Toby didn’t live far from “Le Petit Maison”. At the bus stop, we waited for the next bus to take us about three blocks to where Toby lived. He told me that in the city he usually took the bus and even though he had a car, it was mostly parked.
As the bus pulled up, the bus driver let out the ramp in the front of the bus where we were getting in. Toby already held his bus pass in his hand and as he entered, the bus driver greeted us friendly. We moved to the assigned space for wheelchairs right behind the driver. Since I had been riding the bus for some time myself, I had often seen disabled persons using walkers or in wheelchairs get on, usually in the front.
At the assigned spot for the wheelchair was a two-seater bench right next to it. I had never before sat in these seats as they were reserved for disabled persons or their company. I sat down as Toby locked the break on his wheelchair. A few more people had gotten on with us and everyone was taking their seats. The bus driver started the bus and we took off. I witnessed as Toby put his hands next to his hips and quickly lifted his butt off the wheelchair seat, smiling at me.
He took my hand in his.
I nodded and I smiled at him. I was so happy to be there with him. As I glanced at him, I realized how his back didn’t curve a lot. His knees were slightly apart but his feet were positioned right next to one another on the single foot rest. His wheelchair was in great condition. The spokes were of a metallic teal color and depending on the way the light hit the spokes, they were shimmering in various shades as he spun the wheels. The rigid frame was of a matte black color and I noticed only a few scratches on it, but nothing severe. I was lost in thoughts scanning over Toby’s wheelchair and how it made me feel.
When I looked back at him, his eyes were directly on me and he explained without my asking, “I’ve had this chair for about two years. I’ve tried a few models already but I’m sticking with this one. It’s been the best for me really. I’ll keep this thing as long as I can, just have to change out the tires and cushion every so often. It’s a good chair; wasn’t cheap either.”
I smiled, “It’s a very nice-looking wheelchair. I love the wheels.”
He laughed shyly, “Yeah, I wanted to go a bit fancy with the color scheme.”
It wasn’t all the way dark yet, and the city outside was zooming by us; it was bustling with activity on this Saturday evening. Lots of people were out and about on the sidewalks, leaving and entering restaurants and bars and enjoying the mild early summer night.
We arrived at Toby’s stop right outside his apartment building; a newer high rise with at least twenty stories I assumed, as I looked up.
Toby pulled out an entry key badge and swiped it next to the entrance, opening the door to the building automatically. Inside the lobby was a small reception desk with a young man sitting behind it.
He looked up when we entered and Toby greeted him familiar and friendly, “Hey Brady, how are you?”
Brady smiled, “Hey Toby, I’m good, and you?”
Toby wheeled up to the reception and held his fist out to Brady.
Brady fist bumped Toby, “I’m good man.”
Toby introduced me to the young man, “Brady, this is Shay.”
Brady looked at me with a curious smile, “Hi, nice to meet you.”
Toby explained, “Brady is our weekend night shifter here, holding down the fort for us, making sure no one who isn’t supposed to be in here comes in.”
Brady smiled and Toby added, “And during the day time he’s going to school to become an actor.”
Brady laughed with a nod.
I smiled and replied, “That’s awesome.”
We chatted for a few more moments before Toby said, “Well, man, have a good night, okay. Thanks for being here.”
Brady wished us a good night and with a smile he waved after us as we headed for the elevators. Out of three elevators, it didn’t take long before one arrived.
Toby let me get in first and behind me, he rolled into it easily. I enjoyed watching him. He was skilled in maneuvering his wheelchair. In the elevator I caught him push up from the wheelchair seat again for a few seconds. Throughout the evening I had noticed that he was always moving with his behind on the cushion. He seemed to be in a constant motion.
Toby lived on the twelfth floor and we stepped out from the elevator into a modern and brightly lit long hallway with numerous apartment doors on both sides. Toby gave his rims a few pushes and rolled swiftly down the carpeted hallway. I watched him roll along until in front of one of the doors he came to a sudden stop as he pulled back his rims for a sharp break.
I was walking up and he laughed looking at me, “Sorry, I love my hallway, so freaking easy to push on.”
I smiled at Toby as he unlocked and opened the door, turning on the light inside the apartment. He spun his wheelchair around inside the spacious foyer and closed the door behind us.
“Welcome to my place.”
I looked around; I recognized furniture from a large Swedish furniture store. On one of the walls, I noticed two large framed photos of mountains. I set my purse on a small wardrobe by the door. There was no carpet in the apartment, just smooth tile flooring.
Right when I was about to slip out of my running shoes, Toby said, “You may leave your shoes on or I’ll get you some warm socks so your feet don’t get cold. The floor is heated but you may still get cold feet. Come on in.”
I decided to take my shoes off and left them by the door, following Toby into the apartment. I did feel the warmth of the floor under my feet.
In the living space, a large window front gave view to the high-rise building opposite from Toby’s building. His apartment was spacious from what I saw. I quickly scanned the living space, the dining area, and the kitchen. It was sparsely furnished with simple but colorful and compact furniture.
Toby said, “I’ll be right back. Make yourself comfortable, I’ll get some socks for you.”
I nodded, “Okay, great.”
He disappeared into the hallway apparently leading to the bedroom. I looked around and saw several pieces of electronics on a large desk; two large monitors; a lap top and a desk top computer, and a printer. Lots of papers and writing utensils lay scattered on the desk.
A large flat screen TV sat on a stand and a blue corner couch with two small coffee tables on the ends of it was the lounging area. The dining area had a long rustic wooden table with a bench on one side and two chairs on the other side. I noticed a third chair was moved over next to the wall; it was obvious that this was Toby’s spot at the table. Only a few simple items decorated his furniture; this was definitely a man’s apartment.
I had extensive knowledge about rent or owning an apartment of this size in the city and I imagined Toby had sufficient income working for Amazon. I sat down on the couch and just looked around the room. Some windows in the building across the street were lit up and I saw offices and apparently business space with cubicles and what looked like cleaning personnel making their way through the floors. Some windows were dark.
After a little while, Toby came back into the living space and rolled up to me with some balled up thick socks on his lap, “Here you go, put those on, so your feet don’t get cold.”
He held the socks out to me and I took them and sat down on the couch.
While I slipped into the socks he explained, “Well, this is my place. It’s a two-bedroom, two bathrooms.”
I remarked, “It’s very nice.”
I nodded over at the desk, “Lots of computer stuff.”
Toby looked at the desk.
“Oh yeah, I actually work from home sometimes. A lot of that stuff is for work.”
Several framed and enlarged photographs depicting more mountain scenes, hung on the living room wall. Some of the photos had people in them and I stepped closer to get a better look. The photos showed people in climbing gear, harnesses, ropes and carabiner hooks around them, helmets on their heads and as I looked closer, I recognized Toby in the photos. His hair was a lot longer and wavy in the photos; his face was tanned and his naked arms looked strong and muscular. In one of the photos he was wearing a bandana around his head. He looked very happy, laughing in all of the photos. He was either in front of rough terrain or mountain walls under sun and blue skies or high up on mountain peaks seemingly touching the clouds. In every shot it looked windy and his hair was flowing around his face but his smile was full of joy. The photos showed very clearly how this had obviously been Toby’s element when it came to mountains and climbing. I felt a distant sadness.
I stood there and studied the photos and was startled when Toby said right behind me, “Can you spot me?”
I looked at him quickly and back at the photos, nodding. Without saying anything, I pointed to him in the photos.
He said, “Yeah, that’s climbing Toby.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and turned to him. I didn’t really know what to say and he smiled weakly.
Softly I remarked, “You look very happy in the photos.”
He sat there with his hands in his lap and nodded, “I was. I loved climbing until Rainier kicked my ass or better yet, kicked my ass off.”
I took a deep breath and asked softly, “How did it happen?”
Toby lowered his eyes and looked back up at me, “Can I tell you later maybe?”
I nodded quickly and apologized, “Of course, I’m sorry.”
He smiled again, “Nothing to be sorry about. It’s all right, it’s just difficult for me.”
Toby rolled up next to me and in front of one photo, he mentioned, “The guy in the blue
shirt is my brother.”
He then pointed to another photo, “And here he is the guy on the left of me.”
I looked closer and Toby’s brother looked just as happy as Toby in the photos. He had dark long hair and dark eyes though.
I asked, “What is his name?”
“Calvin, I call him Cal.”
For a moment we just looked at the photos.
“I hope you’ll find your brother.”
Toby nodded, “Well, now you have an idea how he looks, at least that’s how he used to look. I’ve newer pictures of him and I can show you. That way if maybe you would ever see him…”
Toby stopped talking and when I looked at him, he seemed sad. He met my eyes and pressed his lips together, shaking his head.
It was like he wanted to say something but he couldn’t.
I tried to sound positive, “We could show his photo around at the shelter, maybe someone knows him or has seen him.”
Toby nodded and I asked, “Do you think he still goes by the name of Cal or Calvin?”
Toby shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know.”
I thought of Charlie and explained, “I have a friend who had been living on the streets of Seattle for a long time. He was Jordan’s best friend…I can contact him and ask if he remembers ever meeting a Calvin or Cal.”
Charlie had gone through rehab successfully. I had been in contact with him ever since he had left Seattle and gone back to Portland. He had been able to establish contact with his daughter again and saw her regularly. Charlie had been planning to come back to visit over the summer and I had been looking forward to see him again. He looked great from what I saw on our weekly phone calls when we face timed. He had been going to meetings for addicts every week; he had been living with another guy in a small apartment and had landed a part time job for the city of Portland Parks and Rec Department. Charlie had been doing well and I was so happy every time we talked. His health was not the best, but he did okay and being able to connect with his daughter was his world really. She was expecting a baby and Charlie was looking forward to becoming a grandpa.
When I looked at Toby he nodded, “Yeah, that would be cool. Maybe someone knows something.”
He smiled, “How about that nightcap?”
It was good that we had changed the subject and a drink sounded like a great idea.
While Toby rolled into the kitchen he explained, “So, I’ve got beer in the fridge; I’ve some hard liquor, like Vodka, Whiskey, Tequila. And I have wine too.”
I had followed him into the kitchen, “I’ll stick with wine then.”
“All right, here!”
Toby opened a cabinet, revealing an array of alcoholic beverages, including a few wine bottles.
“Pick whichever one you like.”
I found a Merlot and set it on the counter. The kitchen was modern and bright. The counters were low and there were no cabinets under some of them; the few wall cabinets were not very high. The stove, sink, and microwave were in easy reach for Toby. Lots of space made it easy for him to maneuver his wheelchair in the kitchen. Even the breakfast bar had a low end and a high end to it. I was impressed.
As I looked around, Toby had popped the lid on a beer bottle, had opened the wine bottle, and had poured me a glass, handing it to me.
“Here you go.”
I smiled at him, “Thanks, your kitchen is awesome.”
Toby sat there holding his beer bottle in his lap and scanned through the kitchen, “Yes, it’s built wheelchair accessible, the whole apartment is.”
“It’s wonderful, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Toby smiled, “There are two disability accessible apartments on each floor in this building.”
“That’s amazing. They need to do that in every new apartment building.”
Toby nodded, “I agree.”
I went back into the living room and Toby followed me with his beer bottle stuck between his thighs. He parked his wheelchair close to where I was sitting. He set the beer bottle on one of the small corner tables and pulled his hoodie over his head. For a moment his T-Shirt rode up and gave view to his belly. He threw the hoodie on the couch, shook his hair out and pulled his T-Shirt straight again.
He met my eyes as I had watched him and smiled, grabbed his beer bottle and held it out to me.
I tapped it with my glass, “Cheers.”
Toby smiled, “Cheers.”
We took sips from our beverages.
I asked, “Are you renting or buying this place?”
Toby held his beer bottle between his hands on his lap, “Just renting right now. I don’t know if I want to buy it. I mean it’s all right with the accessibility features and all, but I don’t know if I want a bigger place maybe. I actually didn’t know if I wanted to stay here in Seattle. I had considered leaving after everything happened. But I can’t leave now, because I want to find my brother.”
I was curious and eventually asked him hesitantly, “Did…Did Romy and your brother live here too?”
Toby took another sip from his bottle, then wiped over his mouth and explained, “They did for a little while until the crash. We had just moved into this place a couple of months before the crash. Then of course Romy was gone and Cal stayed with me, but he kept disappearing a lot and one day he just never came home anymore. I don’t want to move from this place, because if he decided to come back and I wouldn’t live here anymore, it wouldn’t be good. I think he still has an entry badge; I don’t know. Actually, Brady and the other door guys know that Cal is gone and I’m hoping he will show up again. So, if he does, they know him and they know to let him in or let me know at least.”
Toby had turned serious and seemed sad.
A weak smile brushed over his face, “Yeah, it all kind of sucks. Like I really want him to come home, I forgive him for what happened. I had to work all that out. It’s one thing that I lost Romy, but I didn’t want to lose my brother on top of it.”
I was sad and glanced at the spot next to me on the couch, “Do you want to sit with me?”
Toby looked up curiously and nodded, “Sure.”
He held the bottle out to me, “Can you hold this for me?”
I took the beer bottle from his hand and he pushed his wheelchair closer to the couch. He hooked his arm under his right leg and lifted his foot off the foot rest, then repeated the same with the left leg. His feet were on the floor and he pushed his behind to the edge of the wheelchair seat. He then placed his fist on the couch and with his other fist on the wheelchair seat next to his thighs, he gave his body a strong push and transferred over onto the couch.
His upper body seemed strong and he had decent control of it. The muscles in his arms were well defined and I saw how they bulged as he had transferred over. I sat there, holding his beer in one hand and my wine glass in the other, watching him. My heart was beating quickly at having watched this. Toby adjusted his position on the couch and leaned back, he wasn’t hunched over but seemed quite upright.
He got comfortable and smiled at me, reaching for his bottle. I handed it to him; we tapped our drinks again. Toby’s eyes stayed on me the whole time.
I glanced at his empty wheelchair next to the couch and then at him, “The transfer seemed easy for you.”
“It’s all right. I still have some okay upper body strength left over from all the years of climbing. I tried to keep working out as soon as I could after the accident to keep that strength. It helped that I was strong before and so I didn’t want to let that go, at least not in my arms and upper body. The Physical Therapists of course wanted to build on that strength very quickly too after my injury and as soon as I started rehab and all that. They pushed me and I pushed myself to get strong enough.”
After a small pause, he added, “My legs though, they’re pretty much done.”
I was nervous to ask, “Was it a complete or incomplete injury?”
“It’s complete. No sensations from the T-4 down. As I was falling, I broke my back and injured the spinal cord as I landed. Four vertebrae above my T-4 were fractured. In a way I was lucky that the cord didn’t get severed higher than T-4. I had a couple of surgeries to stabilize the vertebra with a rod and screws, hence my stiff back, the metal in there doesn’t give at all. It would have been one thing to only break my back and not actually severe the cord but in my fall, I landed on a pointy rock right at the T-4 and that finished my climbing and walking days. I guess I would have taken just a broken back over an actual Spinal Cord Injury but I wasn’t lucky like that.”
I was intrigued by his explanation and lowered my eyes thinking about this for a moment. Toby took a deep breath and I looked at him shyly.
“Did you have any other injuries?”
“Oh yeah, I was messed up pretty good. I fell about 30 feet down into a crevice, before I landed on a ledge, that broke my fall and with that a bunch of bones in my body. I broke my left leg in a couple of places, because of how I fell; broke a few ribs, broke my left collar bone, both arms and seven fingers. And I hit my head a bunch of times as I tumbled down, but my helmet stayed on at least so I was lucky there. I would’ve been done if I wouldn’t have had my helmet. With the helmet it was only a severe concussion, no actual skull fracture or anything like that. And lots of scrapes and bruises of course.”
My breath came quicker and my heart pounded inside of my chest.
Toby looked from the beer bottle in his hand to me, “Yeah, it all sucked big time.”
I said softly, “I’m sorry; I’m glad you made it out of it.”
Toby had kept his eyes on me and now put his arm out for me to sit next to him.
I hesitantly moved right next to him and he wrapped his arm around me. I held my wine glass in both hands in front of me and stared into it.
He asked softly, “So do you know a lot about Spinal Cord Injuries?”
I didn’t look up and shrugged my shoulders, “Not everything.”
Toby looked at me from the side and stated softly, “Well, every Spinal Cord Injury is different.”
I nestled myself closer to him, “Were you at Harborview?”
“Yes, it took them six hours to get me out of there and they had to get me off the mountain with a helicopter and transported me to Harborview. I stayed there for about six months, surgeries, and rehab and all that stuff.”
I thought of Jordan and how his injury had happened and I debated if I should tell Toby. I also remembered how I had talked to Jordan about these things, but unlike Toby, Jordan had had no idea about the way I felt about men in wheelchairs before he met me.
Toby must have read my mind, because he now asked, “How about Jordan? What was his SCI level?”
“His was at the T-6, but also complete. He didn’t have metal in his back though. He also wasn’t very strong because he was sick a lot.”
Toby nodded next to me, “Yeah, I bet it was pretty rough for him.”
I nodded and my heart hurt when thinking about Jordan. Toby pulled me closer and I nestled myself to him even more.
He asked softly, “Are you all right?”
I looked up at him and we scanned each other for a moment.
Toby shifted next to me, looking at me with his bright green eyes.
He smiled, “Let’s talk about something different, this stuff is too depressing.”
I smiled weakly and nodded. Toby whisked a strand of hair from my face and tugged it behind my ear.
His eyes travelled over my face, “I’m really glad you let me take you out and that you came home with me.”
I didn’t say anything and when I looked at Toby, his expression was questioning.
He softly asked, “I hope you’re okay being here.”
I heard the concern in his voice and I assured him, “Yes, I’m very okay with it.”
Toby nodded, “Good. I don’t want you to feel weird or anything.”
I thought back to what Toby had said earlier at the restaurant about his fiancé Romy and I was curious and questions were running around in my head.
When I didn’t say anything, Toby gently touched my cheek and again his voice sounded insecure, “What are you thinking, Shay?”
I took a deep breath and stammered, “I’m thinking about…what you had…what you had told me about your fiancé and how she was.”
Toby lowered his eyes and looked back up at me, “Yes?”
I took another sip from my glass.
“Like how she was different than other women and liked your…your…”
Toby shifted on the couch and finished my sentence, “My disability?”
I nodded and said with a tremble, “You know it’s not the only…it’s not the only thing I like about you.”
Toby pushed up on the couch and leaned closer, “Look at me Shay.”
I moved my eyes up to him and he smiled and said, “I know that.”
“You know Shay…as much as you probably know about my disability, I probably know that much about women as you are…Romy taught me a lot and let me into this world you move around in.”
I managed a weak smile and he continued, “And it’s the same for me, it’s not the only reason I want to be with you, but of course it’s amazing that I could be that lucky to have met you, a woman who is into me in this way. And as for you, I know it’s not the only thing that has you sitting here next to me, but it’s a good thing that my being in a wheelchair is one of the reasons. This is a good thing, Shay…a very good thing for you and me.”
I had kept my eyes on him and nodded, swallowing the lump in my throat.
His green eyes were bright as he scanned my face, “I’m really happy we met Shay.”
I smiled, “Me too.”
He ran his hand down my hair and said softly, “I don’t want to move too fast or anything. I can feel that…that Jordan was a big deal in your life. Romy was for me too, because she opened up this world to me, being a woman who was actually into this - like the way I am and stuff. My world kind of fell apart when I was told I could never walk again. I wanted to die. If I couldn’t climb anymore, I didn’t know how to keep going. Romy came into my life at the right time and she helped me accept myself like this. She was my wake-up call really.”
My eyes travelled over Toby’s face and I said softly, “Jordan was somewhat the same thing for me, he opened up that part of me that I had tried to push away my whole life, because it didn’t feel right. I will never push it away again. It is who I am.”
Toby nodded, running his fingers through strands of my hair, “It is who you are and I am who I am, so together we’ll be so good, Shay.”
Toby pulled me over, “Sit on my lap.”
I didn’t wait, but climbed over and sat on his lap, my knees next to his hips on the couch. We looked at each other, he rested his hands on my waist and I ran my hand through his hair. My heart was racing and my body trembled.
I leaned down to him and nestled my face next to him, whispering in his ear, “The first moment I saw you, I imagined being like this with you.”
Toby nodded next to my face, his hands ran up and down my back and he replied, “I know and I couldn’t believe that I could be that lucky. You got into my head right away, Shay. I watched you closely and I noticed how you looked at me and I imagined being with you too.”
As I sat there so close to Toby, I had chills on my arms and I pushed myself to him. My lips touched his neck and I gently kissed him right by his ear. Toby flinched next to me but I heard his quick breaths. He was grabbing my butt and held me to him.
I kissed him harder and nibbled on his ear lobe.
He hushed, “It will be so good, you and me.”
Toby pulled my face in front of him, his eyes flickered excited and we fell into a kiss. Sitting on Toby’s lap and thinking about the way he was, his still legs under my thighs, the wheelchair right there in the corner of my eye and knowing what connected us, made my head spin and my heart race. We kissed for a long time and I felt myself falling fast for Toby.
For weeks I had watched him; I had seen him move in his wheelchair; I had noticed the small lifts he did, At the mission I had laughed with everyone when he had shown off, popping wheelies. He was one with his wheelchair and he was everything I wanted and needed. His damaged body fascinated and moved me in all the right ways. It was what I longed for and what I craved with every fiber of my own body.
As I lay in my bed at night, he was the image of my dreams and fantasies, causing my loins to ache and my thighs to heat up.
Whereas my beautiful Jordan was a memory of the deepest love and eternal connection, Toby was alive and present in my life, and had only been an arm’s reach away. I had been indulging in the deep longing for him; I had been drawing out the hunger for him as long as I could; I had been torturing myself with the yearning for him.
Right then and there, a breath of life was breathed into me, awakening my senses and my emotions. Toby’s assertive kissing and his hands running over my body, knowing how his was a broken body, brought me back to life as the woman I really was. I was reborn once again as this special female being, extraordinary in her devotion to a certain type of the male species, a man broken physically, but to me only strong and whole, saturating my hunger and my thirst and with his brokenness fully completing me.