GAVIN: I'm home. Everything is just how I left it. And everything's different.
My Nikes, muddied from our late spring runs, sit gathering dust in their spot on the floor next to the front door. My mountain bike hangs from the garage rafters next to Melissa's smaller model. Our wetsuits hang in the hall closet, second skins that smell mildly of lake water and mildew.
I'm on my side of the bed. Melissa lies next to me in her spot. It's my first night home and I can't sleep. I'm not sure why she's here. Why she stayed. We had known we wanted to marry, but we didn't have rings, we didn't have dates. Nobody would blame her for leaving me. Least of all me. Honestly, I find the fact that she's refused to go away pretty fucked-up.
What the hell kind of future can we have now? Not the one we had planned, that's for sure. That future is dead as a doornail.
Her phone alarm begins to buzz. The way she leaps up to turn it off proves how lightly she was sleeping. Melissa is not a light sleeper. I guess that's another thing that has changed between us. Now she sleeps lightly, worries over me, takes care of me, and not the other way around.
"Babe," she murmurs. She doesn't know that I'm awake, facing away from her as I am.
"Time to turn."
I'm not sure why she felt like she needed to wake me up. I mean, I wasn't sleeping anyway, so whatever. But it's not like I can help her with the process. I could probably sleep through the whole thing, if I could sleep at all.
She sits up and gets on her knees behind me. I turn my head as far as my fused spine will allow and watch her in the dim moonlight coming through the window above our bed. She pulls the covers off, exposing what passes as my body these days. Skinny-ass legs, a flabby gut with a green tube coming out of it, and arms that are soft and useless. Then she tugs me onto my back. She places my right leg over my left, pulls my left arm away from under me, and in another quarter turn I'm on my left side, staring at the bird motif on her flannel pajama pants. "Put a bird on it."
Ha. Ha. Ha. I remember when I used to think things were funny.
I haven't laughed in a long time.
MELISSA: This is hard. Like, crazy hard. Like, I'm-on-the-verge-of-tears-all-day-long hard.
I love this man.
But this is fucking hard.
I hardly slept last night. I cried myself to sleep most nights while he was gone. Seven long months. And now he's home and damn it, I am not crying another tear. I'm telling myself he's alive and that's all that matters. He's different in a way we could never have imagined. But he's alive.
I will not squander this gift.
GAVIN: Melissa went back to work today. And I sat in my wheelchair, my PCA hovering over me as I nodded goodbye and watched her walk out.
What should I do with my day?
Things I Can't Do
1) Go for a 10-mile run. (I can't go for a 10-inch run).
2) Make myself some breakfast.
3) Feed myself some breakfast.
4) Bathe myself.
5) Put on my own fucking clothes.
Okay. Fuck this list. This list is depressing.
Things I Can Do
1) Stare at the wall.
2) Lie around with my attendant's finger up my ass, waiting to shit the bed.
Okay. Fuck this list, too. My whole life is depressing.
But seriously, what am I going to do with my day? I tap my joystick with my chin and drive my wheelchair down the hall to our room. Was it prescient that we happened to have chosen a one-bedroom apartment over a two-bedroom apartment because we loved the size of the master suite? I don't know, but it's working out real swell. If we'd chosen the two-bedroom on the floor above us, I doubt I would've been able to maneuver my wheelchair around the bedrooms.
"My wheelchair. "
Never in my life would I have imagined saying those words. I am an elite athlete, an ultramarathoner, an Iron Man competitor. I coach soccer and track & field. My heart's resting rate is thirty-six beats per minute. That's only four more per minute than Lance Armstrong at his peak. I live to run, swim, bike, and hike. My live-in girlfriend is stunningly gorgeous and can keep pace with me at every turn. We have mirrored closet doors, so I know we look like some kind of eugenics lab for creating the ideal human child when we make love.
Was. Was. Was. Did. Did. Did.
Now? Those mirrored doors tell a different story. Looking stiff and awkward, I'm strapped into a large black wheelchair. I'm a quadriplegic. A "high quad," paralyzed from my shoulders down. I'm completely dependent, incontinent, and maybe impotent, too. Though who knows about that last part, since Melissa and I haven't even begun to have that conversation. I don't really care if I ever have sex again. I wouldn't be able to feel it anyway. I will never run again.
"Simone!" I call out. I can hear her thighs brushing against one another as she makes her way down the hall. She appears, in a scrubs top with a hundred Tweety Birds printed on it.
"What you need?"
"Can you put on my Bluetooth?" I choke on the 'please.' I know I'm supposed to say it, that I don't want to become a total asshole on top of everything else I now am. But it galls me, the thought of asking oh-pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top for something that any normal guy could do for himself in a half-second.
Simone puts the earpiece in and I tell her that's all. I use voice dial to call Trent.
"Gav," he answers the phone breathlessly. Oh, fuck my life. He's in the middle of a run.
"Sorry. If I caught you at a bad time--"
"Gav, no. Really, it's fine."
I can't help myself. "Are you running?"
It's quiet on the other end.
"Yeah," he finally admits. I'm glad I can't feel the pit in my stomach. "But I'm done now," he's quick to add.
"I'll call you some other--"
"Gavin. I'm here. What's up?"
Do I really want to do this? Wouldn't it be better just to sit quietly in my house all day until Melissa gets home?
"You want to come over?" I ask finally.
"I can be there in 15 minutes."
MELISSA: Gavin is wasted when I come home. Trent brought over a twelve pack and they got wasted. This is probably not something he should be doing anymore, but there's no way I can say that to him. Gavin was never a mean drunk before, but tonight he is full of venom and I feel like I'm trying to charm a dangerous snake. I remind myself that this is his pain talking, and that I cannot truly understand what his pain feels like. But it is huge. I do know that much.
I ask, "How was your day?"
He answers in a flat voice, "Awesome." He obviously does not mean it.
That night, when I've hoisted him into our bed and arranged his body on his right side, I hear him begin to cry. I want to comfort him, but at the same time, I'm afraid of him.
In the end, my fear wins out. My last memory before falling asleep is his quiet sobs. I am a terrible partner.
What is happening to us?
To Be Continued...