She tried to swallow down her nervousness as her hand slowly moved to the doorbell. She was standing in front of a large apartment house and recalled how it all had started. When one year ago her colleague at work told her that his second job was taking care of a disabled man, she immediately was jealous of him. For the past years she had always had jobs at special-care homes or hospitals, partly because she felt passionate about helping other people but – trying to be honest about her own feelings she realized – mostly because of something else. Once she tried to talk with her best friend about it but the reaction she got made her not try it again.
The door in front of her opened and from the warm, comforting spring sun she stepped into a gloomy corridor. Her eyes had to adjust for a few seconds, then she could see the staircase. And an elevator, of course. She decided to take the hard road. Rays of light fell through the windows and were reflected by dust particles hovering a few centimeters over the ground. A short look at the cheat sheet she had in her hand – yes, third floor. When her colleague told her that the guy he was working for needed a temp for the weekend she was very insecure at first. It was easy to hide her special interest in disabled men in the anonymity of the facilities she had worked in before. But actually spending a whole weekend with a disabled guy helping him? The fascination this idea had on her was a bit scary at first. Still she had told her colleague to give the guy her number. And here she was now, standing in front of his door.
She knocked. “Come in!” His voice sounded deep and slightly muffled through the wooden door. She opened it slowly and peeked in. There he was. His dark hair was cut very short and he had a trimmed full beard, giving him a much older look as she would have imagined for a student. The tone of his skin indicated that someone from his family probably once lived somewhere in the South of Europe, and so did his eyes. His wheelchair was an electrical one, it was quite big and looked much more like little car than a wheelchair. It even had lights.
His legs were hanging down loosely, his feet almost touching the ground. Even though he was wearing a regular black jeans, she could see how his legs were so thin that they did not even fill half of it. She had to force herself to look into his eyes. “Hi, I’m Summer!” She tried a welcoming-yet-professional smile and reached out her hand, taking one step into his room. His left hand moved the joystick, the wheelchair squeaked a little and he turned fully towards her. “Hey, my friends call me Vince. Nice to meet you!” He also raised his hand when she realized that he seemed to not be able to fully stretch his arm. She had to bow forward a little and grab his hand. His handshake lacked strength but he fully embraced her hand, making it a much more gentle and almost intimate touch. Focus, Summer!
She took the chair he had offered and sat next to the table. Looking around a bit she actually enjoyed the Spartan yet appealing décor. It was a guy‘s flat for sure. While enduring the usual small talk she spotted a crate of beer but also some seemingly expensive red wine. There were some tasteful pictures on the wall. The cooker had an open space below so he could drive under it with the wheelchair. The doors were a bit wider than usual. It was small but cozy. She could imagine him standing next to the window, looking out, watching all these people passing by. Could he even see the street from his low seated position?
"... so this is where we would mostly be spending the weekend." "I'm sorry, where again?" Somehow she had missed the point where she was supposed to pay attention to the conversation. "It's a lake near my Dad's place." Ah right, he had been talking about the weekend trip. They went through all the organizational stuff, Summer writing the most important points down on the back of the sheet with his address. Vince, Friday till Sunday, 500 cash, meet at train station 4 pm, lake something - she had already forgotten the name again. Then, finally, he went on to the interesting part.
"My disease is actually very easy to explain. Your brain sends signals to your muscles via nerve connections. These connections tend to break sometimes. The body usually recovers them but with me that recovery function is broken. So when a connection breaks, I cannot use that muscle anymore. So it is a very unpredictable but progressive disease." He went on to explain how lifting something light as a cell phone would actually be very heavy for him so he could not hold it next to his ear for longer than a few minutes. It was very hard for Summer to fake a level of adequate compassion. He showed her how not using his limbs actually affected his ability to twist even his wrinkles. He could barely turn his hand half-way around. And she could see how putting his skinny arm on the table actually cost him lots of energy. She was biting her lip to not just jump up and help him with it.
"So, I will give you some heads-up on what kind of help I need. Most things we will do as we go along though." Fine with that. The list was mostly basic stuff. Helping with dressing and undressing, washing, toilet, transfer from wheelchair to bed - but then he suggested to actually let someone show her how to best do that. Summer tried to hide her excitement behind a short nod and a quick "Sure, no problem" that sounded a bit breathless to herself. He didn't seem to notice.
Vince called in a guy who introduced himself as John and Summer stood up to have a better view. The guy first unfastened the belt which kept Vince in his chair. John then knelt down and took the weak hands and put them around his neck. He took Vince's elbows and pushed them together so it was almost like Vince was hugging him tightly while commenting "He has a good grip like this but you have to be careful that his hands don't slide away." Then he slid one hand under Vince's legs and the other one gripped his trousers. "He is not heavy at all and if you do it like this, it is very easy." Standing up, he was holding Vince at his chest, carrying him around like a mother would do it with her child. Summer realized how fragile Vince looked and had to swallow down the tightness in her throat to say: "I... I think I can manage that." Vince gave her an ironic grin over John's shoulder: "Don't worry, after letting me drop a few times you will get a hang on this ... just kidding, nobody ever did that and you won't either." She smiled at the slightly cynic humor, enjoying it as he did not seem to take himself too serious.
John left the room after having put Vince back into the chair, adjusted his position with a short drag at the trousers and fastened the belt. Vince gave her a cute smile: "So, if you have no more questions, we'll see each other tomorrow at the station I guess?" She had no more questions. Almost in trance she said goodbye, pitied herself a bit as he did not seem to offer another shake hands, almost forgot her sheet with the key facts on the table and finally stood outside again.
The sun was slowly disappearing behind a building across the street and she had to squint her eyes in order to not be dazzled. Slowly walking, a million thoughts seemed to rush through her mind. She tried to stay professional and calm, she had done this a million times, no need to be excited, it was just another job. Her hand found the sheet of paper in her pocket. Vince. Friday till Sunday. 500 cash. Was this guy kidding? She would have done that for free. A whole weekend in a remote place, and her, Summer, being there with him, just to help him... An elder woman on a bike almost ran her over and shouted angrily over her shoulder "Are you dreaming?" Yes, she was.