One of the things I’d been doing to distract myself from thinking about Jane or going home was to work on strengthening my left arm. I was 100% sure now that I felt a muscle twitch in that arm and I spent an hour before bed exercising it every night. I didn’t actually see my arm move at all, but that was only because it wasn’t against gravity strength. Cam had told me that there were slings that could take gravity out of the equation and help me to move my arm.
About two weeks after I first felt the twitch, I decided to tell Dr. Greenly about it. He was in my room examining a pink area that Mary had found on my bottom. She’d been propping me up on my side with pillows to keep it from developing into a sore. I’d been reading a lot about sores lately and I knew that I could end up chained to bed for weeks or even months with a bad one.
“Hey,” I said to Dr. Greenly as he covered up my butt with the blanket. “I think I felt my left arm move.”
“Is that so?” he asked, without smiling.
“I’m pretty sure,” I said.
“All right, Nick,” he said. “Let’s have a look.”
Dr. Greenly placed his hand on my withered left biceps and I concentrated all my effort on getting a good movement. I watched his face. “Go ahead and try to move it,” he said.
“I just did,” I said. I had this sinking sensation in my chest.
“You did?” Dr. Greenly frowned. “Well, do it again.”
I actually took a breath and really got a good twitch in this time. “There.”
Dr. Greenly shook his head. “No, nothing.”
I stared at him. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could he say that my arm wasn’t moving when it so obviously was?
“Sometimes there can be a phantom sensation of movement,” Dr. Greenly said. “But I’m absolutely positive there’s no movement in that arm. That’s consistent with your injury, but I was hoping there might be some return. But it doesn’t look like there will be.”
I swallowed hard, trying to absorb what he was telling me. “So you’re saying I probably won’t be able to move my arms at all… for the rest of my life?”
He shrugged. “You never know, of course. But the overwhelming likelihood is no, you won’t.”
I barely trusted myself to speak, but somehow I managed to say, “I was hoping maybe there’d be some chance I could feed myself again…”
“It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility,” he said. “There have been some studies with robotics or Bioness that might help you to do some limited self-feeding in the future. But for the time being, I suggest you try to make peace with being dependent for eating. I know it’s difficult now, but I promise you, you’ll get used to it. In five years from now, it will seem completely normal to you.”
I pictured myself five years from now. I’d be 31 years old. Undoubtedly still living with my parents. Undoubtedly still single. Mason would probably be married and practicing law by then, and I’d still have to wait for a caregiver just to help me get out bed, bathe, and feed me. And apparently, that would feel “normal” to me.
“Nick, are you okay?” Dr. Greenly’s hand was on my shoulder.
At that moment, Jane popped into the room, all peppy as usual as ready to start working with me. She was pushing the Hoyer lift to get me out of bed. “Hey!” she chirped. “What’s going on?”
I stared at the Hoyer lift. I hated that fucking lift. I hated how helpless and crippled I felt when my body was cradled in it. And then I stared at Jane. The humiliation of how she rejected me came flooding back to me, and that was just about all I could take. I started to cry.
I’d cried several times since being in rehab. I wasn’t a crier by any means, but there were times when I just got so fucking frustrated, I couldn’t help it. But this was beyond any tears I’d shed in the past. These were big, choking sobs that somehow made my whole body shake. I knew Jane and Dr. Greenly were staring at me, so I tried to stop, but I really couldn’t.
“Nick, Nick…” Jane was rubbing my shoulder. “It’s okay, Nick.”
But it wasn’t okay. I was never going to be normal again. And that was all I wanted.
Instead of getting better, the tears got worse. I kept crying harder and harder, until I realized I was having trouble catching my breath. Dr. Greenly noticed, and called for Mary, who came in with an oxygen tank and put a mask over my face. Apparently, I was too disabled to even cry without medical intervention.
“Nick,” Dr. Greenly said, “I’m going to have Mary give you something to calm you down. Okay?”
“And starting tomorrow, I’m putting you on an antidepressant,” he added.
“No,” I managed to say, although it just came out as a gasp.
“Nick, you really need this,” Jane said, rubbing my shoulder. “We’ve all been noticing how depressed you’ve been, and it’s not going to get better when you get home and start seeing all your limitations.”
I wanted to argue more. Dr. Greenly had brought up being on an antidepressant before, but I never liked the idea of it, and I was already on a bunch of medications. But I could see I was outnumbered, and anyway, I could barely talk right now. So I said, “Fine. Just don’t touch me.”
Jane pulled her hand away. “Fine,” she said.
My therapies got cancelled for the rest of the afternoon. Mary put a pill in my mouth that didn’t make me feel any better, but it at least helped me fall asleep.
Whatever they gave me must have been really strong because I didn’t wake up until the next morning when Jane was shaking me. I was still really groggy and I wanted to keep sleeping, but she wouldn’t let up. She kept rubbing my shoulder, saying, “Nick, wake up. Come on, wake up.”
“What’s the fucking point?” I retorted, rolling my head to the side so I didn’t have to look at her.
Jane straightened up and put her hands on her hips. “So that’s it? You’ve given up?”
“I’m going home in a few days,” I said. “Why do I still need to do therapy? What am I going to learn at this point?”
“Well, for starters, you don’t want to spend all day in bed, do you?”
I was pretty neutral on that.
“And you need a shave,” she pointed out.
“Cam will do it for me.”
“Cam’s off today.”
I squinted at her. “Maybe I want to grow a beard.”
“No, you don’t,” she said. “You look much more handsome clean shaven.”
I felt my rage returning. How could she talk to me that way? “I don’t look handsome either way,” I hissed. “I look like a cripple strapped into a wheelchair. And nobody gives a fuck if I have a beard or not. So just leave me the fuck alone.”
“Fuck off,” I said. “You’re so full of shit, Jane. You’re always Miss Positivity, but you know that’s all a crock of lies. You want to help me? Why don’t you be honest with me?”
Jane’s face darkened. “Fine. You want the truth?”
“I asked for it, didn’t I?”
“You’re right,” she said, looking me straight in the eyes. “You don’t look handsome. You look like what you are, which is a severely disabled man. The chances of you having any kind of relationship with a woman again are probably zero. If you get a date, it will probably be just out of pity or curiosity, and you definitely won’t get a second date. No woman will ever feel any sexual attraction for you again. There’s a very real chance that you’ll never have sex again for the rest of your life.”
Her little speech had certainly gotten my attention. It was all my fears, laid out and then confirmed. I didn’t feel tired anymore, that was for sure. My heart was slamming in my chest as I tried to absorb everything she had just said.
I stared up at Jane. Her blue eyes were normally so light in color, but now they seemed much darker somehow. Her pale skin was flushed with red as if there was a fire burning underneath her skin. She looked the same way I felt.
“You really think all that?” I finally asked, my voice barely a squeak.
Jane just shook her head at me, and then, without warning, she lowered her lips onto mine and kissed me the same way I had kissed her before.
As she pulled away, I could see she was shaking. And the parts of me that were capable of shaking definitely were too. I couldn’t fucking believe she had just done that. I didn’t understand why, but I didn’t want to question it either. But I’d been kissed many times before, and I knew that wasn’t a pity kiss.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” Jane breathed.
“I disagree,” I said, which at least got her to smile.
“I’ve had a lot of patients over the years,” Jane said. “And a lot of the men, especially the young ones, develop feelings for me. It’s a normal thing. But I never felt anything back, aside from compassion and friendship. But then… when you kissed me the other day…” She chewed on her lip and looked down at the floor. “I realized that I had let myself do the unthinkable: I had fallen for a patient.”
I struggled to process what she was saying. She had fallen for a patient… meaning, she had fallen for me? Jane had fallen for me?
“And the worst one too,” she went on, although smiling slightly now. “A spoiled brat who’s still in denial about his injury.”
“I’m not in denial,” I said. I couldn’t really contest the spoiled brat part.
“Oh, really?” Jane shook her head. “So what about that mess yesterday, where you needed sedatives in order to calm you down? You are in major denial, Nick. No matter what you say, you don’t really believe you’re going to be a quadriplegic for the rest of your life. But you are.”
I realized she was probably right. I was having trouble imagining a future with me still sitting in a wheelchair.
“You’ve got a lot of adjusting to do,” Jane said. “You have a really long path ahead of you, and it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster. The last thing you should be doing is getting involved in a romantic relationship. And the last thing I should be doing is getting involved with someone like you.” She paused and sighed. “But you are just really, really attractive.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that part. Edwards, you still got it.
“So if I get over this denial,” I said, “then you’ll be with me?”
“Nick…” She shook her head. “It’s not that simple. You can’t just snap your fingers and accept your disability.”
“Well, I can’t snap my fingers at all,” I pointed out.
Jane laughed. “See? This is why I couldn’t help myself. I just… like you. A lot.”
“I like you too, Jane,” I said. “A lot. A really lot.” I swallowed. “And I’ve never felt this way before about anyone in my entire life. So I wish you wouldn’t just shrug it off like it doesn’t matter, because it really matters to me a lot. You really matter to me.”
Jane glanced around, out the door to my room. Then she quickly drew the curtains around my bed so that we were concealed. Usually when the curtains got drawn, that meant my bowel program was going on, so nobody would disturb us. Jane climbed into my bed and I was so excited, I would have been shaking if I could have.
“What now?” I asked her.
Instead of answering, Jane lowered her lips onto mine. She pressed her body against mine, running her fingers through my hair as she kissed me. I couldn’t do much aside from lying there, but I loved the feel of her soft lips on mine, her touch on my scalp and then my cheeks, my face, my eyelids. It was almost orgasmic. I was told I wouldn’t be able to have orgasms in the traditional sense of the word anymore, but I felt like if anything could get me there, this would.
We kissed for several minutes, then to my disappointment, Jane pulled away. “I’ll be in deep shit if I get caught,” she said.
“All right,” I said, summoning up my patience. I didn’t want to act like a spoiled brat, demanding she keep making out with me now, now, now! “I’ll be home in a few days. Then we’ll be free to do whatever we want.”
Jane sat up in my bed and started smoothing out her ponytail. “Nick,” she said. “Are you serious about me? I mean, do you really care about me?”
“Of course I do,” I said earnestly.
“Then you have to try to understand what I’m about to tell you,” she said. She put her hand on my shoulder. “I can’t see you for a while after you get home. That is, I can see you as a friend, but nothing more.”
I stared at her in alarm. “Why not?”
“I just told you,” she sighed. “You’re going to be a mess when you get home. You’re going to be depressed and angry and resentful. And if I’m your girlfriend, you’re going to take it out on me.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” I insisted, although I truthfully wasn’t so sure.
Jane just gave me a look, to show me that we both knew better.
“Fine,” I said. “So… how long before we can be more than friends?”
“One year!” I cried. “Are you fucking kidding me?
“It will go very fast,” she promised.
I wasn’t thrilled about this. Then again, Jane liked me. She actually liked me. An hour ago, I wouldn’t have thought this was possible. So if I had to wait one year to be with her, maybe that wasn’t the end of the world. I could wait a year. I could wait even longer, if it meant I got to be with Jane.
“What if you’re dating some other guy by then?” I said.
Jane shook her head. “I won’t. I’ll wait for you.”
A good, warm feeling came over me. Jane was going to wait for me. “Okay,” I said. “Deal.”
Jane smiled. She made like she was going to stand up, but then she leaned in and kissed me again, really slow, like she was savoring it. “One for the road,” she said.
To be continued.....