairly awkward, since there are no handles and the back of his chair is so low. There's a metal bar across the back, so I push on that, but I have to bend way over to reach it. By the time we get to my apartment, we're both breathing hard.
"You'll have to help me up," he says, eyeing the long driveway that extends at a forty-five degree angle straight up from the street. I try to get a running start but there's no space to get any momentum. By about halfway up, we're nearly at a standstill, and each time I take a step, my feet slide back slightly. Even worse, the drive is not fully covered with cement, but only in two narrow strips surrounded by gravel and grass, so I have to make sure we stay in a perfectly straight line or risk getting stuck. For a moment near the top, I feel like we're not going to make it, but with one last huge push I get him onto level ground again.
He rolls up to the door while I trail behind, panting, my arms like spaghetti. Reaching over him, I unlock the door and wave toward the threshold.
"You can jump that, right?"
"Duh, yeah! I don't know why you were going on and on about that last week. 'It's like this far, can you do it? Are you sure?'" He imitates my voice in a mocking tone.
I roll my eyes. "Whatever. Let's go." He pops a wheelie and gets his front casters inside, but I still have to give him a push to get the big wheels over the threshold.
We cross the carpeted hall to my door.
"This is it," I say, as I swing the door open.
He looks around warily. "Wow, you have a ton of books." This is because the only place to put the bookshelves is along the narrow hallway. Right away we discover a major problem I had not anticipated, which is that the end of the bed and a bookcase are blocking the entrance to my one room, creating a space too narrow for him to roll through. It's a tiny square-shaped studio apartment with furniture jammed in along all sides. I had never even noticed how much the bed blocked off the doorway.
I shove the bookcase over as much as I dare without causing all the books to fall on me, and eventually he manages to squeeze through, one wheel lifting off the floor. We face each other in the middle of the room.
"Welcome," I say lamely. The apartment is so tiny, it feels like his chair is taking up all the remaining empty space. Not knowing what else to do, I sit down on the sofa. So I guess this is a step up from my old place in this one aspect--I finally got someplace to sit beside the bed. Actually it's more of a love seat. A mini sofa that fits only two people. Two people who don't mind being very close together.
Once I'm sitting down and we're eye level, he leans over and kisses me, resting one arm heavily on my knee to keep his balance. He's a good kisser. All the trouble to get him in my apartment is already fading in my mind.
After a minute, he breaks the kiss and transfers next to me on the sofa. I watch as he places first one foot then the other on the floor, then uses his arms to lift up as he swings his butt, landing next to me with a thud, his head bent down towards his knees. Once he's seated, he pushes himself up and pulls his feet under his knees so he's sitting straight.
After all that effort, it feels awkward to go straight back to kissing, so instead I take his hand and caress it. His fingers are straight but his thumbs stick straight out parallel with his palm, like a monkey's paw. His palms are as tough as leather, blackened and scratched with use. The base of his palm feels like it has a callus an inch thick.
"Took me forever to build that up," he says as I run my fingers over it. "After I was injured I spent hours pushing in my Mom's driveway, trying to get a callus. I can't grip the wheels, so I need it to be tough like that to brake."
"But you can move your fingers a little, right?"
"Noooo." He drags out the word like a kid and stares at me like I'm a moron. "I'm a quad. I can't move my fingers."
"But I thought..." I'm so confused. "Then how do you pick stuff up? It looked like you were grabbing that burger at lunch."
"When I cock my hand back, it brings my thumb and finger together," he explains, demonstrating at the same time. I try it myself and sure enough, it's a reflex motion. The thumb comes to rest against the side of the index finger at a ninety degree angle. "There's no strength but if I jam something in there tight enough I can pick up whatever." As he says this, I realize why his hands looked so odd as he was eating or drinking; it's because he was bending back from the wrist.
"It's easier if my fingers are sticky," he continues. "That's why I'm always licking my fingers. I have sticky gloves too but they're a pain in the ass to put on and they wear out too quick." He looks at his hands. "When I was in the hospital right after my injury, I used to stare and stare at my fingers, trying to get them to move even the tiniest bit, but nothing. It was, like, making me crazy."
"Wow, that sucks," I say, even though it sounds totally inadequate. I feel terrible for him, and even worse that I find all this so fascinating.
We're quiet for a few minutes, and I try to re-kindle the mood by caressing his hands, then his arms. It works. He leans over and kisses me again, a hot, long kiss.
It still feels awkward to be sitting side by side. There's a limit to how close we can get when he can only turn his shoulders and the rest of him stays facing forward. So I climb onto his lap, straddling him, and we kiss some more. I run my hands up under his shirt, pulling him toward me and rubbing his back. I know he has an incomplete injury, meaning he has no movement but full sensation, so he can feel me touching him even below the break.
He pushes my shirt up too, pushing his hands up against my breasts. I pull off my shirt, and his too. In addition to the trach scar, he's got scars on his shoulder and arm where he broke bones in the accident. His chest is smooth, not much hair, but I prefer that. He's skinny with no muscles to fill out his chest, and just a little pot belly, but that also is because he doesn't have the muscles to hold in his gut.
He looks down at his exposed chest and grimaces. "I hate that I look fat."
"You don't look fat," I reassure him. "It isn't even fat. It's just your belly. Anyway the rest of you is lean." He just shrugs.
I make a move to undo his fly, but he stops me. I think he's feeling shy, so I go at him more, kissing him and pulling at his jeans, but he pulls away more emphatically.
"I, uh, have to tell you, um..." He looks really embarrassed. "I have to warn you..."
It takes him a moment, but finally he spits it out. "I have a thing. You know, a catheter."
"It's ok. I don't mind. I figured you probably do." I'm trying hard to put him at ease.
"Yeah, but it's a kind called a suprapubic. It's, like, a permanent tube going into me. I tried to use a regular kind when I was injured but I got too many bladder infections, so they had to put it in."
"I'll be careful," I promise.
"It's just so gross."
But he lets me open his fly anyway. Sure enough, there's a flexible tube going right into his bladder, and snaking down his leg into his pants. The skin around it is puckered inward, like a second belly button. He hooks a thumb around the tube to keep it out of the way.
"I hate this fucking thing," he says bitterly.
I get why he hates it. Having some foreign object lodged in your body is distressing. I would hate it too if it were me. But looking at it from the outside, it's really not that bad, certainly not enough to gross me out or turn me off. I try to reassure him that it doesn't bother me, but he doesn't seem to believe me until I start kissing him again.
I put my hand around his cock and it stiffens up somewhat.
"Feels good?" I purr in my sexiest voice.
"Um, yeah, kinda, mostly." It's hardly a ringing endorsement but I go with it anyway.
I start to make a move toward the bed but he balks.
"I, uh, can't do it without the pill." I look at him questioningly. "Viagra," he explains, blushing a little. "I have to go back to the doctor to get the prescription refilled."
"Well, I have to get protection too, so I guess that's off the menu for tonight, but we can still have fun," I say.
He grins at me as I back towards the bed, pulling off my shirt and jeans. He transfers back into his chair and rolls the short distance to the bed. Instead of transferring again, he grabs my legs and pulls me toward him, then hooks a thumb into my panties and tugs. I wriggle out of them and lay down at the edge of the bed, mirroring his grin.
He begins by rubbing my thighs with his rough hands before he leans forward and puts his mouth right on me. Oh my god, he is fucking good. He just dives right in and doesn't let go, doesn't tire or let up until I'm a hot, slippery mess, bucking and twitching under him. I feel like I'm leaving my body, then in happens again. And again.
Finally I sit up and he pushes himself back, wiping his face with the back of a hand, a self-satisfied look in his eye. I slide over and he transfers onto the bed, one leg at a time, then I crawl in next to him. I try to return the favor for him, but as he warned me, without the Viagra, he goes soft after a few minutes.
"Don't take it personally," he says apologetically. "It's not connected to my brain."
I lie back down next to him and we cuddle together. This is it, the moment I was waiting for--what does it feel like to lie next to him? I don't know what I was expecting, maybe that he would be still like a statue, but it's nothing like that. His legs are soft and floppy, prone to frequent spasms. He rolls himself over on his side facing me then lifts up one leg and places it on top of me. It's heavier, more solid than I was expecting, like when someone hands you a baby. It's profoundly intimate gesture.
In a while, I'll have to help him get back to his car. We have to go down the driveway backwards because the slope is so steep he could slide out if we went front way. I'll take it an inch at a time, my sneakers sliding with each step, whimpering and terrified that we're both going to go tumbling into the busy street, while he curses at me impatiently. That's the bad part.
But for now, just lying in bed together, everything feels perfect. I'm so happy.