At his apartment complex Mark paid the taxi fare.The driver opened the door for him, “Can I help you with that?”
“I got it, thanks though.”
Mark pulled his wheelchair over and set it up right outside the car. He then quickly transferred into it under the curious eyes of the taxi driver.
Mark nodded at the driver and thanked him once again. The driver wished him a Good night and got back into his taxi and drove off.
It was a cool night and he sat there in his wheelchair in the parking lot right outside his ground floor apartment. He glanced over to the carports and saw his Dodge Challenger parked there. Since living in the apartment, the car alarm had not gone off once even though the neighborhood Mark lived in wasn’t exactly the greatest and he had pondered moving to a safer neighborhood soon. So far, he had not had the energy though. Changing his current living situation would take some effort and time in dealing with greedy landlords, inaccessible apartments, or way high rents for the places that were out there.
He looked around the parking lot for any suspicious activity and since everything seemed quiet he wheeled over to the sidewalk where the curb was slanted and he could easily push up onto to the sidewalk and to his front door.
The one-bedroom apartment had been remodeled to be accessible for at least two wheelchairs to get around in comfortably. The door frames were wide enough for Mark to get through, there were no stairs or high thresholds, the bathroom had an accessible shower with no door, the toilet had a sturdy frame around it, the bathroom counter with the sink was low enough to use from the sitting position and basically push a wheelchair right up to it and under some. The same was true for the kitchen counters which were low enough for Mark to reach easily. There was no carpet in any of the rooms. A few years earlier several apartments in the complex had been renovated for accessibility.
The VA had helped Mark find the apartment after he had been released from rehab at the VA hospital in Seattle. The apartment building owner was in contract with the VA and housed mostly disabled Veterans from wars past and more recently. In addition, there was some temporary housing for homeless persons to reintegrate back into society. Mark had been living there for almost two years. He knew his neighbors and even though everyone carried their burdens the small community they had was tightly knit.
As he pulled the key to his apartment out of his jeans pocket he heard the all familiar sound of a plane over him coming in for the landing at SeaTac airport. He didn’t live far from the airport and even though in the first couple of months living in the apartment the sound of the planes over him had constantly caused him stress and anxiety, he had now become used to the traffic in the sky, a not so great side effect of living in government subsidized housing. The only time he sometimes felt tense at the sounds now was when he woke up during the night from an occasional especially loud engine depending on which direction the wind was blowing.
Mark pushed his rims and wheeled over the very low threshold into his apartment.
Ranger, his black cat, welcomed him right by the door with a stretch and a yawn, followed by a meow.
“Hey bud, how are you?”
Ranger meowed again seemingly answering his owner and Mark closed the door behind himself, put in the chain on the door and locked it from the inside, leaving the key in the door.
He wheeled into his apartment and Ranger followed him. When Mark looked at the lit-up clock on his stove he saw it was almost one in the morning.
He was thirty now and he felt a slight buzz of the beer in his system. Nowadays alcohol didn’t mix too well with the medications he was on and it didn’t take much for him to feel it if he drank after he had been taking his medications in the evening.
He wheeled over to the cat’s food bowl and saw it was completely empty.“Damn Ranger, did I forget to feed you before I left tonight?”
Ranger heard his name and meowed his answer.
Mark filled the small bowl with some dry cat food kibbles and set it down in its spot by the kitchen again. Ranger started devouring right away.
Mark still thought about the interaction with Chiara and still couldn’t believe that his friends had actually thought it a good idea to get a prostitute for him.
In a way it wasn’t a surprise though. They all had been pushing him to date again and had taken every opportunity to get him to go out with them. He had gone on a few dates but nothing had come from any of it. In his opinion the wheelchair was an impediment for most women and if someone knew just a little bit about the issues that came with being paraplegic, any decent woman would probably run for the hills at meeting him. Mark didn’t blame the women really. On top of the paraplegia causing many physical limitations the psychological wounds of war were a whole other issue he dealt with.
He had been trying his best to be a productive member of society again but on some days, it was harder than on others. The memories and the flashbacks couldn’t be completely erased by medications and were only kept in check and in the back of his mind. Triggers happened all the time and he would fall into days of depression or anxiety, fear or anger. He had been trying hard, had been going to his monthly counseling sessions at the VA and had been a regular at the gym to channel his anxiety into working out and keeping his mind off the trauma.
He was doing all right but it was strenuous to be okay and exhausting to stay strong sometimes. His friends had been there for him all the way though and if they didn’t hear from him in a few days, someone would either show up at his door or at least call or bombard him with messages on his cellphone.
Ranger was chewing away noisily as Mark wheeled into his spacious bedroom. He took off his T-Shirt and draped it over a chair. He then pulled his right leg up with his hands, setting his foot over his left knee so he could untie his sneakers and take them off. He also took his sock off at the same time. His feet were limp and even though he saw himself take his sneakers off he didn’t feel any of it. Now his naked foot just hung flaccid on his knee as he gently set it back down on the single foot rest of his TiLite. He repeated the same process with his other foot, then just in his jeans he wheeled into the bathroom and up to the sink. The counter didn’t have a cabinet under the sink, another welcome feature of the wheelchair accessible apartment.
Mark turned on the faucet and while waiting for the water to run warm he looked at himself in the mirror. He looked tired but his blue eyes still dominated his face. In the past his eyes had usually worked well with the ladies. His dark blonde hair was cut nicely and trendy and he usually kept a three-day shadow of a beard. Several tattoos he had acquired throughout his active duty military years covered his pectorals, down the right side of his chest and also over to both his shoulders and biceps. One tattoo depicted the names of the two fellow soldiers who had died the night he got injured, Private Lopez and Sergeant Kemplin. Their names with dates of birth and death inside the unit crest were now forever etched into the skin on the inside of his right forearm
Since he had been going to the gym at least three times a week, sometimes four he had built a good set of upper body muscles, defining his pectorals, and the muscle groups in his arms and shoulders. Only in his stomach there was not much he could do anymore to avoid a slightly distended belly. His stomach muscles didn’t respond anymore to any signals from his brain. The weights he lifted and the exercises he did at the gym were only effective for his upper body starting at his T-4 vertebrae upwards. Anything below his T-4 was dead and didn’t communicate with his brain anymore. Working out his upper body and arms though helped him with his transfers and getting around in the wheelchair.
Mark had not missed the atrophy of the muscles in his once strong legs and as they had become thinner his jeans had become looser. He didn’t like looking at his legs and there had been many times he had wished he would have just lost them instead of having to drag around two lifeless pieces of flesh, no use to him anymore and just making his body look unproportioned with his fairly built upper body and dead lower body and legs. No surprise that in his mind women weren’t into a man that was really not whole anymore, just a half of his former self.
As the water ran warm now, Mark washed his hands, brushed his teeth and then wheeled up to the toilet. The toilet had been his enemy from the beginning of his injury. On top of everything else he had to get used to, the part about losing the sensation to his genitals and voiding organs had been tough. It took him a long time to accept the fate of not being able to urinate or defecate anymore the usual way.
In rehab he had been a difficult patient to teach catherization to and learning other means to defecate instead of the common way. It had been difficult for him to accept this part of his paraplegia and not seldom during rehab he had refused to use catheters to pee and had then peed himself just to realize that catherization was the only way for him to pee now if he didn’t want to wear adult diapers all the time. He had learned the hard way that he just couldn’t control the reflexes of his spastic bladder anymore. As much as he hated it all, he had established somewhat of a routine but at least at night in bed he was wearing the incontinence briefs to not wet his bed unknowingly.
To minimize the chance of peeing while sleeping every night right before going to bed Mark used a disposable catheter to empty his bladder and he did this at least four to five times throughout the day. The catheters were a necessity now in his bathroom, in his back pack, and even in his car. He had them everywhere so he would not ever be without this very important item.
He wheeled up to the toilet with the frame around it and unzipped and unbuttoned his jeans exposing his boxers. The catheter packages were stacked right next to the toilet in a container. He used self-lubricating catheters and with somewhat shaky fingers he prepared the tubing inside the package, opened it and inserted the tubing into the opening on his penis and pushed it up through his urethra into his bladder holding the other end into the toilet. Soon the urine was flowing in a steady stream into the toilet and he just sat there and watched.
He was lost in thoughts about his birthday again and even though he was only thirty, the paraplegia sometimes made him feel much older. His body was in a constant battle with his brain and on some days, it wasn’t easy. Those were the days when he dealt with spasticity all day long, days when he was out and about and couldn’t find an accessible bathroom nearby, the days when he was frustrated about the inaccessibility of buildings he needed to enter, or the days when ignorant people reminded him of his fate.
Then there were the days when people actually thanked him for his service to his country and showed respect and kindness or the days when he felt good and fit and could forget about the wheelchair for a little while.
The evening had been okay until Chiara showed up. He hadn’t been sure how to talk to her and how she could be interested in him. He also had been reminded by her that things didn’t work for him anymore as they did for healthy guys and above all she had made him feel inferior because his friends thought that at least a hooker could make him happy when regular women had not shown interest in him anymore. It hadn’t been her fault, she was hired by them to make his birthday unforgettable. She had only tried to do her job and he had turned her down.
While the last drops of urine dripped into the toilet bowl he also remembered the guy who had waited for Chiara and how he had slapped her so hard several times. Mark felt anger inside.
He shook the tubing and then gently pulled the catheter out of his penis, dabbing the end with toilet paper and disposing of it. He was done with his urination for the night.Ranger came into the bathroom and Mark washed his hands once more, then wheeled back into his bedroom with Ranger trailing behind him.
He skillfully transferred onto his bed, pulled his body up and then leaning on the headboard he wriggled his jeans and boxers over his butt with his legs falling from side to side. He had to keep adjusting his legs and his feet to get the jeans all the way off. In his jeans pocket he found the $ 250 from Chiara and looking at it for a moment he then dropped the money on his bedside table.
Taking a deep breath, he then pulled out an incontinence brief from his bedside table and slipped into the soft thick padded brief. He couldn’t feel the brief as it hugged his privates and if someone would have ever told him when he was still walking that one day he would be wearing diapers to bed before he was even thirty he would have thought they were crazy. Now it was normal for him and it’s not that he liked it but he had no choice. Since he was by himself he didn’t bother with any pajamas or sleep shorts but merely pushed his body down into the bed and covered himself up. Ranger had jumped up onto the bed and curled up next to his feet.
He pulled his cell phone over and when he looked at it he saw a message from Patrick:
Hey man, where the hell did you go? Are you with the girl? You just disappeared on us.
He saw another message from his friend Corey:
Dude, where the fuck are you? Are you getting laid right now?
Mark realized that he had left without his friends even knowing and quickly sent a group text to all of them.
Guys, sorry I just left. I’m at home now. Everything is all right. Thanks for taking me out tonight.
He sent the message off and it didn’t take long and Patrick replied:
Did you have fun with the girl you left with?
He debated telling them a lie or the truth and opted for the latter:
I didn’t go with her and she’s not with me. Thanks for the present I guess but I didn’t take her up on what she offered. I know you guys meant well but I just couldn’t do it. Sorry guys.
Now it took a few moments and no reply came but instead his phone rang and he saw it was Patrick.Mark answered, “What’s up!”
Patrick was on the other end, “Bro, what happened? We thought you were with her.”
Mark explained to him how things had gone with Chiara and ended with, “I just couldn’t do it.”
“Well, that just sucks. We thought it was a good idea and would be fun for you.”
Mark knew he should have told them a lie because he could hear Patrick was disappointed.He tried to think of his reply.
“Listen Pat, you guys meant well but I just couldn’t do it, okay. I can’t feel my junk down there, it’s fucked up, man. The chick wanted to give me a blowjob but I don’t feel a blowjob or any other job down there. I can’t fuck a chick anymore like I used to. And it doesn’t matter what she will do, I won’t feel any of it so the money was a waste. I saw her get slapped by her pimp. It pissed me off. It wasn’t her fault and it wasn’t you guy’s fault but I’m done with shit like that. I’m fucking paralyzed from my chest down and I can’t feel shit anymore. I probably can’t even get a chick pregnant anymore, so I’m pretty much done. Thanks for whatever it was but it kinda didn’t work.”
It took Patrick a few seconds to reply and his voice was filled with guilt when he said, “Well then, I guess we seriously fucked up with this. Sorry man. I feel like shit now and I’m sure the guys will too. We should have known better bro. I mean we know you can’t walk anymore and all but you never said anything about…about that other stuff. I’m really sorry.”“It’s all right. It’s over. Moving on. No more hookers please.”
Mark tried to sound cheerful but it didn’t work all the way.
“Mark, I’m really so sorry. We fucked up big time.”
“It’s okay. Let’s forget about it. She was hot all right and had a nice smile. I just hope she didn’t get in more trouble with her fucking pimp.”
“Did you really see her get slapped?”
“Yes, it pissed me off. It wasn’t her fault that I turned her down. She gave me the money back. I feel bad about it.”“She gave you the money back? Wow! Well, nothing you can do about it man.”
“Where did you guys get her from anyways?”
Mark heard as Patrick asked the other friends and then came back on, “Corey said they got her from the streets.”“The streets, like where?”
Patrick asked his friends again and came back on again, “He doesn’t remember.”
“Hhm, well…I’m going to sleep now. I’m beat. Thanks for taking me out tonight though.”
“Okay man, sorry again. We’ll talk to you later then. Good night.”
They finished up and Mark let his phone drop onto the bed next to him and laid his head back.
He still thought about the night and how it had ended with Chiara and he couldn’t get her out of his head. She had been pretty and really didn’t look like a hooker. For a few moments in the bar he had wondered how an attractive and sexy woman like her could have been interested in him. He thought about how he should have known it was too good to be true. He fell asleep and that night he didn’t wake up drenched in sweat and screaming from the nightmares he constantly dealt with. Instead he woke up from dreaming of Chiara and for a moment he was angry he had woken up because it had been a good dream where she wasn’t a hooker.