He was on her arms for a long time, not even trying to control himself anymore. He cried like he hadn’t since he was a child. When he finally stopped her shirt was wet in his tears. He felt the humid fabric under his cheek as he pressed against her, tight, still not wanting to let go. Isabel hugged him as if she was the glue holding him together and he would fall apart if she let go. She was knelt down in front of his chair; her upper body leaning in towards him, and all his weight was on her, because he had leant in as well, letting go of the support of his back rest, his chest completely over hers, his arms around her, his useless abdomen unable to hold him back up. He didn’t know how long it was when he felt her shaking a bit under him. She couldn’t be all that comfortable holding that position for so long. Eli had calmed down somewhat and wasn’t crying anymore. His breath was beginning to return to its normal rhythm.
He pushed back from her and let her help him lean back against the backrest of his chair, finally pulling away from him. She sat down on the floor and placed her hands over his legs. Eli robbed his eyes and then turned to her, afraid to find her looking at him with pity in her eyes. But she wasn’t. Her big glue eyes were gazing at him lovingly, supportably, and he didn’t feel judged or even exposed before her. He felt loved.
They spent the rest of the day quietly on her bed cuddling and watching random shows on TV. When it got dark, Eli got back into his chair and announced he was leaving.
“Why don’t you stay tonight?” she suggested.
“I’d like to, but…” Eli hesitated. “I don’t think I can. There’s stuff that I need from home.” He looked back up at her embarrassed. She was standing in front of the bed, her hair a little disheveled, no shoes on her feet, her gorgeous figure under a loose shirt and jeans. She had never looked more beautiful.
“Ok,” she said without asking him anything else. “I’ll go with you then. Just give me a minute.”
Eli smiled. He really wanted to sleep by her side tonight.
“So listen,” Isabel started while they were driving back to his place. “The other night I was going to ask you something.”
Eli looked at her briefly and then back at the street; one of his hands holding the wheel and the other one the hand-controls of the car. “What is it?” he asked almost afraid of what she could ask.
“I was thinking maybe we could go away for a long weekend during Easter”, she said casually, as if Eli was just another guy, who could pick up and leave anytime without further complication.
“Uhm. Go where?” he asked.
“Well, I kind of rented a house in Cape Cod,” she said.
What? Already rented a house? Without asking him? He felt a slight pressure on his chest.
“You did?” he replied trying to sound normal. Again he parted his eyes from the road for just a second and turned to look at her. She was giving him one of her sweet childish looks. Eli looked away.
“I wanted to surprise you,” her voice sounded so innocent, so naïve, so unaware of the tough spot she was putting him in.
“Oh, Is. I… travelling… Well, I haven’t really gone anywhere since…” he was speaking with his eyes fixed on the road, but still he stammered. Isabel waited patiently for him to be able to form a coherent sentence. “There are things I have to consider now. Things I need. It’s not easy for me to...”
“I made sure it was accessible,” she caught in once it was clear he wasn’t going to finish the sentence.
Now Eli looked at her, perhaps for a second longer than it was safe while driving.
“It has no steps. Wide and clear spaces and a large bathroom with handrails and a shower chair,” she explained.
Eli squinted at her.
“I wouldn’t take you somewhere where you wouldn’t be comfortable,” she assured him.
He didn’t know whether to feel flattered or offended at her thoughtfulness. The idea of sleeping anywhere but his adapted apartment didn’t make him feel comfortable at all. She had practically been living with him for the past months but still he didn’t feel like he could entirely trust her to know what was accessible for him. There were still things he hadn’t trusted her with.
“Where did you find a place like that?” he asked not because he really cared, but just to say something, anything, to relieve the tension.
“You can find anything if you know how to look,” was her answer.
“So they rent places for disabled people?” he asked aware he sounded resentful.
He looked at her again, parting his eyes from the road. What did that mean? Did they?
“Well?” he pressed and Isabel sighed. “Well?” he repeated because she didn’t answer.
“They rent it to old couples mostly,” she finally replied.
Now he felt offended. He knew he had no right to be. He needed an accessible place. He was disabled. And yet he felt bad that Isabel couldn’t just look for a normal place. It was illogical and he knew it. He shouldn’t be upset with her. And yet, he was.
“Look. It doesn’t matter who they rent it to. It’s a nice house. I know you feel anxious about travelling but it’ll be ok. I promise.”
There she was again, telling him how he felt. And again, he hated that.
“Please,” she begged using a childish tone.
Eli didn’t look at her; he just kept driving quietly, without agreeing or refusing, until they parked at his building. Isabel didn’t push for an answer, but she stared at him when he turned the engine off. Eli held her look silently, until she finally got off the car to let him transfer.
Once upstairs she changed into her pajamas and got into bed before he did. They hadn’t spoken at all.
“Is, I…” he started once he joined her in bed.
“Please…,” she interrupted.
“I want to please you, Is. I really do. But there are things I just can’t do. You said you didn’t mind about my disability,” he started and then stopped himself.
“I don’t mind about your disability,” she said and Eli realized with a knot in his throat, it was the first time she had ever used that word. “But this you can do. I swear I was careful about the place. It’s accessible. You’ll have no trouble. I promise.”
“And if you feel uncomfortable at all. If you think you’ll struggle with something, we can just come back. It’s barely an hour drive,” she tried to reassure him.
He wanted to say no so badly but she was staring at him with begging eyes, her face in that childish facet of her he usually loved.
“Alright,” he nodded despite himself, and Isabel threw her arms around him, big smile on her lips, and kissed him deeply.
She kept that smile for the following days and all the drive to Cape Cod, unlike Eli who was nervous and on edge. He recognized himself as a control freak back when he could walk, and it had only gotten worse since he was paralyzed. Although now, perhaps it was a little bit more justified, he told himself as they parked in front of a large white picket fence house in the seafront. He transferred out of the car and placed a bag on his lap before rolling inside. He regretted not being able to help Isabel with her luggage, although she travelled light. Granted, they were only going to spend a couple of nights in there, but Eli needed a lot of stuff. Catheterizing and bowel control supplies, medicines, incontinence briefs, which was only the nice way to call adult dippers. He hated wearing them next to Isabel but had resolved it would be so much more embarrassing to wet the bed.
He rolled inside the house after Isabel and took a look around. So far the place did really look accessible. He was most concerned about the bathroom so he checked that first. It was wide as Isabel had promised, with enough room for him to wheel in. There were handrails next to the toilet and inside the shower. Eli sighed.
Then he wheeled back out and checked the kitchen. It was a large spacious kitchen, but everything was high and beyond his reach. He wasn’t doing any cooking this weekend, not here. Isabel approached him from behind and put her arms around his neck and caressed his chest before placing a soft kiss on his cheek.
“We’ll order in,” she said as if she could read his mind.
Eli used one arm to push a wheel and turn around. Isabel sat on his lap and pulled him in for a long kiss. When she stood back up, she led the way to the back of the house, through a glass door and into a large patio with a pool. A pool. Eli felt even more anxious.
They settled in, unpacking a few stuff and ordered sushi for dinner. Afterwards they cuddle up in bed and made out passionately before falling asleep. Eli had packed the Trimix he had bought before that disastrous dinner, but he hadn’t brought it up. He didn’t feel ready for it yet. He wasn’t sure why he’d packed it. It seemed like the perfect opportunity, during their romantic getaway, but so far, Eli was too nervous, too anxious to even consider it.
The next morning they got out of bed and had breakfast outside in a table by the pool. Isabel cooked it while Eli just watched feeling useless from his chair.
“I like cooking for you for a change. Even if I’m not good at it,” she said before sitting down.
When they finished, Isabel glanced at the pool quietly while Eli stared at her anxiously.
“So,” she started, and Eli was already fearful of her next sentence. “Remember how when you drew me naked you made me a promise?”
“What?” he asked.
“You said I could have anything in return. Anything I wanted and you wouldn’t refuse me,” she reminded him.
“Yes,” he remembered already regretting having said so.
“Well, I said I would hold you to it.”
Damn it. He already knew what she was going to ask.
“I want you to swim with me,” she said, no childish begging eyes this time, but that fierce look he also knew.
“Isabel, no. I’m sorry. Ask me anything else,” he refused.
“You said you would do anything,” she said using only half a playful tone, the other half was a very serious and demanding tone. The one she used around other people. The one she had used with that waitress who stared at his spasms, or when his co-workers had attempted to lift him off the ground.
“Not that. I told you I don’t swim anymore,” he said equally serious although he hadn’t attempted to sound like that.
“You said anything,” she insisted.
“Is, no. No,” he said forcefully.
“This is what I want. And a promise is a promise,” she smiled.
“Ask me something else, anything else,” he refused.
“I don’t want anything else, Eli. You promised me,” she held her ground.
“I don’t even have a swimsuit.”
“I brought a swimsuit for you. Although we could skip that. There’s no one around,” she said with a suggestive smile.
“No, Is,” he repeated.
“Oh, come on, Eli.” She got up and squatted next to him. Eli looked away.
Then she placed her hands on his shoulders and pressed them while she kissed his neck.
“Please,” she whispered to his ear.
Eli pushed his rims to back away. She got up and sat on his lap. She used her hand to turn his head to face him and then pressed her lips against his. Eli kissed her back reluctantly.
“Please,” she repeated before kissing him again. “Please,” she said with the sexiest voice she had ever used.
Eli pushed her away.
“I said no,” Eli said upset.
Isabel got up from his lap and turned around, showing her perfect back to him. She then started clearing the table and walked away inside the house into the kitchen. Eli didn’t follow her. He was glad she had dropped the subject. But then, as a very quiet Isabel walked around the house, pass him without a look, cleaning, back and forth for a while, he started feeling guilty. Perhaps he had been rude. He had pushed her away. Maybe he could’ve found a more polite way to tell her off. He didn’t want her to be angry. He wanted to please her. All he wanted to do was please her, and yet, he kept founding himself incapable of doing so.
“Is,” he said after the silence between them had lingered for too long. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
She set the dishes down and turned around to look at him but didn’t say anything.
“It’s just…” he hated having to explain.
“It’s ok,” she caught him off. “I shouldn’t have pushed it,” she said and Eli couldn’t bear the sadness in her tone.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized again.
“Look,” she squatted down to face him at his level. “I know you don’t want to. And I know I’m being pushy. But I think you’re going to enjoy it, if you only gave it a chance. Believe me I know how you feel. If anyone can understand being anxious about water is me. But if I could get back in, so can you.”
There was no argument there. Eli supposed she could really understand his anxiety this time. Now that he thought of it, he didn’t know how come she was so keen about swimming, after what had happened to her family, still…
But he couldn’t say no to her. He wasn’t able to resist those blue begging eyes, her mouth partly opened, her wet lips and her sad look.
“I don’t know if I’m actually capable of it,” he said already caving in. “I mean, how would I get in there? How would I get out?”
“I’ve researched it,” she said confidently and already smiling again. “There are plenty of videos online.”
Eli shook his head at her, frightful and not for the first time at the idea of her searching the web about his disability.
“The pool has steps and a handrail. The first step is less than a foot from the edge of the pool, and water will help you carry your weight out. From there it’s only a floor to chair transfer, and you can do that, no trouble, I’ve seen you.”
Eli looked away at the memory of the day when he had fallen down in front of her. And he also shivered at her using the term “transfer”. He guessed she had done her fair research online after all if she was using that word. He sighed. The whole idea frightened him. What if he couldn’t get out? Isabel wouldn’t be able to help him. He was too big for her to lift. He’ll be damned if he was stuck in the water and have to call Matt to drive all the way down there to fish him out of the water.
However, and hour later, he had actually changed into the swimsuit Isabel had brought for him. He had looked and studied the videos she had selected. It seemed doable but he was almost shaking at the thought. Isabel seemed happy though. She gave him a look he wasn’t sure how to interpret.
“Damn, you look good on that suit,” she said with a kinky smile and Eli looked away self conscious.
His chest was bare, uncovering a tummy he couldn’t help sticking out. He took a deep breath but it was no use, his muscles –or should he say lack of them – refused to tuck in. He hunched down forward trying to conceal it from her sight, only managing to make more obvious the line where his injury divided his useless body from the parts he could still control, his strong chest curving downwards, somehow separated from the rest of himself. From that position he could see his skinny, motionless legs, arranged in an awkward position. He reached down to move them with his hands and set them straight, but they always ended sliding sideways.
“You look incredibly sexy, Eli,” she said. Yeah right, thought Eli.
He wheeled out of the bedroom and parked his chair in front of the pool. Isabel had brought a yoga mat and set it in front of him so he wouldn’t scratch himself on the floor. Eli took a deep breath and sled to the front of the chair. Then he leaned in to support his weight on his elbows, before setting one arm down on the floor. He didn’t look at her when he released his weight from his chair and dropped himself on the mat, but he knew she was staring. He landed with his legs bent down and had to use his arms to arrange them. He lifted his weight with his hands and sled as close as possible to the corner of the pool. There were three steps with a handrail in the middle. He lifted one leg at a time and dropped it in the water. He felt nothing; no wet sensation, no cold from the water touching his skin; nothing.
Isabel took her beach wrap off, revealing a black one piece swimming suit that let him appreciate the curves of her figure, her tinny waist and her perfectly round hips. She got in the water letting him see her naked back. The straight line of her spine ran down across her pearl skin from her long neck to her hips. She turned around and sat on the second step, allowing the water to cover her up just before her chest. Eli noticed her shivering at the temperature shift and for a second he envied her. He envied her in the full extent of the word; envied her ability to feel the water on her skin, to move freely around and he resented her for it, for being so perfect, so agile, so thoughtless as to make him do this.
He chided himself for feeling like that and tried to focus his mind only in the movements required to get his useless body inside the water. He reached to grab the handrail and almost fell over at the movement. Isabel caught him just in time, placing an arm under his armpit and the other one around him, sort of hugging him, but he could feel her struggling under his weight. He was embarrassed to look up at her as she helped him get his body close enough to reach the handrail. But once his hand was on it, she slowly released him and planted a kiss on his cheek and then his neck. Eli used one arm on the edge of the pool and the other one on the rail to push himself into the pool and slowly lowered his body into the water. He was now sitting on the first step, his legs dangling a little, helpless inside the current. Isabel took a look at him, perhaps making sure he was secure in that position, before getting up and reaching for a swimming noodle she had placed at the edge. She then wrapped it around him, under his armpits. Eli felt like a child but he knew it would help him keep his balance. Then she grabbed him again, the same way as before, sort of hugging him, and pulled him down the steps slowly. He let himself get dragged like a doll into the water and saw how his legs unfolded as they moved to the deeper part of the pool. He was holding on to Isabel hard, too insecure to part his arms from her shoulders. But she just let him, until she had dragged him all the way inside and close enough to the side of the pool so he could grab on to the edge.
Eli finally released one hand from her and held on to the edge of the pool feeling his breath quicken. He felt wobbly and helpless, a drift inside there. The pool was only about 5 feet deep in that part but he might as well be in the middle of the ocean. He knew if he let go there was nothing supporting him but that ridiculous swimming noodle he was wrapped inside, and he wouldn’t be able to control his body in there. He took a deep breath trying to calm himself down.
“It’s ok. You’re ok. I’ve got you,” she said and held on to him.
Eli realized he was holding her shoulder to the point of hurting her.
“I’m sorry,” he loosened his grip.
“It’s ok, the noodle will keep you floating, but you can hold on to me if you want to,” she tried to calm him down.
Eli looked at her. He felt like a toddler struggling in the water. She could tell, that was for sure. Why had she made him do this? He wanted to get out of there, get back in his chair where he at least had some degree of control.
“Come here,” she said and pulled him gently away from the edge. Eli looked at her with worried eyes. She placed him about three feet from the edge and then slowly moved away from him. He was still grabbing her shoulder at arm’s length and he tightened his grip again, seriously scared of letting go. He wanted to ask her to stay close, not to let go, but he kept quiet, feeling the fast rhythm of his own breath lifting his chest. “It’s ok,” she repeated.
Then she touched his face with her wet hand. “Just move your arms a little,” she said. “Come on,” she urged him with a sweet voice and he hated her for it. Still he obeyed. He slowly released her shoulders and waved his arms. He was floating, yet he felt as if he were drowning. She put her hands on his abdomen and adjusted his position so his chest was leaning slightly forward. He kept waving his arms using all of his will not to reach out for her again, and saw in fear how she backed away from him. He splash through the water towards her like a child trying to reach his mother’s arms.
She grabbed his hands and pulled him towards her, then released him again and backed away once more. She repeated the movement a couple of times, as if she was teaching him to swim. But the last time she didn’t let go of his hands but held them.
“See, you’re swimming,” she said.
Yeah right, he thought, feeling ridiculous.
“You are, you know. You’re swimming,” she repeated as she let go of his hands once again. Eli waved his arms to go towards her again, but she backed away even further. Eli’s breath quickened even more and he could feel the panic setting in as she very gracefully went under the water and advanced a few feet away, too far for him to reach.
“Is,” he called almost out of breath.
“It’s OK, come here,” she called back.
It was not OK. How could she say that? What was she thinking? He was paralyzed all the way down his chest. He couldn’t move his abdomen or legs. Didn’t she know that? Was she so naïve as to think he would just swim over to her?
“Is,” he repeated her name begging her to come back to him.
Isabel disappeared under the water again and resurfaced at the end of the pool. Eli couldn’t breathe anymore. He was alone in the middle of the pool, completely helpless in the water. Abandoned. Abandoned by her, by that woman who claimed to love him and yet had left him alone to drown. Her red hair had darkened by the water and she used her hand to push it back. She was as beautiful as ever and as unreachable as he had always known her to be.
“Is,” he said again merely above a whisper. But she didn’t hear him. She was too far away.
Eli fought the urge to yell at her. Come back here, Isabel. I’m going to drown, he thought as fear flooded him, making it hard to breathe. His arms waving around like crazy as if he could no longer control them anymore than he could control the rest of his paralyzed body. Damn it, Isabel, don’t leave me here.
And then, as if she could hear him begging in his mind, she sank her head again in the water and returned to him like a mermaid waving with the flow of the slightest current. Her face emerged right in front of him and her arms opened up to receive him like a baby. She threw them around him like a life jacket and, just like that, he felt safe again. He held her tight this time, not to let her escape and let out air relieved at her embrace. He rested his head on her shoulder and suddenly felt like crying. He took a couple of deep breaths to keep his feeling in check and slowly calm himself down.
This was a bad idea. It was a terrible idea.
“Get me back to the edge,” he asked her and as if he had asked the opposite she let go of him and backed away again. “Is!”
“Come here,” she whispered and he indulged her as an obedient child, waving his arms to move forward towards her. She grabbed his arms halfway and pulled him the rest of the way. She then stood very close to him and kissed him. He returned her kiss despite himself, feeling his own need for her more present than ever, tangible and unbearable. This time he literally needed her to stay a life. He would literally die if she left him. He felt his hands shaking at the thought.
“It’s OK,” she said to calm him down, in a soothing, corny tone he hated. He hated her now, point blank hated her for putting him in such position, for taking advantage of his need, for making herself so indispensable. “Eli, look at me,” she lifted his face so he would meet her eyes. “You won’t drown, I would never let you drown,” she said reinforcing his thoughts, making him hate her even more. “But you don’t need me,” she continued and he stared at her trying to pierce her blue eyes and penetrate her mind as she apparently did his. “You don’t need me. You can keep afloat all on your own. You can move here. You can go through all the pool without me, without anyone or anything,” she stated.
Was she kidding him? Was she so cruel as to say that or did she really think so? Was she really so oblivious of his condition that she actually thought so? And then, driven by his anger at her, he pulled away. He let go of the safety of her arms and pulled backward by a circular movement of his forearms, paddling, rowing himself backwards and then turning around and continued paddling until he reached the opposite edge of the pool. He grabbed on to the edge and turned to look at her. Isabel had a big smirk on her face that seemed to say “I told you so.”
And then it hit him. She was right. Damn her, but she was right. He could move here. He didn’t need her or Matt or even his chair. He could move inside the damn water. He tried it again and moved his arms circularly paddling through the water all the way across the pool to the other edge. Shit. He smiled.
Isabel smiled back, broadly, and then sank her head in the water and swam underneath to the right end of the pool. Eli didn’t go after her but moved to the left instead and then from there, he swam the whole length of the pool. He swam. He was swimming. He laughed when he reached her and kissed her again, sort of standing at her height for the first time. Damn, that felt good! To meet her eyes without having to lie down, without her leaning or hunching down to be at his level. He felt like a man again. Then he paddled backwards towards the middle of the pool. He was free inside the water, free to move around unassisted, free.
He tried it again and then a few time around from end to end of the pool, and he enjoyed it. He actually enjoyed it. He had always loved to swim, ever since he was a child and his father had thought him how. He used to swim every morning and it filled him with energy. To his surprise it was the same this time around. He felt good to be moving inside the water. He felt fresh and energized. He felt a life.
They stayed in the pool for a long time. Swimming and kissing, laughing and making jokes. Until Isabel got hungry and suggested they had lunch.
Eli paddle to the steps where he had gotten in and held the handrail with both hands. He then pulled his body to sit on the first step. Isabel swam towards him but stayed back watching him without offering her help. Eli took the noodle off and put his back against the wall of the pool and placed both hands on the floor by the edge. He then lifted his body and landed his butt on the yoga mat that was lying by the pool. It was quite simple. His legs were still on the water but he was sitting outside, with his hands set down on the mat to hold his balance.
Isabel got out of the pool and grabbed the towels. She placed Eli’s on his chair so it wouldn’t get wet and then started to dry herself with hers. Eli watched her for a moment as she sled the towel over her thighs and her chest. He was looking up at her again, and she now seemed unreachable once more.
He sled back on the mat taking his legs out of the water one by one with his hands and position himself by the side of the chair. He made sure his breaks were locked in and then placed a hand on the frame of the wheelchair. He used the other hand to bend his legs and then held them together with his chin. Then, with a fist he pushed up from the ground, pulling with the other arm and lifted his body to land on the edge of the chair. Then with both hands on the rails he sled backwards and adjusted his position.
He was back on his chair, without too much struggle, and he felt paralyzed again.
To be continued...
To be continued...