Should I tell Jonas I’m a devotee? And how will he react if I tell him? Those two questions keep coming up in my mind whenever I think of him. I’ve been dreaming about dating someone like him for years, but I’ve never really thought about what to tell the guy. Part of me thinks being honest and telling him right away is the best policy, but I’m afraid it will freak him out. I’m hesitant to make any decisions.
I’ve only seen Jonas briefly a couple of times since our date; we’re both busy with lectures and assignments and our schedules don’t match. Today is Thursday and we’re meeting for lunch. I can’t wait to spend some time with him again.
I’m already sitting at a table in the cafeteria when Jonas arrives. I admire him as he approaches; he’s on his crutches and he’s dressed in a pair of beige chinos and a navy blue polo shirt. He smiles as he sees me and I impulsively stand up and greet him with a kiss. He stiffens a bit, and I wonder if it’s too much, too soon. After all; we’ve only been on one date. When I feel the corners of his mouth lifting as I press my lips to his I relax.
“Hey there,” he says as we pull apart, a teasing glint is evident in his deep brown eyes. “Happy to see me?”
“Yeah, very,” I reply as I sit back down.
“I’m happy to see you too,” Jonas says as he lowers himself to a chair. I watch as he unlocks his braces and positions his legs. When he’s all settled he digs a bottle of water and a sandwich out of his backpack.
“Do you have any plans this weekend?” he asks me after he has taken a few bites of his sandwich.
I shake my head, I’ve just taken a big bite of my wrap and I don’t want to speak with my mouth full of food. That’s just disgusting.
“Wanna come over to my place on Saturday? I’ll make some lunch and we can hang out and get to know each other better. And if we’re not sick of each others company by dinner time I’ll take you out to dinner.”
“Sounds great,” I reply happily. We didn’t really talk that much on our first date and most of our conversation was pretty superficial. I think we were both nervous and afraid of prying too much, I know I was. Still am. I’ve got a lot of questions I’d like to ask him about his disability, but from the way he talked about it the first time we had lunch together I got a feeling that he’s not too keen on talking about it. Although Jonas appears to be confident there’s definitely insecurity and vulnerability there as well.
Friday evening I send my best friend Natalie a WhatsApp message and ask if she has time to talk – I need some advice from her. Five minutes later we’re Skyping.
“How did your big “I-hope-it’s-date” thing last Friday go?” she asks me eagerly. I might have mentioned it to her a time or three…
“It was great. Jonas is a great guy, but he’s a bit withdrawn. He seems kinda unsure of himself, I can’t really explain it. I have a feeling he hasn’t really dated since before he was injured.”
“So what did you do? You went to the concert, right? Did you eat before?”
I gave her a quick run-down of our evening; the food hall, our dinner at Døgnvill, the concert and finally the conversation in the car outside my apartment.
“So, anyway… Just before I got out of his car I offered to pay for my part of the evening and he said that since he’d asked me on a date he was paying. Back at the restaurant he just said that he’d asked me out, didn’t mention date. I think I must’ve looked kind of stunned, ‘cause he told me it could just be a friend’s night out if that what I wanted.”
“So what did you say?”
“I told him I wanted it to be a date and then we kissed. He’s a great kisser.”
“So, you’re dating now?”
“I guess so. We had lunch together yesterday and he invited me over to his place tomorrow. I’m so happy, Natalie! I mean, he’s my dream guy! Tall, dark, handsome…”
“And paralyzed,” Natalie interjects. She’s one of the few people that know about me being a devotee. It’s not something I’ve told a lot of people. “Have you told him about your ‘thing’ for disabled guys?”
“No, I haven’t. Sheesh, we’re just getting to know each other. We’ve been on one date and had lunch together at school a couple of times… I’m not sure when I should tell him – and if I should tell him. What if he thinks I’m a total freak?”
“What if he thinks is cool? I really think you should tell him and sooner rather than later. Let me ask you something; would you be attracted to him if he wasn’t disabled?”
“Yeah, we really clicked. His disability is just a bonus, the icing on the cake…”
“There you go. Make sure to get that point across and I bet you’ll be fine.”
I sigh. Natalie keeps insisting I should tell Jonas about being a devotee as soon as possible. After I say I’ll think about it we move on to chatting about other things; mainly school and she catches me up on what’s going on with some of my other friends in South Africa. We chat for almost an hour before we finally bid each other goodbye.
Not long after I end my conversation with Natalie my cellphone rings; it’s Jonas. I take a deep cleansing breath before I answer the phone, hoping I don’t sound as giddy as I feel about him calling.
“Hello.” Eloquent Sigrid, I berate myself.
“Hey. Hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”
“No, not at all. I just ended a Skype call with my best friend back in South Africa a few minutes ago.”
“Ah, cool. Gotta love technology,” he says with a chuckle.
“Yeah, definitely. Glad we have Skype, ‘cause phone calls to South Africa are ridiculously expensive.”
“I bet. I just realized I forgot to give you my address yesterday. Figured it would be good for you to know where I live since you’re coming over to morrow.”
“I didn’t think about it either,” I say. “I definitely need your address so I can put it into the map app on my phone.”
“I can pick you up,” he offers.
“No. Thanks for offering, but I really need to familiarize myself with the city. I’m sure I can catch a bus or a tram to where you live.”
“Yeah, you can just take the 21 bus down to Aker brygge. I live on Tjuvholmen, it’s just a 5 minute walk from the bus stop,” he says.
“Oh, awesome! I can figure that out,” I say. The 21 bus stops at the bus stop down the street from my apartment. We chat a little longer before we say good night.
I’m surprised that he lives on Tjuvholmen; it’s one of the most expensive areas in Oslo and right at the waterfront. It’s not really suitable for a student’s budget, so I wonder how he can afford it.
A few minutes after noon on Saturday Jonas buzzes me in to his building and I take the elevator up to his third floor apartment. When I arrive at his front door quickly straighten out my clothes before I push the doorbell. Jonas opens the door almost immediately; he’s in his wheelchair and looks a little insecure. I’ve only seen him in his chair a couple of times; he seems to prefer crutches and braces when he’s out and about. The wheelchair is a compact manual model; rigid frame painted in a dark grey metallic with low backrest and no armrests or push handles. His sock clad feet rest on a single footrest.
“Hi,” I say with a bright smile.
“You made it,” he says in a way of a greeting, also smiling. I bend down and kiss him hello and when I stand back up he rolls back a little and gestures for me to come in. I step into his apartment and watch as he closes and locks the door. He’s dressed a pair of loose fitting jeans that have been through the wash a few times and a plain white t-shirt that hugs him in all the right places and shows off his tan. His hair is a little mussed and there’s a dark shadow on his jaw that suggests he hasn’t shaved today. Damn, he’s hot!
I follow him into what turns out to be a pretty spacious open-planned kitchen and living room. I notice that the kitchen is wheelchair-accessible; lowered counters and no upper cabinets. The room is furnished with a dining room table with eight chairs around it and a large grey couch with a chaise lounge on one end with a glass and steel coffee table in front of it. Opposite of the couch a huge flat screen TV hangs on the wall. The place is definitely a man’s apartment, but I like it.
My eyes drift to the one wall is basically floor to ceiling windows with a sliding door that opens out to a large balcony. He has a sea view and straight across the bay is the Akershus fortress.
“Nice place,” I say. “And amazing view.”
“It’s not too shabby,” he replies, a smile tugging at his lips. “Make yourself comfortable on the balcony. I’ve almost got the food ready.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
He hesitates for a second, then he puts me to work on setting the dining table on the balcony. He has already set out plates, cutlery and glasses on the kitchen island, as well as two placemats and a basket with napkins and various sauces, oils and spices.
“This apartment is a notch or three above the typical student accommodation,” I say with a smile. We’ve finished eating lunch and after we cleared the table and put the leftover food away we’ve both settled in on the couch Jonas’ balcony.
Jonas chuckles. “Yeah, I know. My construction company did part of the work on this building and I bought the apartment early on, long before construction actually started, at a great price. There’s no way I could afford it at the price it would go for today. I originally bought it as an investment, I planned on selling it with a profit.”
“How long have you lived here?”
“Little over two years. Still miss my old place sometimes; it was in an old building up at Majorstua. It was a total mess when I bought it and I did most of the work myself. It had lots of original features; high ceilings, some exposed brick… Unfortunately it was on the 4th floor and there’s no elevator in the building. Couldn’t move back there after my accident, so I had some work done in this place while I was in rehab and moved in here when I was discharged.”
“Ah, I see. This place seems to be very good in terms of accessibility.”
“Yeah. The basics were already in place, so I didn’t need to do much, I replaced the kitchen and made some adjustments in the master bathroom and that was it really. It’s great, but still I miss the character my old place had,” he says with a wistful smile.
“Yeah, I get that. I wish my place had more character, it’s kind of non-descript. All white walls and IKEA furniture.”
“Are you allowed to paint? Adding some color can make a big difference.”
“I’d have to check with my parents, but I don’t think they’d mind. As long as I don’t paint in some insane color.”
“You live in your parents apartment?” Jonas asks.
“Yeah, they bought it when they were newlyweds and when we moved to London they decided to let it. The last tenant’s lease expired this summer and they didn’t renew it since I was moving here. I’m glad I haven’t had to negotiate the crazy real estate market.”
“That’s definitely a good thing,” Jonas says. “I know many students struggle to find somewhere to live. And the prices are insane.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard some horror stories from people in my class. I really shouldn’t be whining about white walls.”
Jonas chuckles. “No, you shouldn’t,” he says. Then he changes the subject. “Do you come from a big family?”
“No, I’m an only child. How about you?”
“I’ve got two brothers, I’m the oldest.”
We continue to talk about our families and I soon find myself sharing stories from my childhood and teens; little tidbits from the different places I’ve lived in and Jonas is listening attentively, occasionally commenting or asking questions.
“Are you familiar with the term ‘devotee’?” I ask tentatively a little later in the afternoon. A few glasses of wine have given me the courage to broach the subject. I’m still not sure it’s a good idea, but I figure honesty is the best policy.
“A little. While I was in rehab I did some online research about spinal cord injuries and I came across a couple of devotee websites. From what I understood it’s basically a person that’s attracted to people with disabilities. Initially I thought it seemed weird, creepy…” he pauses briefly, seems like he needs to gather his thoughts. Then he turns and looks at me. “Why do you ask? Are you trying to tell me something?” he asks, his voice is flat and he doesn’t reveal any emotion.
I nod. “Yeah. I am. And you think I’m creepy.” I feel like such an idiot and I can feel my cheeks reddening. “I’ll get out of here.” I stand up and gather my tote bag and stuff my cardigan haphazardly into it and head toward the front door. Tears are welling up in my eyes. Fuck, fuck, fuck… I knew it! I should’ve kept my mouth shut.
“Sigrid! Wait! Don’t leave!” Jonas wheels up to me just as I’m about to unlock his front door. I notice his glasses are a little askew on his nose and his feet aren’t as neatly aligned on the footplate as they were earlier. He has obviously hurried when he transferred back to his chair. “Can we please talk about this?”
“What’s the point? You think I’m a creep,” I say. Damn, I just want to get the hell out of here. This is humiliating.
“I never said that. You made that conclusion in your mind,” Jonas says gently.
“You said you think devotees are creepy.”
“I said that initially I thought it seemed creepy.”
“Right…” I shuffle my feet, not sure what to say or do. This conversation is definitely taking an unexpected turn.
“Hear me out, please?” he pleads. I nod and tentatively follow Jonas back to the balcony. I sit down on the edge of the couch and he remains seated in his wheelchair across from me. This is weird twist. He’s begging me to stay, despite that he thinks I’m a creep.
“So you’re attracted me because I’m paralyzed?” he asks. He doesn’t show much emotion; maybe he seems a little curious.
“No! It’s not like that at all. Yes, your disability was the first thing I noticed, and then I noticed your good looks. I like tall, dark men with a bit of a rugged look. And as we’ve gotten to know each other I’ve become more attracted to you because of the person you are. The disability thing is more of bonus, if that makes sense. I know it’s weird, but from I was a young child I’ve been fascinated by people using crutches, wheelchairs…my Barbie dolls had plenty of accidents that required toilet paper casts…” I realize I’m rambling and clamp my mouth shut.
There’s an awkward silence before Jonas speaks. He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly; he seems to be thinking.
“When I learned about devotees I was still in rehab, I wasn’t adjusted to my disability at all. I was struggling to accept everything that comes with a spinal cord injury and that someone could actually find it attractive was totally mind boggling to me. I thought that devotees had to be creeps. Freaks,” he sighs and rakes a hand through his hair. Then he pushes his glasses up his nose, they’ve slipped a little. When he’s done he leans forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. “Anyway, I didn’t go back to those websites and I just focused on rehab and then trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. After a couple of failed attempts at dating I started to wonder if I’d ever find a woman that’s cool with every aspect of my disability.”
“What happened?” I blurt out when he doesn’t carry on.
“They basically freaked out when I told them a bit about crip mechanics… They were okay with the mobility issues, at least I thought they were, but when they learned about the rest of the package they couldn’t get out of here soon enough. I was pretty depressed and basically decided I was done with dating, tried to convince myself I was fine with being single. One evening I was surfing the net and I ended up back on some of the devotee sites. I read some stories on there and I started to think that maybe it’s not a bad thing.”
“Really?” I ask, disbelief lacing my voice. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
“Yeah. You’re familiar with crip mechanics, right? You know there’s more to my disability than the mobility issues?”
I nod. He continues before I can say anything. “Bowel and bladder routine, skin checks, range of motion exercises… And you’re cool with that?”
“I am,” I reply with a tentative smile.
“I knew you were something special from the moment I sat down next to you at the enrollment ceremony,” he says, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something told me that I should get to know you.”
“Yeah, just took me a while to work up the courage to approach you.”
“I was still working up the courage to approach you when you asked if you could join me for lunch,” I admit. “I’d seen you around, but didn’t really have a reason to go up to you, so I didn’t.”
“Well, here we are. I like you a lot, Sigrid. And I’m really attracted to you. I’m pretty sure you feel the same way about me. Am I right?”
“Yeah, definitely,” I reply, grinning.
“I’m glad we’re on the same page,” Jonas says, smiling broadly.