I love Chris’s apartment. It’s spacious and it has a nice view, but the real reason I love it is that because it’s obviously the apartment of a person with a disability. Well, obvious to me anyway. He owns the apartment and paid to have it modified to suit him. The doorways are all wider than in most apartments I’ve seen, and the bookcases and dressers are all half-height. His kitchen is only semi-accessible, in that the refrigerator has the freezer and fridge part side by side, but he mostly uses a hot plate to cook, and more often the microwave. He didn’t replace the oven and he says it’s impossible to see what’s going on inside it. Luckily, he doesn’t really like to cook.
The bathroom is the only room where it’s blatantly clear that a disabled person lives here. He has a grab-bar next to his toilet, the sink and mirror are lowered so that I have to stoop to wash my hands, and he’s got that shower bench. In all honesty, the bathroom totally gives me a boner.
“So what do you think I should wear?” Chris asks me, his hands on his knees as we face his closet together. The hangers are also lowered for his height.
“Something casual,” I say, flipping through his clothes. There’s something about touching the clothing of a man you like that is such a turn-on.
“I’m sorry,” Chris says. “I know everything I own is really unfashionable.”
That’s not even true. Chris may not own the latest fashions, but he’s got his own style. It’s like Gina said: hip nerd. “I think you dress great,” I tell him.
Chris smiles and runs his hand over the curve of my ass, completely making me lose my train of thought. “Would you like a seat while you’re looking?”
I take him up on his offer. Chris frequently lets me sit on his lap in the privacy of his apartment, but absolutely never in public. He is still ridiculous about PDAs. The last time I attempted to sit on his lap in a public place, he almost pushed me onto the floor. I didn’t try again.
“You look good in navy blue,” I say, picking out a navy blue button down shirt from his closet. He’s kissing my neck, making it extremely hard to concentrate. “It’s pretty warm out. What about shorts?”
“Don’t own any shorts,” he says.
I don’t entirely understand why. I’ve seen Chris’s legs before, since he wears boxers to bed. They’re definitely on the skinny side, but not freakishly so. But I guess he has his reasons.
“All right, then the jeans you’re wearing will do,” I say, even though I’d selfishly like to watch him change his pants.
Chris tries to keep kissing me, but I’m super anal when it comes to getting places on time, plus I’m nervous that Gina doesn’t know my little secret. So I pull away and instruct him to change shirts. “Time for a striptease,” I say.
He laughs, and then does what he always does, which is rip his shirt off as fast as he can, then quickly put on the new shirt. I barely have time to catch a glimpse of his chest, which is a damn shame.
We grab a cab over to Gina’s apartment. I have to be honest that I do not love taking cabs with Chris. What he prefers to do is pop the wheels off his chair and store it in the backseat with him. I understand why he likes to do this, because he means he doesn’t need help getting his wheelchair in and out of a trunk or whatever, but it also means that I have to sit up front with the driver instead of next to my boyfriend. And this time, I’m fairly sure that the driver thinks I’m his nurse or something, because he says to me, “How much training do you gotta get for taking care of someone like that?”
I didn’t even want to look at Chris and see his face. “He’s my boyfriend,” I just say.
“Oh,” the driver says. “You’re kidding.” Then he spends the rest of the ride apologizing so that we still tip him.
By the time we get up to Gina’s apartment, I’m in full on panic mode. My stomach is all butterflies as I stand next to Chris as we wait for her to open the door. I think my anxiety is infectious because he looks nervous too. He pushes his palms into his knees to straighten out his posture as we hear the door unlocking. “I love you,” I whisper quickly.
“Love you too,” he whispers back.
When Gina sees Chris, she is completely unable to hide her reaction. At that moment, I realize I made a huge mistake by not warning her. “Sam,” she says, her smile faltering. “Come on in. And this must be Chris…”
“Right,” he says, holding out his hand to her. She takes his hand, but she doesn’t look happy about it. “And you must be Gina.”
“I must be,” she says.
Gina’s latest boy toy Justin is in her living room, and is all too happy to take the wine off Chris’s hands. Justin is all of maybe twenty years old, and very, very good looking if you like the young model type, which I guess most people do. He’s all shaggy blond hair, bulging muscles, and chiseled features. We all have a glass of wine and make idle conversation, until Gina pretty much drags me out of the room by my ear.
When we’re alone in her bedroom, she doesn’t even say anything. She just puts her fists on her hips and stares at me. “What is it?” I finally say.
Gina huffs. “You could have at least given me a heads up.”
“About what?” I blink innocently.
“Quit it, Sam,” she says. “What was all that Rivers Cuomo shit about anyway? Why didn’t you say he looks like Larry Flynt or Stephen Hawkings?”
“I never said he looked like Rivers Cuomo—you did,” I point out to her. “And he does not look like Larry Flynt or Stephen Hawkings. That’s pretty insulting, Gina.”
“What’s this about, anyway?” Gina says, squinting at me. “Are you giving him pity sex or something?”
“Yeah. I mean, you don’t really like him, do you?”
I feel a little angry. Chris is such a great guy in so many ways, and he was cute too. Forget the whole devotee thing… what was so crazy about me liking him? “I do like him, actually.”
Gina sighs with exasperation. “Whatever, Sam. I guess if you need a rebound guy from Patrick, he’s as good as any. Just don’t lead the poor guy on too much.”
Right now I should probably be protesting and explaining to her that Chris is no rebound guy. He’s the guy I’ve been waiting for, been hoping for my whole life. But I can tell from Gina’s face that she won’t believe it anyway. She isn’t trying to be mean—she really just doesn’t understand how I could like him. And I can’t figure out a way to tell her without giving up my secret. So I say, “I won’t.”
And then I hate myself.
When Gina and I get back into the living room, I hear Justin saying to Chris, "It seems like pretty much everyone is in a wheelchair these days. It's like a new fad or something."
Chris looks at a loss for words. "Oh?"
"Well, mainly those scooters," Justin says. "It's like every fat person you meet is in a scooter. It's like... maybe if you'd walk, you wouldn't be so fat."
"Huh," Chris says.
"Not that you're fat or anything," Justin says, taking a swig of wine. I don't think he's trying to insult Chris, but he's just saying whatever pops into his little brain. "I'm sure you really can't walk. Or can you?" He laughs.
"No, I can't," Chris says. He looks like he wishes he were anywhere but here, having this conversation.
"Also, my grandmother is in a wheelchair," he adds. "She had a stroke. Also, I have a cousin who's younger and is in a wheelchair. She's got some sort of brain disease and can't really move or talk. Is that what you have?"
"No," Chris says. We make eye contact and I attempt to mouth the words "I'm sorry" but he doesn't look like he's accepting my silent apology.
"So why can't you walk anyway?" Justin asks.
I'm hoping that Gina will interject and tell him he's being rude, but she looks just as curious as her idiot boyfriend.
"I had a tumor in my spinal cord," Chris finally says.
"So what does that have to do with walking?" Justin asks.
Chris shakes his head as if he can't believe this line of questioning. Like maybe Ashton Kutcher will jump out and tell him he's being punk’d. "The spinal cord controls all the nerves in the legs, so..."
"It does?" Justin looks amazed.
"You're a paraplegic then?" Gina asks.
"Yeah," Chris mumbles.
"What's that mean?" Justin asks.
"It means his lower body is paralyzed," Gina explains.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Justin says. "Then how do you have sex?"
I can't even imagine a more awkward moment than this one. I literally can't. Especially considering Chris and I haven't actually had sex and it's a topic of conversation we've both been avoiding. I know enough about spinal cord injury and sex to know that while everything may not be normal down there, it's likely that he can do it. Or at least possible. But I'm terrified to bring it up. I figure that when he's ready, he'll bring it up. Which, at his pace, will probably be sometime before I hit menopause.
No, that's not fair. Chris isn't a teenager. He's in his early thirties. He's definitely had sex before. And I'm sure it will happen between the two of us. I hope.
In any case, between Chris's red face and my wondering if he really can't have sex, it's pretty damn quiet in the room. Finally, thankfully, Gina smacks her boyfriend on the arm and says, "That's not your business, you idiot."
The rest of the evening passes equally painfully. Justin continues to make completely insensitive comments, Gina is quiet and awkward, and I'm pretty sure that Chris is starting to really hate me. All I can think about is getting the hell out of here as quickly as possible.
When we get back to my apartment that night, Chris is acting subdued. He’s one of those guys who’s quiet a lot, so him being subdued isn’t all that weird, but right now I know it must be some kind of reflection on the disaster at Gina’s apartment. And I feel embarrassed because I know that on some level, it was my fault. Even if it was just for putting him in a room with Gina and especially Justin.
“I think I’m going to go home,” Chris says, about two minutes after we get inside. “It’s late.”
“You can’t spend the night?” I say, disappointed.
He shakes his head. “I’d rather just go home, I think.”
I sink down on the couch with a horrible feeling in my stomach. He’s angry at me. Chris doesn’t have much of a temper, but when he’s upset about something, he gets especially quiet. I know I should probably let it go, but I can’t let him leave if he’s angry at me. So I say, “What’s wrong?”
He sighs. “Nothing, Samantha. I’m just tired.”
“Oh, stop it. Just tell me why you’re pissed off at me.”
“I’m not pissed off at you,” he says. “I just… wish you had told Gina in advance that I’m in a wheelchair. That would have made the night a lot easier.”
“I did,” I started to say, but I could tell from his face that he knew I was lying. “All right, I’m sorry. I didn’t know it mattered.”
Chris looks at me in amazement. “Are you shitting me? Samantha, you’re not an imbecile. You know it matters.”
I don’t know what to say to that. He’s right, of course. It’s like he can see through everything I’m saying. But he’d never guess my secret, because it’s not on his radar.
“Why didn’t you tell her?” Chris asks me, looking me straight in the eyes. “Are you embarrassed or something?”
“No!” I insist. “Chris, come on. You know I’m not.”
“I don’t know,” he sighs. “You just don’t seem super psyched to introduce me to anyone. What other conclusion am I supposed to draw?”
I instinctively start picking at my fingernails. They’ve been growing out so nicely lately and now I’m wrecking them again. I don’t have an answer to any of Chris’s questions. And I sense that if he knew I was a devotee, if he realized that was the motivation for all the things I did, that would make things worse. He’s too square to deal with a confession like that.
Finally, he’s the one that breaks the silence. “I’m not angry at you, Samantha,” he says. His voice takes on a resigned tone. “Just… in the future, please tell your friends that your boyfriend is disabled, so they don’t look like they’re going to have a heart attack when they see me. Okay?”
“Okay,” I agree.
He kisses me, but it’s a brief kiss and he leaves soon after, insisting he’s very tired and just wants to get a good night’s sleep in his own bed. I don’t entirely believe him though, and I suspect the truth is he can’t quite forgive me for tonight yet.
I’m having another insomniac night tonight. I spend a lot of time tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable on my mattress. At one point, I move out to the couch, but that's not any better. I do have a bottle of Ambien, but if I take those after 11PM, I'm a wreck the next day, so they’re essentially useless. I don't know what options are left. Warm milk?
The television lures me over. I tune in to Comedy Central and there’s an episode of South Park on. That show has seriously gone downhill lately, but this is an old episode from back when it was still good. Coincidentally, it’s an episode involving Jimmy, the disabled kid. I’m not even clear what Jimmy’s disability is, but I think he may have cerebral palsy.
Years ago, I used to watch South Park with Kate, and she’d nudge me whenever Jimmy came on. Because apparently, she thinks disabled nine-year-olds are attractive to me. For the record, I am not a pedophile. Yet I think it’s kind of cool that Jimmy has a girlfriend at some point on the show. I mean, I think Jimmy has a chance of growing up into a pretty cool, sexy disabled adult. That is, if he weren’t a freaking cartoon character.
It’s about one in the morning when I hear my phone chirp with a text message. It's Chris.
I text back: Wide awake.
A second later, the Black Eyed Peas start singing, and when I answer, it's his voice on the other line. He sounds about as exhausted as I am. "Hey, Samantha," he says. "I'm sleeping like shit."
"Me too," I say.
He sighs. "Tonight really sucked, didn't it?"
There's a long pause and then he says, "I just really wanted you to know that... I can have sex. I saw your face when Justin made that comment, and you looked pretty worried. I really don't want you to think that I can't just because I'm paralyzed."
Oh, is that what this is all about? It figures. "I didn't think that," I say innocently.
"Well," I say, "it did sort of cross my mind, I guess..."
“I guess I’ve been avoiding talking about it with you,” he says. “Usually I try to explain things to women early on so there are no surprises, but I haven’t done that with you because…” He pauses and I hear him taking a deep breath. “I really like you and I don’t want to screw things up. I mean, I love you.”
I grip the phone tighter, my heart pounding. “I love you too,” I say. “And I know we can work out the sex thing. I mean, I’m not expecting you to be some kind of Dynamo.”
I probably shouldn’t have said that because Chris sounds kind of hurt. “You weren’t?”
Sheesh. Damage control time. “No, I’m just saying, whatever we do, it’s going to be great because I love you. Just… tell me what to expect… if you feel like that will help.” As if I don’t know exactly what to expect.
“Well, you know I’m paralyzed,” he says quietly. “So, I can’t… I don’t have any feeling… down there. Not much, anyway. So if we’re kissing or I’m mentally turned on, that’s not enough. But if you touch me, I can get hard.”
“Right,” I say.
“I need to take a pill to help me,” he explains. “That usually works pretty well. So I should be okay for long enough to… you know, satisfy you, I hope.”
“I’m sorry,” Chris says. “I know this all sounds weird…”
“I’m guessing Patrick didn’t need a fucking Viagra to get hard,” Chris says, a touch of unfamiliar bitterness in his voice.
I wish Chris were here, so I could hug him and show him how much he means to me. That he doesn’t have to compete with Patrick. “But I didn’t love him,” I say.
There’s a long silence.
“Samantha,” he says, “you’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. I just sometimes have trouble understanding why… why you want to be with me.”
Confess! Now would be a perfect time to tell him everything, to explain to him why exactly he’s so much better for me than perfect Patrick. But in so many ways, Chris is very sensitive. I have no idea how he’ll react to the confession. What if I lose him forever?
“I think you’re amazing too,” I say, which is pretty much a copout.
Chris knows my answer is a copout, but thankfully, he doesn’t push it further. “Okay,” he says.
To be continued......
Next chapter: Sam finally meets Chris's ex Jenna