Cathy’s cousin’s daughter is being baptized today and we have to go.
I would give anything to not have to go to this, but Cathy insists. She’s let me out of the last few events for her family, and she says I’ve got to go to this one. Leo, the lucky bugger, gets to stay home—my mom is going to be watching him. Which is a damn good thing because Cathy is going to have to focus all her energy on me today.
The problem is that the baptism is in a church that is blatantly non-accessible. We’ve been informed there are five steps to enter. “With a railing,” they told us, as if that would help in the slightest. I don’t do stairs, obviously. So for me to have to go to this baptism, I need to be in my manual chair so that I can be lifted up those five steps. Monstro-chair is not liftable.
Cathy dresses me in a nice white shirt that I’ve owned since before my injury, which means it stretches far too much over my gut. She puts on my dress pants while I’m in bed, and I can hear her grunting with effort.
“These don’t close, Jamie,” she says.
“Where are my new pants? I thought you got new ones that were bigger.”
“These are the new ones.”
What the fuck? Has my gut really gotten so big that even the bigger pants don’t fit anymore? So much for my diet.
Cathy huffs in frustration. “I’m going to leave the button open.”
“Don’t do that!” I say. “Cathy, people are going to see my…”
“It’s fine,” she says. “We’ll just leave your shirt untucked. Nobody will see anything. I promise.”
I really, really don’t want to go to this baptism.
When Cathy gets me into my manual wheelchair, my independence with mobility goes right out the window. There’s nothing I can do to control this chair—I have to rely entirely on other people to push me. But there are times when it’s useful to not have my power wheelchair, so like everything else, I’m stuck with it.
Cathy pushes me into the living room, where my mother is reading to Leo. She smiles when she sees us. “Don’t the two of you look nice!”
Cathy really does look nice. She’s wearing this red dress that falls just above her knees and shows off her curvy legs and nice rack. I feel a flash of pride that this pretty woman is my wife. I’m lucky in that way.
Leo sees me in the manual chair and his eyes light up. “I want to push Daddy!” he yelps.
He’s way too short to actually push me, but he gets behind my chair and actually does push me about a foot, which is better than I could do on my own. Everyone laughs, and then Cathy has to rearrange my arms on my lap, because one slipped between the armrest and my thigh. Unlike in my power wheelchair, my arms can’t be strapped to the armrests of this chair, so we just keep them in my lap. I do have a strap across my chest and my legs, but I don’t feel nearly as secure in this chair. I always feel like I’m slipping down.
The other thing about this manual chair that’s annoying is that there’s no headrest. When I first got my power wheelchair, I was reluctant to have a headrest because I believed it made me look more impaired. (I know…. how could I look more impaired than a guy who can’t move his arms or legs? Still.) But my therapist told me I’d be grateful to have that headrest and I am. Without it, my neck aches and I tend to let my head droop downward and to the side.
Cathy loads me into the van and we drive to the church, which is only about twenty minutes away. When we get there, I see that it’s going to be a full house at the baptism. I hate crowds.
With my sip and puff chair, I can get in and out of the van on my own after Cathy lowers the lift, but she has to manually push me in and out when I’m in this stupid manual wheelchair. I can see people staring at us, but nobody offers to help.
Once we’re out of the van, Cathy pushes me in the direction of the stairs. The side wall of the church is reflective and I catch a glimpse of Cathy pushing me. I knew I shouldn’t have looked, but once I do, I can’t take it back. Cathy looks gorgeous, of course, but me… Christ, it’s hard to look at myself in a mirror. I look so ridiculously impaired. First off, I was right about the straps not holding me securely—the one across my chest is keeping me up in the chair as the rest of my body slumps down, demonstrating that I’m clearly not able to sit up on my own. My arms bounce lifelessly with each crack in the pavement and my right one is sliding into that gap between the armrest and my thigh. My legs are crooked in the legrests, something I didn’t notice when we were at home. And my gut—holy shit, how did I get the belly of a middle-aged drunk? I’m only 35 and I hardly drink at all.
I can’t let this get to me though. Cathy seems to like me, in spite of my physical imperfections. I mean, I’m severely disabled and so I look it. No surprises there.
When we get to the stairs in front of the church, Cathy turns my chair around and tilts me backwards slightly in anticipation of bumping me up the stairs. I brace myself, ready for the first step, when I hear the voice:
“Cathy! Is that really you?”
Cathy lets go of me too quickly, causing my arms to bounce violently. My knee shakes with a muscle spasm that thankfully quickly stops on its own.
“Andy! Oh my God! It’s been so long!”
I look at the guy, this Andy. He’s tall with sand-colored hair and an easy smile. He doesn’t look particularly remarkable, but he’s definitely not a quadriplegic, so he’s got that going for him.
Please let him be a relative.
“Andy, this is my husband, Jamie,” she says to him. “Andy used to be best friends with my cousin Luke.”
So he’s not a relative. I see his eyes lower as he looks me over, trying to figure the whole thing out. Good luck, Andy. I can’t figure it out half the time.
“Nice to meet you, Jamie.” And of course, Andy sticks out his hand. I nod at it, which is what I usually do when someone does something dumb like that to me. He withdraws his hand awkwardly.
“We’re trying to get up the stairs,” Cathy explains, gesturing at the five steps to get into the church.
“Hey, let me help with that!” Andy, the boy scout, volunteers.
It ends up that he grabs the tail end of my chair and Cathy holds the handles, and they lift me up over the steps fairly easily. Much easier than Cathy could do it all on her own. So in that way, he was helpful, although I’m not thrilled about the way he’s flirting with my wife.
Cathy pushes me into the church, and all the while, Andy keeps chatting with her. He’s pretending like I don’t even exist—maybe he thinks I have cognitive problems, which is unfortunately not an uncommon assumption. I want to try to say something to let him know in no uncertain terms that I’m not retarded and that I do not appreciate what he’s doing with my wife. But somehow, I can’t think of what to say and I feel so fucking awkward about this entire situation that I just decide to keep quiet.
“I don’t think we can put the wheelchair in the aisle,” Cathy says, looking around the inside of the small church. “Is the back okay?”
It’s a hell of a lot better than the front. “Yeah, sure.”
Cathy parks my chair behind the last aisle of benches, and she and Andy sit in the row right in front of me. I realize my arms are not in great positions—my right arm has slipped again into the gap between my thigh and the armrest, and my left arm is between my legs, practically touching my crotch. But I don’t really want to get Cathy’s attention and have to ask her to move my arms for me, so I just try not to let it bother me.
The ceremony starts and most people quiet down, but not Cathy and Andy. They keep talking through the whole thing—not that I can blame them because it’s pretty boring. Still, I hate this. I hate the way Cathy laughs when Andy make a joke. I hate how she just touched his arm. What the fuck? Why is she touching his arm?
I strain my ears, trying to make out their conversation. I can only hear bits and pieces, but my ears perk up when I hear my own name.
“Jamie, you said his name was…?” Andy is asking.
“Yes,” Cathy says. “We’ve been together just after college, and we got married about seven years ago.”
“And the whole time, he’s…?”
“Oh no!” She laughs at this, although I don’t really get why it’s funny. “He was injured in a car accident five years ago.”
“Wow, that’s rough.”
“Yes, it can be… difficult.”
“You’re such a wonderful person to stick around after something like that.”
“Oh, well… I don’t know if…”
“A lot of women wouldn’t, I bet.”
“Yes.” She sounds thoughtful. Or maybe sad. “That’s true.”
Andy says something else I can’t make out, even though I’m desperately trying. Then they stop talking, except when Andy cracks a joke and Cathy throws back her head and giggles. When is the last time I made her laugh like that? I can’t even remember.
Eventually, I get distracted by my position in my wheelchair. The manual wheelchair really is not supportive enough of my body, and right now, I’m sliding to the right. Both my knees have swung to the right side, and my upper body is tilted to the right. And my head is really tilting to the right too. I know I probably am not going to fall, but it’s not that comfortable, plus I’m sure it looks really weird. I can’t adjust myself though—I need Cathy to do that. And she’s too distracted by the ceremony and Andy. I’ll just have to wait.
By the time the ceremony ends, I’ve tilted enough to the right than Cathy immediately notices it when she stands up. She runs over to me. “Jesus, Jamie, let me get you straightened out.”
She pulls me under my arms into a better position then arranges my arms for me. Andy watches the whole thing, smiling benevolently at me. I want to punch him in the face.
“Let me help you get him down the stairs again,” Andy says to her.
“That would be great,” Cathy says gratefully.
They repeat the same process from earlier in reverse. I can’t wait to get out of here, but as soon as I’m on the ground, Andy and Cathy just stare at each other. It’s making me sick.
“Are you going to the reception?” he asks her.
“No,” I speak up before Cathy can answer. “We weren’t planning to.”
No fucking way I’m going to that reception.
Andy looks surprised to hear me talk, but he pushes forward anyway. “That’s a shame.”
Cathy glances at me, then smiles apologetically at him. “Well, it’s been a long day.”
“Listen,” Andy says to her, “I’d love to catch up with you more. Do you want to grab lunch sometime?”
No. That fucker is not asking my wife out right in front of me. Is he fucking kidding me with this shit?
But he isn’t kidding. And Cathy gives him her phone number, which he programs into his phone. They’re going to have lunch together. This is going to happen. My time to stop it has slipped through my fingers.
“Do you need help getting him in your van?” Andy asks her.
She shakes her head. “No, we’re good. I can’t manage.”
“Well then.” He smiles dopily at her. “I’ll see you later then. For lunch.”
Cathy grins back at him, and the two of them are just smiling at each other like two idiot teenagers who have a crush on each other. I can’t even fucking believe this.
Cathy loads me up in the car, but all the while, I’ve got an awful sinking feeling in my gut. She doesn’t smile like that at me anymore. She doesn’t laugh the way he made her laugh. I can be pissed off that he was moving in on my territory, but maybe it was just a matter of time. If it wasn’t Andy, it would be someone else.
I’m losing her.
The realization hits me that I’ve got to do something. Cathy may be my wife and we may be dealing with a shitty situation right now, but it’s on me that I let the romance go out of my marriage. I’ve got to do something to romance my wife. I’ve got to show her that it can still be great between the two of us. Poetry, flowers, romantic dinners with candlelight… I’ve got to be an ideal husband in all the ways that I still can be.
And I’ve got to show her that there’s still heat between the two of us. I still find her incredibly sexy, and… well, I think she’s still attracted to me too. I’ve got to fan the flames.
Maybe my mom will stick around and we can go out to dinner tonight. I’ve got to get over my aversion to eating out. We can go somewhere secluded and romantic. And she can forget all about Andy.
I notice Cathy has rolled down the windows in the back. “What’s wrong?” I ask her. “Are you hot?”
Cathy glances back at me. “Uh, no. I’m trying to air out the smell.”
I almost ask her what smell she’s talking about, but then I get a whiff of it. I had an accident. How the hell did I not notice that? Am I become immune to the smell? It hits me that I’ve had enough accidents in this wheelchair that maybe the smell of it clings to the chair enough that I don’t even notice it. That’s an upsetting thought.
“Sorry about that,” I say.
“It’s okay,” Cathy says, really casually. “I know these car rides do it to you a lot. We’re almost home and I’ll get you changed. I picked up extra diapers yesterday.”
Now that I can smell it, it’s suddenly become really overpowering. Cathy and I decided against going ahead with the colostomy, and then like clockwork, I started having daily accidents. I’ve had one every single day this week.
All I can think to myself is that I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to romance my wife when she’s cleaning up my shit on a daily basis. I don’t know if I can win this one.