In my dream, I was older. Like, middle aged, maybe 50 or so. I was lying in my bed and my mom, who was really old, was undressing me. I could see the gray hairs on my chest, my huge flabby gut, and my stick-thin arms and legs. My legs were locked in flexion, as the doctors had warned me might happen if they didn’t get stretched out enough, and I could see the tight hamstring tendons as my mother pulled off my sweatpants. And of course, I was still wearing my diaper.
For some reason, this all seemed completely normal to me, that I was a middle aged guy having his diaper pulled off by his mother. Somehow I knew this had been my routine for the last 25 years. In that same way, I knew that there weren’t any women in my life, that there hadn’t been any since the accident.
When I was completely naked, Mom got me into my sling for the shower. I had a great view of my body and I was shocked at how crippled I looked, even compared to now. I tried not to look, but I couldn’t look away.
My therapists had always talked about how eventually I’d be able to help more with bathing, but in my dream, it was obvious this never happened. My mother just got the washcloth and washed me herself, the way she does now. I watched her trying to pry apart my tight fist to wash between my fingers.
Mom looked so old. She had all gray hair and lines all over her face. She looked a hundred. She looked way too old to be taking care of a quadriplegic.
And then, as I watched her, she clutched her chest. She let out a croak and then crumbled to the floor. I stared in horror, realizing she was either unconscious or maybe dead.
The water in the shower kept raining down on my naked body as I sat there helpless in my sling. “Help!” I screamed as loud as I could, knowing that there was no way anyone would hear me. I was just going to have to sit there in the shower for hours until Dad got home.
I could actually feel the hot water running out and the cold droplets falling on my shoulders. It was so fucking real.
I woke up drenched in sweat, my heart pounding. The first thing I felt was relief that it was a dream. The crazy part is that for a moment, I thought the whole thing was a dream, meaning the accident and everything. Then I saw my wheelchair by the bed and I remembered.
Maybe it was a dream. But that was the direction I was headed right now. I was going to be a fifty year old man, stranded in the shower naked while his mother keeled over from a heart attack. I couldn’t let that happen. I had to do something to change my life.
The next week, Whitney wasn’t in church again and I was beginning to feel ditched. I tried to think of all these scenarios to explain her disappearance; like that maybe she had to travel for work or something. But really, it was pretty fucking obvious she was avoiding me.
So I was pretty surprised when my mother knocked on the door to my room and told me that Whitney was here to see me. At the time, I was messing around on the computer, which is how I was spending most of my time. I was getting pretty good at the voice controls and I used my splint with a stick in it to do editing.
“Did she say why she’s here?” I asked.
Mom shook her head. “She says she needs to talk to you.”
My heart was pounding as hard as it used to when I’d done a line of Coke. I glanced around the room quickly, taking inventory. Nothing embarrassing was in sight, as far as I could tell. My sling was in the room, in case there was some action that needed to be taken to the bed, although to be entirely honest, I sort of hoped there wouldn’t be. I didn’t really want her to see my naked body and I really didn’t want her to see my diapers. I figured she could lie on the bed and I could pleasure her from my wheelchair.
As Mom went to tell Whitney to come in, I tried to take off my splint. This is something I’ve been working on lately. I can’t get the damn thing on (yet), but I had some success with taking it off. I use my teeth to pull open the Velcro, then push it off using my pants legs. It takes a few tries, but I could do it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my splint off before Whitney got to my room. I was still struggling when she closed the door behind her. “Hi, Ryan,” she said.
“Hey, Whitney,” I said, doubling my efforts to get the goddamn splint off.
Whitney observed my struggle, and without asking if I needed help, she came over and removed the splint for me. As she bent down near me, I got a good whiff of her perfume and I could see down her shirt to her impressive cleavage.
“I missed you, Whitney,” I said.
Whitney didn’t say anything back and that’s when I knew: she wasn’t interested. For sure. And what’s worse, I was beginning to wonder if she was ever interested. Maybe she just told me she was attracted to me to help lift my self-esteem. Which I guess worked for about five minutes.
“Ryan, I’m sorry,” she said.
“Fuck you,” I said, but it came out as a squeak.
Whitney sighed. “I didn’t mean for things to happen this way. I like you. I really do. I think you’re…” Her puffy cheeks turned pink. “Sexy.”
Now I knew she was shitting me. I’m not sexy. Who the fuck would find me sexy like this? “Bullshit.”
“It’s true!” Whitney insisted. “But Arthur asked me to marry him last week. And I couldn’t say no to that. He’s a great guy, he has a good career, and… I mean, look at me, Ryan. When else am I going to get an opportunity like that?”
“I’ll marry you,” I said. I was surprised to find that I meant it. I’d never thought about marriage before in my whole damn life, but if Whitney would have me, I’d have married her in a second.
“How would you provide for us?” Whitney asked.
I sneered. “I didn’t know you were so superficial.”
“Stop it, Ryan,” Whitney said. “You know what I’m talking about. You’re too immature for a step like that. You’re not ready to be someone’s husband.”
OK, I sort of got what Whitney meant. I’m sure being a nurse and all, she didn’t want to come home and be a nurse to me. And I hadn’t shown much in the way of ambition or anything like that. She was right. I was immature. Of course, it was pretty hard to grow up when you needed your mom to shower you.
“If you really find me sexy,” I said to her, “how about a blow job before you go?”
I was joking. I figured she’d slap me or something for saying that. So I was fucking shocked when she actually started unbuttoning my pants. So shocked that I didn’t stop her. She got the zipper down and there were my diapers, plain as day. I felt my face flush, but Whitney just pushed them down, pushed my suprapubic catheter out of the way, and pulled out my penis. It was soft, of course. But I was too fascinated and surprised to be that self-conscious.
And then she bent down and put my flaccid penis in her mouth. I seriously couldn’t believe this was happening. I watched her work her mouth around my penis and it was like the hottest thing I’d ever seen. Until she pulled away and I saw that I was still soft.
“Shit,” I said. When she pulled away and my penis still wasn’t hard, I knew at that moment there was really nothing I could do to convince her not to marry Arthur. Even though Arthur was a douche, I couldn’t compare to him. Not right now.
“We’ll still be friends,” Whitney said as she zipped me back up and it was like nothing had ever happened.
My Aunt Tess, Uncle Steve, and my cousin Josh came to visit us the next weekend. My parents had spared me any visitors for my initial homecoming, but now she seemed to think I was up for it. Tess was her sister, and the last time I’d seen Josh, he was about eight years old. I remember he thought I was the coolest guy on the planet with my dyed hair, piercings, tattoos, and the fact that I smoked weed right in front of him in my bedroom. (No, I didn’t let Josh have a puff. I wasn’t the kind of guy who’d give drugs to my eight year old cousin, but he probably did get a secondhand high.)
Josh was sixteen years old now and I could see he’d taken a cue from the old Ryan. He sashayed into our house with his head half-shaved and half dyed black. He had the earlobe spreaders and more piercings and tattoos than I had probably ever seen in my life. And I could tell he was stoned even if I couldn’t smell it on him.
The new Ryan, of course, was unrecognizable from the old one. I was wearing a crisp white shirt that my mother had ironed for me, crisp khaki slacks, and my hair was neatly combed. My tattoos were covered and all the holes in my face had long since healed up.
Tess and Steve gave me the kind of broad, overly chipper smiles I was getting used to. “You look great, Ryan,” Steve said, clapping me on the shoulder. “Doesn’t he look great, Tess?”
I knew I didn’t look great and there was no point in pretending, but I let them do it if it made them feel better.
“Do you remember your cousin Ryan, Josh?” Tess asked Josh, who didn’t look thrilled to be here.
“Hey, Ryan,” Josh said, barely looking at me.
I really felt like I was looking into some kind of time machine mirror. It was almost creepy. That was exactly the way I was when I was sixteen. And I had a really bad feeling that Josh had been brought here to see how shitty my life was to act as a cautionary tale and scare him straight.
Well, if that’s what they wanted, then they could go fuck themselves. I was going to prove to Josh that my life was still great. Maybe it wasn’t, but I could fake it for a night.
“So what’s up?” I asked Josh, while our parents were in the other room.
I tried to think of something to say to make my life sound awesome, but I was really drawing a blank. Also, I knew I needed to shift my weight soon, but I didn’t want to do a weight shift in front of Josh, which would involve mechanically tilting my chair back in space. It would look lame. It was bad enough that I had two thick Velcro straps across my chest that were clearly holding me in my wheelchair. The upper strap bothered me most; I felt like it really emphasized how little trunk control I had. I found a website where a guy showed tips for threading that upper strap through your shirt so it wasn’t visible, and I showed it to my mother, but she didn’t want to do it because it would involve cutting my precious shirt. Except I hated this crisp white shirt almost as much as the strap. It only came down to my elbows, which meant that my skinnyass forearms were exposed—I really hated the way my lower arms looked. If you pictured in your mind what a disabled guy’s arms would look like, that’s how they looked. And things weren’t going to look any better when Josh saw my mother cut my meat up for me at dinnertime.
“Hey,” Josh said suddenly. “You got any weed?”
I shook my head remorsefully.
“I’m dry, man,” I said. As if this was a temporary thing.
Josh thought for a minute. “What about your parents? They got a liquor cabinet?”
“Yeah, but…” I looked at Josh and tried to push away the voice in my head saying no. “It’s in the kitchen.”
Josh was off like a bullet, and I followed him, pushing the joystick on my wheelchair to maneuver through the narrow kitchen entrance. I could just barely fit, but it took me three tries. Josh found the liquor cabinet quickly. They used to lock it when I was a teenager, but now there was no point since I couldn’t reach it. And even if I could, I couldn’t pour a drink for myself. I had zero grip strength.
“Score,” Josh said cheerfully. He grabbed a bottle of vodka and swigged directly from the container. Then he held it out to me, “You want some?”
I did. I really, really did. I stared at that bottle of vodka, my mouth feeling really dry. “I can’t hold the bottle,” I said, showing him my atrophied right hand as evidence.
“You want me to tip it in for you?” Josh offered.
I nodded eagerly. Josh positioned himself next to me and brought the mouth of the bottle to my lips. I tipped my head back, but Josh missed and splashed vodka all over my white shirt. I looked down at the alcohol stains on my shirt. Suddenly, I felt disgusted with myself. It was because of drugs and alcohol that I was too disabled to even hold a goddamn bottle on my own, yet here I was, still drinking. Still trying to fuck up my life. What the hell was wrong with me? If my father had walked in this scene, I’d be on my way to a nursing home tomorrow. And for what?
Josh held up the bottle to help me take another swig, but I turned my head away. “No,” I said.
“I don’t want it,” I said. “I’m not going to drink anymore. Or do drugs. And neither should you.”
Josh started laughing for a minute then he saw my face. “Wait, are you serious?”
“I really fucked up my life bad,” I said. “I mean, look at me. Is this what you want? I need to try to put the pieces back together, not keep fucking myself up more.”
Josh shook his head. “No offense, Ryan, but I’m not going to end up like you. No chance.”
“Yeah, you think when I was sixteen, I thought I’d be a quadriplegic by twenty-four?”
Josh got real quiet. I’m not entirely sure what he was thinking, but he put that bottle of vodka back in the liquor cabinet. He spent the rest of the night watching me real carefully. He watched me do my weight shifts, he watched my mother cut up my food for me, and he watched me struggling to eat with my special plate and wrist splint. I think it freaked the shit out of him. I hope it did. At least he had a chance not to fuck up his life.
To be continued....