I stare at the ceiling, the pain in my legs no longer a background noise.
It'a fucking Carnaval parade.
I want oxy.
I don't feel anything below my injury. Nothing. But I feel pain—in my back, but especially in my legs. Just that weird, electrifying, painful buzz that won't cease. Ever. Most times it's not so bad. It's not so bad that I need to pop oxy. I don't do that anymore, but I used to—like candy. And right now… I wish I had some. Just one, an emergency pill in a hidden drawer somewhere. One for nights like these.
But I finished that months ago.
And I won't call my doc like an addict. I might have, years ago. Now I just push through it—literally. I trust Neurontin to do its job. I do.
Liv pulls me off my druggie thoughts, reminding me that she's there with her soft breath, her leg draped over my waist like I'm her own pillow and pressing her body closer. I picked her up from work at midnight and she's been sleeping ever since, like nothing in the world could ever bother her. Not me twisting around, nor my leg spasms for sure kicking her under the blanket. And for someone who doesn't like to sleep together, she sure does like to snuggle; my bed is massive, and she's occupying all ¾ of it.
It's too big anyway.
That buzz in my shoulder along with the buzz in my legs won't let me do more than drift off, going off like a broken spidey sense; something is wrong and I gotta toss a coin and guess what that is—do I need to cath? Is it my bowel program? Is it the pain disturbing the communication between the two halves of my body? But I can't risk it. I gently push Liv off to the side, using one of the extra pillows to prop her so she doesn't wake up when I move around.
I blindly reach for my chair, and…
A sinking sensation in my chest as my arm flails around in the air and finds nothing at all. I sit up and turn on the bedside lamp. Fuck. Fuck.
"Liv." I shake her. Gently at first, and then urgently as the panic takes over when she doesn't answer. "Livia. Liv-"
My heart races so bad I can hear it in my ears. I hold my eyes tightly closed and swallow down on the dry heave that's climbing up my chest. Shit. Fuck. Merda.
"Uh?" She barely opens her eyes, raising her head over the pillow.
I lean forward and press my eyes with the heels of my hands so hard I can see the stars behind my eyelids, all the alarms going off inside my body, a cacophony of something-wrongs. I wanna tell Liv something—anything. I need to get up.
The bed shifts, but it's not me. Of course it's not me—I can't get up at all. Not without my chair. The air gets thicker and I can't quite get it all to my lungs. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
"Ben?" I feel a hand on my shoulder, bringing me back to my bedroom even if for a second. "What's wrong?"
She moves her hand down my back, and the tangled mess of nerves down where I start losing all feeling interprets that as excruciating pain—it's always a coin toss. I flinch away from her touch like she's just held a torch against my skin and grab her wrist. I'm not sure if to stop her or to ground myself.
"I need to-" I gasp for some air through gritted teeth. The syllables won't come out. "My chair."
The pins and needles intensify. I need oxy. I really fucking need oxy. My nerves are on fire, the shooting pain going down my legs and my butt and my back. My lungs refuse to work. Dysreflexia? Panic? Both?
I don't even notice it when Livia jumps off the bed and runs across the room just the way I wish I could do, and brings my chair back to the bedside. She gently shakes my shoulder.
I immediately reach for the cushion with my fist, trying to ignore all the shaking in my hands. I need to get off this bed, the rawness of it clouding my judgment. I go for the lousiest transfer ever, without pushing my legs to the edge of the mattress or adjusting myself close enough. And when I press down the seat with my fist, lifting my butt off the mattress with only my arms, the chair slips and I fall back. Because the wheels aren't fucking locked.
"Shit." Liv voices my own thoughts, bringing it back to me again and standing right behind it.
It isn't the prettiest or easiest transfer ever done in the history of T-10 SCI, it's quite sloppy and I don't bother with trying to adjust my legs properly or making sure I'm far back in the seat. In fact, my OT would have made a face and lectured me about wheelchair ergonomics, shoulder stress, spine stability, pressure sores and all the shit I should be worried about but I'm not.
As soon as my butt hits the cushion, I do a poor job of getting my feet on the footplate and seize my wheels as if my life depends on it. I wheel to the bathroom and bang the door behind me, heading straight to the medicine cabinet, where the old bottles mix with the new, the emergency and the regular ones.
Alprazolam, lorazepam, diazepam. Gabapentin, amitriplytline, doxepin, baclofen. No oxycodone.
Of course there's no oxy. Fuck.
I'm not sure which meds I swallow down. My heart hammers my chest and I still can't breathe, but slowly the relief of being back in my chair settles down. I let the cold water run over my head in the sink, through my hair and my scalp, soothing whatever I've going on.
I'm not sure how long I stay there, concentrating on breathing until all I feel is the pain. Pain is better. I can deal with it. I always do.
When I'm no longer shaking and my heart isn't threatening to jump off my mouth, I push out of the bathroom. Livia isn't there.
And so she left again?
I watch as my knees start bouncing up and down and my foot jumps off the footplate, shaking around like I'm the one by some miracle doing it. Spasms, when they're not so extremely inconvenient, are fascinating to watch. Right now they're extremely inconvenient, so I press down the rebel muscles in my thighs and try to adjust myself in my chair well enough that they settle down. Back to being my OT's pride and joy.
But for a split second I feel compelled to punch them repeatedly, will the spasming off of them through force, but only assholes punch shit.
"I got you some tea."
I spin around and my heart skips a little surprised beat. She walks up to me, cradling the mug in her hands. Liv holds it in my direction and then seems to reconsider it.
"Transfer first." She tells me. Always the logistics queen.
And I do, a lot more gracefully than earlier. I scoot over with my arms until I'm propped against the wall and grab my pants so I can pull my legs closer; I hate the way they look when they're just lying there, not even straight beyond 160° degrees—on a good day. So I cross them indian style. Fixed it.
Liv walks around my chair and carefully sits in front of me, handing me the teacup.
"I didn't know I had any leaves."
"I always carry some in my bag."
I almost chuckle. She offers me a shy smile.
I breathe in the steam and realize it's not as hot as it should be—has it been done for a while now? How long did I spend in the bathroom?
I sip some of the tea, staring down at the mug like it could spare me from this.
"Are you okay?" Liv asks, scooting closer. I watch as she puts her hand over my leg in a reassuring gesture I would've missed had I not been looking down.
And I know she wants to know more, but she won't ask. Instead, she rubs my thigh in silence, the tension I'm feeling overshadowing the fact that I kind of love it that she's touching me there. But the thing about Livia is that she never ever asks for more. And right now I really wish she would.
"Why did you move my chair across the room?" I ask, trying not to sound too affected by it, even though I am. Even though just thinking of it makes every hair in my body stand up in absolute revulsion.
She retreats her hand immediately like she's just been burned.
"I think I tripped." She says in a small voice. "While going to the bathroom. I'm sorry, I didn't realize-"
"Just don't do that again, ok? Please? I'll try not to leave it in the way."
"Ben, you don't have to. I'll be more careful." And she never, ever compromises. "I'm the odd item here."
God. Fucking Livia Nakamura, I'm telling you.
"That's not what I mean. Listen..." I rub my face and take her hand in mine to make sure she won't run away. I take a deep breath in to make it seem like I'm more stable than I really am. I shift around and before I can help myself or think over, I say: "Disability sucks. I don't have control over a lot. I can prevent and maybe predict with a lot of planning and time, but at the end of the day it's not up to me."
I'm looking at her now but she keeps her eyes in her own void tea cup. Is this really the time to metaphorically spill my guts right here? Is it going to trigger an opposite reaction? Fuck, my legs hurt.
"My chair is all I get to rule over when it comes to this. I get... separation anxiety. Panic. I don't know. It's hard to- Well, just keep that in mind. Ok?" I press her hand, waiting for an answer. When she doesn't respond, I place my finger under her chin and lift it so I can get a look at her. "A penny for your thoughts."
She averts my eyes.
"No thoughts." Livia swallows hard.
"C'mon, look at me."
And when she refuses again, I see how there are tears forming in the corners. Shit. Oh shit.
See, I've had women cry in bed with me before. There are good cries, when I go down on them. Then there are the bad, really bad cries, which has only really happened once. From a woman who took a look at me as I sat there, completely naked, and decided I was so disabled that she felt bad about having sex with me while she sobbed in catholic guilt. I don't wanna think about that.
I hope I can make Liv cry in bed someday, the good kind of cry. This isn't it—but it's also not the bad kind.
"What's up?" I move my hand to her long, silky hair as she looks elsewhere, her throat bobbing up and down and her lower lip twitching.
She nods. "It's ok. I get it."
But that's not it.
"Liv. Talk to me." I move my hand to her face. She looks down, then back, then presses her eyes closed, drawing up a deep breath in.
"I just don't like…" she catches herself, her voice sounds slightly choked. "Shit. I hate this"
I move my thumb up and down her soft cheek. "This what?"
"This." She shakes her head, bottom lip twitching again. "Serious stuff. Feelings."
I watch her for a moment in silence. No tears escape her eyes—she's being serious. And suddenly a lot of the stuff about Livia makes perfect sense. Why she never asks, and never ever demands. It's almost like I cracked a code.
"I just found this thing about you in the most unexpected way." I say. Her eyes finally meet mine, curious. Her nose looks adorably red. "You don't like talking because you're a crier."
She doesn't deny it.
"Every goddamn time." Livia sets her hair over her shoulder, looking annoyed at herself.
"It's ridiculous." She blinks furiously, getting rid of the watery line forming over her lower lashes. "Pretend you never saw it."
That'd be impossible.
I set the mug down on the bedside table and pull her closer. She crawls over me like a cat, and I guide her until she's settled between my legs, comfortably snuggled against my chest. She's small, 165 centimeters in a surprisingly petite frame, and fits perfectly. Her long, silky dark hair cascades down her back and I twirl the loose strands; it smells of fresh mint. I can hear and feel her breathing while I comb her hair with my fingers, the rhythm—or perhaps the meds I took earlier—soothing some of the pain.
"Sorry." She says at some point.
I'm not sure what about.