The fuzzy yellow stuffed chick swings in and out of my line of sight.
"Happy Easter!" coos my nurse, Brenda, in the sing-song voice adults instinctually use with the very young or mentally feeble.
Brenda believes that I am the latter. Brenda is wrong.
"Would you let up with that?" says Steve, from the doorway.
Brenda looks up. "What?" she asks innocently.
"You're creepy," Brenda returns, but she has a playful tone to her voice. She leaves the duck on the table by my head and walks behind me. I hear the click of the door lock and a moment later feel someone sit on the foot of my bed, inches from my legs. I can't see what Brenda and Steve are doing, since they're behind me, but I'm guessing they've come to do what they usually do in my room on quiet Sundays around here. Visiting hours aren't for another forty-five minutes, and my room has a spare bed since my roommate, Jerry Gilson, died two months ago at the age of ninety-six: They're working in a quickie.
I hear wet mouth sounds and my bed jiggles.
"Not on his bed," Brenda whispers, and she appears in my periphery, dragging Steve around my bed and over to the one Jerry vacated.
My eyes have been (annoyingly) locked on an (extremely uninteresting) ceiling tile for the last twenty minutes. Now, in a fit of unexpected usefulness, they decide to swing hard to the left. I suddenly see Brenda and Steve clearly. They are lying on the bed ten feet from me, pulling urgently at one another's clothes.
Brenda sees me see her. She pushes Steve away. "Steve," she hisses. "He's looking at us!"
"You're crazy," Steve insists, continuing to nip at Brenda's neck.
She smacks him in the chest and points a red-nailed finger at me. "Look."
Sighing in exasperation, Steve stops what he's doing and looks. We lock eyes. It does not have the same impact on him as it had on Brenda.
"Bren," he says, "the guy's non compos mentis. You've read his chart, same as me. 'Profound retardation,' babe. The stroke rebooted his brain. It's just a blinking cursor. He's not in there."
As I watch Brenda scrunch her brows, my own face blank and passive, I root silently for her.
Come on, Brenda! Tell him I'm in here!
But she doesn't. Instead, after a moment's hesitation, she scoots out from under Steve, grabs the fuzzy yellow chick from where she left it, and places it on my pillow under my chin. It has company with the variety of "educational items" that the nurses have hung above and placed near my bed. They are the kind of things my wife and I got our son and daughter when they were tiny: simple, high-contrast baubles designed to stimulate the youngest and least developed minds. In other words, baby toys.
But even this is giving me too much credit, I guess, according to Steve. He snorts. "You have overactive empathy genes."
"What? It makes me happy to take care of him."
"Exactly," says Steve, walking over and squeezing the chick till it squeaks. "This is about you, not him."
He leans in close and I can smell the cigarette he recently had. My eyes remain locked where they landed a moment ago, so his expression is out of focus. I'm a little scared. I'm completely helpless, moreso even than an infant, who can at least cry and flail if they're hurt.
"Hey, retard," he calls softly. "Anybody home?" He taps my forehead lightly. It's not painful, but it is irritating. He uses the sheet to wipe at the drool perpetually oozing from the corner of my mouth. "If you're not a retard, blink."
Blink! I shout internally at my eyelids. Blink, damn it!
I know they will not blink volitionally. I have failed every cognition test since my stroke two years ago at thirty-five. Not because I'm "not home," but because I cannot move a single part of my body. Not my legs, not my arms, not my tongue or eyes. I am, as they say, "locked in."
That doesn't keep me from hoping against hope that my eyelids will decide to blink on their own at this moment. Come on!
Alas, they don't.
Steve chuckles. He turns to Brenda (does she look disappointed that I haven't responded?) and lightly pushes her back toward Jerry's bed. She smiles at him and they begin to disrobe.
I watch the whole thing, feeling my penis grow hard and press against the inside of my diaper, wishing desperately that I could do something about it. The catheter that indwells my urethra is uncomfortable against the tightening tissues of the organ and I feel my bladder give way. I urinate into the tube, which I know leads to a jug of piss that sits on the floor.
I can't see the clock on the stand next to me, but Brenda and Steve finish with what can only be a scant few minutes before visiting hours. They are really cutting it close. They dress in their scrubs, smooth their hair, check one another for tell-tale marks or smudges or wrinkles, and leave my room.
A few minutes later, I hear my visitors enter.
"Happy Easter, baby," Sandra says, coming around to the side of the bed I'm facing. I hear what I assume are Murphy and Maeve scuff and stand awkwardly by the door. Sandra leans in and kisses my forehead. She smells great. I wish I could look at her, but my eyes are still stuck on the indented spot on Jerry's bed where Steve and Brenda had sex ten minutes ago.
"Murphy, come introduce Angela."
"Mom," Murphy pleads.
Sandra's voice is sharp. "He's still your father. Don't be rude."
I feel for the kid, I do. He's fourteen and he's got his first girlfriend, and the last place in the world he wants to be right now is at the nursing home where his (allegedly) brain-dead dad lies looking like an extra from a zombie movie. I suspect he blames me for being like this. I don't blame him for that.
But here he is. My eyes shift a few times in quick succession as he comes close. This happens often when I have a particularly strong emotion or the people I love most are near. Too bad the clinicians didn't figure this out before they gave up and stopped looking for signs of life from me a year ago. As my eyes flutter, I catch a patch of blonde hair and blue--maybe green?--eyes. So this is Angela.
"This is my dad," Murphy says flatly.
"Talk to him," Sandra prods, meaning me, and Murphy makes a frustrated sound deep in his throat.
"Dad, this is Angela. She's on the gymnastics team, she has a brother named Anthony, and she's a freshman, like me. Angela, this is my dad. He breathes, drools, and stares at things."
"Murphy," Sandra scolds in a tired voice. For my part, I wish I could laugh. The kid's got my sick sense of humor, that's for sure. Go, Murphy. "If you're going to be a jerk, you can wait in the waiting room."
"Great. See you when you're done. Come on, Ang," he says, and his sneakers squeak out of the room with Angela's softer flats obediently following.
"I don't like when he's mean to Daddy."
I hear a sniffle from behind me at the same time as I feel the bed shift. It's Maeve, my little cuddlebug. She scoots up next to me, lays her hand on my shoulder. I feel her warm body through the sheets and this is the best kind of pleasure and the worst kind of torture. I want to wrap her in my arms and tell her Daddy loves her; I want to toss her in the air and teach her to ride a bike and watch Saturday morning cartoons with her. I want to move and jump and play.
I want to sob.
In reaction, my eyes go nuts and I catch a kaleidoscope of images from my field of vision: the ceiling tiles, the chestnut of Sandra's curly hair, the faded photos and "Get Well Soon!" cards tacked to a dusty corkboard in the corner. I wish I could see Maeve. I'll settle for feeling her sweet little body curled up against mine for the next ten minutes, while Sandra sits nattering on about the neighbors' pine trees sapping all over our minivan.
As Sandra pivots to a run-down of my parents' recent health troubles, my bowels begin to move. I don't want to do this right now, but I have no way to stop it. It's an odd sensation, though one I've gotten accustomed to in the last two years. I have no control, no way to hold anything in anymore, and the warmth fills my diaper. Maeve tenses behind me. Suddenly Sandra sniffs.
"Maeve, honey," she says, standing and making a sweeping gesture meant to get Maeve off the bed and out of the room. "Mommy needs to help Daddy with something." Maeve wisely doesn't argue. This is the first time I've done this while she's been here, but she's no dummy.
"Go find Murph," Sandra instructs as she moves to the door and ushers Maeve into the hall. The door shuts with a click.
It's so silent for so long that I start to wonder if Sandra actually left with Maeve.
But then Sandra sighs long and deep and I hear the tumblers in the lock engage.
She begins moving around the room to gather the supplies necessary to clean up my accident. I'm touched she doesn't just call for Brenda, who's paid to do this for me, who does it for me at least once a day. On the other hand, I'm horrified that this is what our marriage has come to. This can't be what she had in mind when she pledged herself to me "in sickness." To be honest, I wish we'd had the foresight to vow fidelity until lifelong, severe disability do us part.
She's next to me a few minutes later, pushing me from my left side onto my back. It feels like heaven. The nurses are supposed to turn me once an hour, but Sundays are a low staff day, and clearly Steve and Brenda get distracted. I'm guessing it's been at least four hours since I was last adjusted and sensation floods back into my left arm and hand as they painfully wake. My hip throbs and my ankles smart at the bony spots where they were pressed together for so many hours. Sandra gently directs my chin in order to straighten my head, but it flops right back after she lets go. I hope that she tries again, so that I have a chance of seeing her face, but she doesn't. She removes the sheet, under which I'm dressed in a white cotton undershirt and soft grey pants.
"Oh, Sam," she says, with another long sigh. Then she begins.
Sandra rocks my hips back and forth as she pulls my pants down. She works them into a pile above my feet, then carefully lifts out each of my legs, with their floppy feet, atrophied and soft from disuse. Then she comes around to my right side (the way I'm not facing) and pulls up my undershirt till it's scrunched under my armpits. She spreads my legs. She undoes the tabs on the diaper. She pulls it open. I can only imagine what she's facing and I am very sorry.
I feel her begin to clean me and the cold moisture of the baby wipes would make me gasp, if I could gasp. After a minute, and probably a dozen wipes, she seems done. She makes a racket in the bathroom, running the water and closing cabinets and rustling plastic something-or-other.
Then she's beside me again, at my left side, the way my head is turned. I'm still naked from the chest down, but she doesn't re-diaper me, or pull my pants back on, or even drape the sheet back over me. She leans in and nuzzles her head into the crook of my neck.
I am undone.
Her hair tickles my nose and I'm getting uncomfortably cold lying here mostly-nude and I want this moment to go on forever.
She laces her fingers through mine, which is a feat considering how they've become balled into tight fists. And then, suddenly, I have my soft, sweet-smelling wife in bed with me. She squirms up so that we are eye-to-eye. Well, eye-level. My eyes are being typically frustrating and have wandered off to gaze stupidly at a spot on the wall with absolutely nothing interesting about it. I hear a zipper and the next thing I know, Sandra is dragging my hand into the warmth of her pants.
She wiggles and grunts and in another twenty seconds, I feel her wetness. She pries at my stubborn fingers and works one into herself, then another. Holy shit. Nothing like this has happened in the two years I've been paralyzed. She begins to move against me, drawing and releasing her breath against my cheek. I can feel the muscular passage of her vagina contracting and relaxing, the ridges within shuddering at my touch. My touch!
The thought is enough to get me hard, and it does. I want Sandra to notice, but I'm also fucking thrilled that she hasn't, that she's too caught up in her own ecstasy to see it. She's really bucking now, and she works my ring finger into her as well. She presses my thumb against the button of her clit and bears down hard on the now three of my fingers that are penetrating her. This is so hot. My penis, completely erect, bobs and sways in the cool air of the room. After sixty more seconds of this, she bites my shoulder, hard, and smothers a scream into my pillow. I want to take a bow.
Ladies and gentleman, I just made my wife cum without being able to move a single part of my body! Take that, Brad Pitt, you able-bodied, pretty-boy, jerkwad! You too, Clooney, with that smug grin and perfect hair!
I'm in the middle of trying to think of more famously-virile celebrities to mentally insult when I feel Sandra's hand wrap around my dick, and I think I'm going to have another stroke. It's been a long time since anyone touched my dick for anything other than cleaning or catheter changes.
Sandra rubs me hesitantly but then, after a minute, she doesn't rub me at all. I think, if she stops now, I will literally go insane.
"Sam?" she asks, as if I could answer her. I do try, for what it's worth. But my mouth remains slackly ajar and my tongue won't budge. She sits up.
No. NO. Fucking, damn it, shit, no. Please stay here and finish what you started, Sandy. She grabs my chin and tries to get me to make eye contact, but at this stage in the game, I'm worried there's no hope for that. My eyes are bobbing wildly.
"Sam, if you're in there, you have to let me know. I feel like...like I shouldn't be doing this. If you really are...retarded...or brain-damaged...or a vegetable or whatever, this is wrong. I mean, right? Aren't I taking advantage of you? Damn it, Sam." She blows out a breath and I go very zen all of a sudden with a new idea. In the past, whenever I've been put to the test, I've failed. What if it's because I get so riled up? So I get very still in my head, close the door on the clutter, and just listen to my breathing.
And, miracle of miracles, my eyes swivel until they are looking right into Sandra's. It's the first time in two years that I've seen my wife's flecked green eyes. She is so beautiful, it takes my (metaphorical) breath away. She gasps. "Sam?"
My eyes stay on hers and a moment later, she is working me with her hand. It's a gorgeous rhythm: not too fast, not too slow, the way I taught her when we were discovering one other in college. It gets me there in record time and I experience the release of seven-hundred-plus days' worth of sexual repression. My body shakes and I involuntarily make a gurgling sound that, I think cringingly, does make me sound really retarded. Sandra doesn't seem to notice.
We are just staring at one another when the door handle jiggles and Sandra jumps off the bed. Luckily, she threw the lock earlier, because we hear Maeve on the other side of the door. "Mom, are you almost done? I'm supposed to be at Sophia's party in fifteen minutes."
"Yeah, baby," Sandra calls out in a strangled voice. "Be right out, baby." She hurries back into her pants and I'm hoping she's going to remember to re-dress me before she heads out. She does. With the catheter, there's nothing to clean up, though I do wonder if any of my nurses will find the contents of my piss jar suspicious tonight.
Sandra leans in and kisses me. Thank God Brenda is a stickler for my oral hygiene; my teeth are brushed twice a day, every day, to within an inch of their lives, even though I haven't taken food by mouth since my stroke. She pushes past my lips and as usual I find myself cursing my inability to respond in any way at all. She draws her tongue along my teeth, bites at my bottom lip, and sucks my tongue into her own mouth.
Maeve knocks again. Sandra tells her thirty seconds. She takes my face in both of her hands and, because my eyes have shifted and are now looking down, tilts my head back until I'm looking more or less at her. She smiles.
"I'll see you next week."
God, I love visiting hours.