GAVIN: Melissa unsnaps my chest harness and pulls me forward. I obviously don't resist, but slump against her like a bag of wet sand.
"Oh!" cries out one of the nurses.
"It's fine," I say, my voice muffled by Melissa's be-sweatered right shoulder. "She's done this once or twice."
She lifts me and scoots me forward, till I'm seated at the edge of my wheelchair's cushion. It's true, Melissa has done this hundreds of times. But manual transfers are always a little scary. If Melissa slips or trips or makes a wrong move in any direction, I could end up on the floor. I'm more scared of this now than I was before Tim dropped me and broke my leg.
But Melissa's never dropped me, and today is no exception. She grunts quietly as she lifts me onto the gurney, and I admire her strength for the millionth time. She lays me down slowly, until I feel the bed under my head. The two other nurses make themselves useful pulling my legs up onto the bed, and then Dr. Spencer breezes into the room.
"Gavin," he announces pleasantly, and I see him reach out and squeeze my left hand, which Nurse B has laid neatly beside me on the bed.
"Hey, doc," I say, and force a smile.
He turns to one of his nurses. "Gail, will you undress Gavin from the waist down?"
"I can do it," Melissa interjects, and I'm grateful she came today instead of Ray, my PCA. She really should be at work, since her own fertility appointments have resulted in enough absences for her already. But she wanted to be here today. I watch her unbutton my pants and work them down my legs, then note the awkward discomfort on Nurse B's face. I relocate my gaze to the ceiling as I listen to Melissa remove my diaper.
When she's done, Melissa stands up and says, "Okay."
Dr. Spencer walks over to my bed and begins examining my junk. At least, I assume that's what he doing. Flat on my back without a pillow, I have a very limited vantage point. And I obviously can't feel it.
After a minute, he seems satisfied. "Okay, let's get you on your side. Melissa?" He turns to my wife, and she steps forward to show them how to turn me onto my right side. When I'm there, I hear the snap of latex gloves behind me and a variety of sounds I don't understand. Then Melissa says, "Okay, Gav, he's going to insert the probe now."
"Okay," I swallow. If all goes to plan, this will result in my first ejaculation in eight years. I have no idea what to expect, but I'm guessing it won't be anything like the orgasms of my able-bodied past. The only other guy in a wheelchair that I personally know is Pete, and he's even worse off than I am in the sex department (which is saying a lot). When he and Larissa got pregnant last year, it was with donor sperm. So he had no helpful advice or words of encouragement on the procedure I'm about to go through.
Nurse A appears in front of me with a sample cup and I see her grasp my penis firmly. I'm weirded out by the way I can see it grow hard in her hand, and I think of Melissa. But I don't have much time to wonder about whether or not this feels like some bizarre ménage à cinq to her before I hear rustling, and then a viscously liquid squish that I assume (hope) is some kind of heavy-duty lubricant.
A moment later, I feel distinctly uncomfortable. It's the vague feeling I associate with the early onset of AD, and it immediately makes me panicky. I assume this is part of the process, though, so I keep my mouth shut. And a second later, Nurse A makes a satisfied little huff and pulls the cup away. I stare in wonder at the teaspoon of liquid contained therein, as I feel Melissa's hair tickle my ear. She has leaned in close, and she whispers happily, "You did it."
MELISSA: It's a beautiful day, and I am enjoying it to the fullest. Under the arbor, Trent and DeShawn face one another in matching tuxedos. It's a surprisingly traditional ceremony, a nod to Trent and DeShawn's firmly Midwestern roots, I suppose. The only non-traditional elements are, of course, that they are two men getting married. Oh, and also the guy strapped into the wheelchair behind Trent. Trent's Best Man. Gavin, of course.
When it's time to exchange rings, Trent turns around and pulls a small cloth pouch out of Gavin's suit coat. He withdraws the rings, hands one to DeShawn, and stuffs the little pouch back into Gavin's pocket. A few minutes later, rings and vows swapped and reciprocated, they kiss.
It's a long kiss, full of passion, and I feel a tingle between my legs. I fight the flare of my nostrils as I inhale, hoping I'm not telegraphing to everyone here that I'm horny as hell. I know I have about as much appeal to Trent or DeShawn as a kitchen chair, but they are two perfect examples of exactly my flavor. I won't lie and say watching them embrace doesn't provoke a longing in me that I fight hard to keep under wraps day in and day out.
Don't get me wrong. I'm satisfied with Gavin. There's a depth and nuance and texture to our relationship that I don't see in any of the relationships around me. But sometimes I just want to be grabbed and squeezed and, yes, fucked.
I literally bite my tongue to try to stop the images of what Trent and DeShawn will be up to tonight, and how different it will be to what Gavin and I will be up to, but it doesn't work.
Trent will not be helping DeShawn out of his electric wheelchair and onto the special padded cushion he's had to strip the bed to put underneath to prevent pressure sores on his beloved's ass. He won't be undressing his new husband against the resistance of his contracted, paralyzed limbs. His partner won't need him to evacuate his bowels, or brush his teeth, or empty his urine bag before they have hot, wedding night sex.
No, in all likelihood, DeShawn (whom I've always assumed is the top, though I've never asked) will press Trent to the wall of their honeymoon suite and take him with vigor, having his way with him until they both cum in all their magnificent, masculine, able-bodied glory.
Wow. What the hell?
Women in their first trimesters of pregnancy are supposed to be moody, tired, sick. They are not supposed to be having gay sex fantasies at their best friends' weddings.
Later, at the reception, I can barely make eye contact with either of the grooms.
GAVIN: This isn't supposed to be happening. Twenty weeks is supposed to be the bridge to safety in childbearing. Once you cross it, you are definitely not supposed to end up lying in bed at two-thirty in the morning waiting to hear from your wife, who is at Labor and Delivery bleeding in a way that is most definitely not supposed to be happening.
Melissa is twenty-one weeks along with our daughter. We've already named her: Fey Grace. And here I am, feeling even more helpless than usual, waiting to hear if we're losing her.
When Melissa woke up an hour ago and realized she'd soaked her side of the bed in dark red blood, we both agreed she shouldn't stick around to get me ready.
So Ray's here now, finally, working my stubborn arms and legs into my clothes. I'm diligent about instructing my PCAs to do my ROM exercises, but eight and a half years of high quadriplegia have done a number on my joints. It makes all the ADLs more complicated, but especially dressing. I often wish that I could still dress myself. But tonight of all nights, that desire is especially fierce.
"Can you go any faster?" I snap at Ray, and instantly regret it. His kind face reacts as though I've slapped it, though he obediently redoubles his efforts. Not that it's much use. My stiff right elbow, which likes to stay bent at a forty-five degree angle these days, just doesn't want to make its way through my sweatshirt's sleeve. It's a long two minutes of struggle before my hand finally appears through the cuff. Working, I know, as fast as is safe, Ray then lifts me in the Hoyer and lowers me into my wheelchair.
But just as he's strapping my wrists to the armrests, my cell phone rings on the dresser. Ray grabs it, answering the call as he lifts the phone to my ear.
"Melissa? Is she okay?" I ask breathlessly.
The quiet sob on the other end of the line is all the answer I get. And it's all the answer I need.
MELISSA: "Need anything from the grocery store?" I ask Gavin.
He drops his mouthstick onto his pillow, abandoning for the moment whatever he was reading on his Kindle. "Not that I can think of," he says. "Thank you, though."
"Of course," I reply politely.
We are so fucking polite these days.
Since we lost Fey four months ago, we haven't gone through any of the cycles of grief that my sisters and friends coached me to prepare for. Maybe we're numb. Maybe we're in denial. Maybe we didn't love her enough.
Or maybe it's just because Gavin and I are used to shitty luck.
Whatever it is, we haven't had the sobbing breakdowns or the screaming fights or the deep existential crises that are supposed to follow a stillbirth. That's what Fey was, technically. If you lose a pregnancy after twenty weeks, it's not a miscarriage, it's a stillbirth. The word is a double-edged sword. One side of the blade cuts against the assumption that she was "just" a pregnancy. But the other side slices my heart in two.
I don't talk about this with Gavin. And he doesn't talk about his grief with me. I mean, I'm assuming he's grieving. Some days I wonder if it was a relief.
Shit. I can't be thinking like that. Gavin is processing this differently, but it's not wrong. And he is processing it. I'm sure of it. I know the man I married.
So, despite my dark thoughts, I walk over to our bed, where Gavin has been confined for the last three weeks due to a decubitis ulcer threatening to erupt on his backside. I lean down and kiss him on the cheek. It's not much, but it's the most physical contact we've had in a week. He smells musty from sponge baths, and his hair is slightly greasy. I know he can't help it, but it's not appealing. Even if I were capable of being appealed to these days. "See you after work," I murmur, and leave.
At work, I stuff my pain and hopelessness into a little drawer in my heart and jam it shut.
But Rob knows.
GAVIN: It makes no sense, I know. But when Tammy from the attendance office appears at my door during my 10AM free period and tells me Trent just went home puking violently, my first thought is that he's pregnant. Which just shows where my head is at.
My second thought is, Who am I going to ask to empty my leg bag? I can go without being fed lunch for a day, but my leg bag gets full by 1PM unless I restrict my water intake. Since I didn't know Trent was going to be bailing on me today, I have not restricted my water intake. In fact, I've been hitting my CamelBak hard, and though I have no way of knowing for sure, I assume I've been urinating more than usual as a result. I've only just this week returned to school after taking time off to heal my pressure sore, and my doctor told me to hydrate more than usual to prevent a recurrence.
In fact, the thought makes me realize that I haven't weight-shifted in an hour, and I tap my joystick to recline. I'm sitting there, tilted back almost horizontal, mentally flipping through my options, when my classroom door opens again. I'm so startled that I knock the control box with my chin, causing it to move just slightly out of my reach. Fuck.
"Gavin?" It's my principal. I can't see her, leaned back as I am, but I recognize her voice.
"Hey, Jackie," I say. "Would you give me a hand here?"
She walks over to me, and her face comes into view a foot above mine. "You get stuck?" she asks.
"Not stuck, just knocked my controls out of my reach."
She reaches across me and swivels my joystick the two inches I need to be able to make contact with it again. It's one of those moments where I feel the weight of my disability, and the illogical shame it entails. Melissa and I have talked at length about this phenomenon: The fact that I feel ashamed about the things I can no longer do, as though it were my fault. I mean, yeah, I dove into a drought-stricken lake headfirst. So I guess it's my fault. But that's not really it. It doesn't explain why I'm so embarrassed at my helplessness. And why others are, too.
As I adjust my chair back to its upright position, I can read the aforementioned embarrassment on Jackie's face, loud and clear. I'm loathe to ask her the favor I need to ask her. But beggars can't be choosers.
Five minutes later, in the handicapped stall of the women's teacher's lounge restroom, Jackie unstraps my leg back and empties it into the toilet.
"I admit, I wondered how you did this," she comments, and I blink.
"Pee?" I ask, and her eyes snap to mine. I can see that she had been thinking out-loud, not intending for her thoughts to actually make contact with my eardrums.
She swallows hard and yanks at my pant leg, trying to pull it down over the reattached bag. "I am so sorry, Gavin. That was incredibly unprofessional." She looks on the verge of tears, her pretty blue eyes brimming.
"Jackie," I say, and she stops. But she doesn't look up. I repeat myself. "Jackie."
She finally looks up, and I smile. "It's okay."
MELISSA: A wave of guilt washes over me as I send the text. But then I look into Rob's kind eyes and I know I need this. And I don't give a damn; I'm taking it.
"Another?" He gestures with his beer mug, lifting it, leaving wet circles on the bar top beneath it.
"Sure," I smile.
I'm feeling delightfully tipsy. Maybe more than tipsy. Maybe full-on drunk. My phone pings.
OK. I'll probably be asleep when you get home.
I'm instantly irritated. He doesn't care where I am, who I'm with, why I'm still not home at ten-thirty on a weeknight. A "be home in a couple hours" text is apparently enough for him. Sometimes I think Gavin's paralysis is creeping into his emotions.
"How does he text?" Rob asks.
"That was probably his caregiver," I shrug, aware that Rob and I are drifting into dangerous territory. As a rule, we do not talk about my husband or his wife when we're together. I silence my phone and slip it back into my purse, then look up to see Rob biting his lip.
"What?" I ask self-consciously. He shakes his head.
"What?" I demand again.
"It just seems really hard, is all," he says. And he says it so sadly that I don't even get mad at him. I just get sad, too.
"It is," I answer honestly.
"Sometimes," I respond. I know this drill, though I've never gotten into it with Rob. He makes a thoughtful sound.
"Is it enjoyable?"
"He can't feel his penis, if that's what you're asking. And he can't orgasm."
"Damn," Rob says, and it feels so good to have his sympathy, even though I'm aware that Gavin would be horrified if he knew I was talking to my coworker this way. Over the years, I've gradually stopped talking to my family and friends about my and Gavin's bedroom issues. I haven't wanted to embarrass Gavin by oversharing with people he knows. And I also got the distinct impression a few years ago that my loved ones were a bit exasperated with me. Many of them had counseled me not to get back into a relationship with Gavin, fearing I wasn't counting all the costs, so it was a bit of a "make your bed and lie in it" scenario. Literally.
"But I actually meant for you," Rob continues.
"Yeah. Do you enjoy sex with him?"
I sigh. I do. I used to. But not for a long time. Not since before we lost Fey. I don't want to get into that with Rob tonight, though. So for no reason I can think of, instead I divulge the detail Gavin would be most hurt to find I'd shared. "He has to wear diapers full-time. He can't control his bowels and he has accidents. It happens a lot during sex."
Rob gags on his beer, his cheeks going red as the liquid goes down the wrong pipe. He coughs.
"Shit, Melissa," he says when he finally recovers. "I'm sorry."
"What are you sorry for?" I say. "I knew what I was getting into when I married him."
"Still," he shakes his head, and I think how attracted I am to him. A talented physician, he's great with the kids in our practice. He's no Gavin looks-wise, but he's handsome enough, with dark brown eyes that glow chocolate in the right light. And this is definitely the right light.
I look down at his muscular forearms, exposed in his short-sleeved green scrubs top, and suddenly I want him so badly. I want arms around me, arms that work. Arms that I don't have to move for him. Arms that can squeeze me till it's hard to get a full breath. That can lift me and toss me on a a bed. I need a pair of arms that can support the body they belong to as I writhe beneath in bed. I want hands. Oh, I want hands. Hands exploring all my secret spaces, handling my breasts, entering me.
And I want a dick, a sensate dick. A dick that stays hard long enough for the fun parts. A dick that I can play with until my lover's eyes roll back with pleasure. A dick that can cum.
A dick that can make a baby.
I look back up into Rob's eyes, hard. He holds my gaze.
Then he says, "You want to get out of here?"