When he left the lounge he had no idea where he was heading, he just wanted
to get out of the room before Wilson tried to hug him or something. The dopey grin had been bad enough; he didn’t
feel like answering the questions that were sure to follow. When the pain wore off later, he would regret the way he’d
talked to Wilson, but right now he was still too upset to
feel sorry for him.
Everyone treated him like he’d shatter into a thousand
pieces if they blew a fart in his direction. At least if he made them angry, they didn’t fuss. They’d go away
and he could get on with his day. Granted, he wasn’t going to compete in a triathlon any time soon, but he certainly
wasn’t fragile. The resistance and strength training he did kept him in good shape. His physical therapist had told
him it was the only way he could continue to walk with just a cane. There was no way he was going to lose any more than he
He took care of himself. Why everyone thought he was so frail
was beyond comprehension. In strangers that attitude was understandable, but the people he worked with every single friggin’ day should know better. He hadn’t been sick, other than the usual colds and flu,
and hadn’t missed a single day of work since returning. That’s why he just didn’t understand this “mother
hen” response from Wilson. It had become more and more
irritating as the years went by.
When he first returned home from rehab, Wilson made it a habit to check in on him. Jimmy Wilson, Mr. Precision. 7:30 on the way to
work, 11:30 call at lunchtime, 5:30 stop after work. Originally dinner, which was only served at the table, was included in
that stop, but as he began to adjust it was just a quick check-in. After that there was the 8:00 dinner call and then no later
than 11:30 evening call.
As the days went by Wilson
picked up on the fact that nothing changed. The remote for the TV was still on the piano. The book on the end table was still
open to the page it had been that long ago morning. The same album was on the turntable, gathering dust. When questioned he
told Wilson anything plausible that came to mind. But Wilson was always a quick study; he knew there was a problem.
“Bedrooms are for sex and sleeping, dessert not dinner.
If you want something to eat you’ll just have to haul your sorry ass out of there and eat at the table like a normal
person” he would shout from the kitchen.
“Fuck you, my leg hurts” he’d shout back.
“And I’m far from normal.” He damn near jumped off the bed when Wilson
spoke softly from the doorway.
“You need to get something to eat. Do you want help?” It was concern, not pity, but it still bothered him.
“I’m not hungry” was his standard response.
He needed to do this on his own; he was tired of always having an audience. And at first Wilson
gave him some space. Food was disappearing from the refrigerator so he was in no danger of starving to death. But when things
didn’t improve Wilson stepped it up.
“Are you going to hide in here forever?”
“Look, my leg hurts! Just because I’m not out there
doing a jig for you doesn’t mean I’m moping around in here all day.”
“Oh really” with raised eyebrows and a questioning
“Yes. In case you hadn’t noticed I polished the
piano and went down and got the mail.”
“I noticed. And that crippled you up so much you needed
to spend the rest of the day in bed?”
“NO!” He was getting angry. “I sat in the
window and read a little. When I finished I thought I’d play the piano but that damn bench digs into my leg. I could
barely walk across the room.”
crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe. “And walking all the way in here was a much better solution than
sitting in the living room.”
“You’re the one that keeps telling me I need to
move around more” he shot back.
“And by that I meant moving, not walking in here and
going to bed” Wilson pushed.
“I had to pee, okay?! Christ do you need to know every
little detail of my day! I took a crap at 7. Do you want me to save a sample next time? I could start a journal. By the time
I was done I was tired. I took a Vicodin and I laid down.”
“And you’re doing your exercises?” Wilson questioned, with more than a hint of doubt. He glared at Wilson with a look that said ‘How stupid do you think I am?’
but didn’t answer.
“Look, I know what’s going on” the frustration
showed in Wilson’s voice.
“Oh really?” He snapped
He went numb at the mention of her name. Was it that obvious?
“Look I know it hurts. Remember me, Wilson of the Perpetually
Loved and Dumped Society?” He gave a small smile but his eyes showed the hurt he was feeling for his friend.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Shit, why
did he have to bring that up now? He spent the better part of each day trying to stop the memories from overwhelming him.
Looking for any distraction he could find. Why couldn’t Wilson
just leave it alone?
“And hiding in here is going to make it all better?”
Why wouldn’t he just let it go?
“I said I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay. But if you don’t start moving around you’re
going to lose the mobility you have and you’ll either end up in a wheelchair or worse.”
“No, you’re not. You’re not fine. You haven’t
been fine since you got back to this place. You can’t just sit…”
“I haven’t been fine since some hormone filled
intern scanned the wrong leg. Since that blood clot turned my leg into dead weight. I haven’t been fine since I woke
up and found that one little mistake cost me everything! Is that what you want to hear?” He was shouting as he rose
up off the bed. Wilson brought his hand up and began rubbing
the back of his neck.
“And it’s not just Stacy, it’s everything!”
He waved towards the living room. “I go out there and it’s all just a big reminder of what my life was!”
His leg had already begun to ache when Wilson arrived with dinner, but now, sitting up, just that little shift in position and it
throbbed with the beginnings of real pain.
“The bike, my lacrosse stick, the awards,
the pictures, that vase, her keys, EVERYTHING!” Breathing harder he could feel his eyes starting to burn with
tears of anger and frustration. “I can’t even sit at the piano for more than two minutes without this damn leg
screaming for attention! So what’s the point? Does it matter if I sit out there and stare at it all or I come in here
and run it through my mind over and over and over again?!” He looked away,
fighting off the tears.
“It’s not your fault” Wilson replied.
“Fault? Who said anything about
fault? Does it matter? Does it fucking matter at this point?” He glared at Wilson
until he looked away. “You just don’t get it! It’s over, it’s all over!”
The pain had escalated and he was due for a Vicodin.
The pills were in the kitchen but he’d be damned if he was going to ask Wilson
to bring him anything. But as he shift to reach for the cane, just that little extra weight, and the pain exploded. He growled
as he grabbed his thigh and hunched over it. The sound and the sudden movement caught Wilson’s
It wasn’t Wilson’s
fault, it wasn’t anyone’s fault but his own. He had to deal with this on his own, needed
to do this on his own, would deal with it on his own if everyone would just leave him alone.
Wilson placed a hand on his
shoulder and was reaching for his leg before the pain subsided enough for him to realize Wilson
had moved. He swung his arm violently, knocking both of Wilson’s
hands away, and almost fell off the bed. For a brief second the pain increased but the wave of anger that had been building
now crashed over him and washed away the pain.
“What? What are you going to do? Are you going to make
it all better, take away my pain? Give me my life back?”
“You’re life is never going to be the same but…”
“But what?! But I still have
my leg? I can still live a full, happy life? You’ve been spreading that crap so long you don’t even know you’re
lying, do you?”
“You know you can be a real bastard.” Wilson squinted at him, trying to reign in his own anger. “Okay.
You want the truth? Well here it is, if you hadn’t been such a stubborn prick you wouldn’t be in pain right now.
You’d have let them do their job and you’d be back at work right now. But no, you were too vain or too proud or
just too fucking stubborn to give in. To let the doctors do their job. To admit, for once, that you were wrong.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s my fault.”
No one would understand. It was the only choice he had. His anger had drained away as quickly as it had come and left him
weak and tired. Wilson realized what he had just said and
knew there was no way to take it back. No way to make it better.
“I’m sorry” Wilson said, looking at his feet. “I… I know this is tough but…”
“Just go home” he mumbled as he lay back down and
turned his back. He curled up under the blankets and closed his eyes. Wilson
walked away quietly.
They had tied him down and were getting ready to cut off his
leg with an old greasy chainsaw. Bluish smoke puffed out of it as the masked surgeon revved it with apparent relish. Stacy,
Cuddy and Wilson were all standing next to the bed, shadowy
figures crowded behind. They smiled blandly as he pleaded with them to stop but they kept telling him it was for his own good;
that they only had his best interests in mind. He needed to stop struggling, it would just make it
hurt more. As the saw bite into his thigh he woke with a start. The apartment was dark, and his leg was on fire. It was way
past time for another pill. If he didn’t get one soon, he’d be up the rest of the night. Not that it mattered,
he had nowhere to go, and he could sleep all day if he wanted to.
As he rolled over and sat up a hot knife of pain ran along
the scar and he had to sit there a moment and catch his breath. He shouldn’t have yelled at Wilson. It was 10:30 and there was no message on the answering machine. It didn’t mean
anything… did it? Wilson had called as late as 11:30.
He was probably just making up with…shit what was her name?
Knotting his hand into the leg of his sweat pants he helped
his right leg over the edge of the bed. He was still not used to the rush of pain each time he did that but it seemed worse
that night. Maybe Wilson was right. He really needed to move around more than he had been. Needed to push himself harder on his therapy, he
hadn’t come this far to quit.
Several minutes passed and he realized that he needed to get
to the bathroom. The pain had settled to a steady burn so he reached across and grabbed the cane next to the bed. Carefully
avoiding the leg, he brought it over to the left side. Placing his right hand on the nightstand he tightened his grip on the
cane and pushed up, swaying a little before gaining his balance.
He’d just gotten off the crutches last week. The cane
was still new to him and it felt alien and unnatural, like extra baggage. Something he didn’t need but couldn’t
do without. It felt awkward on his good side, like a fair-weather friend that wouldn’t be there when he really needed
it. Neither of his specialties dealt with physical therapy so he had to trust that the therapist knew what she was doing.
But trust was a hard thing for him these days.
Concentrating on moving the damaged leg, he ventured forward
towards the bathroom. The world could be crashing down around him and he would have never known. He had to devote his full
attention to the task of coordinating the movement of the cane and the movement of his legs. Slow and unsteady - he didn’t
want to risk a fall. It took him a full five minutes to navigate the twenty plus feet to the bathroom and he almost pissed
his pant before he could get there. As much as that angered him it was an improvement. A bitter laugh escaped his lips as
he held onto the bar Wilson had installed next to the toilet
and relieved himself. Here he was, a full grown man, happy that he hadn’t wet his pants like a toddler. Add dignity
to the list of things he’d lost.
How many times had that been his whole day? How many times
had he sat on the john, struggled out of wet pants, cleaned up, the pain at an unbearable level? Tears of frustration, anger,
and hurt rolling down his cheeks. Praying that the pain would ease up just a bit, praying that his leg would hold long enough
to get back to the bedroom. Then struggling into a clean pair of pants before Wilson
showed up. So tired he just wanted to pass out but afraid to for fear it would happen again.
But it had been getting better. Generally, it only happened
when he woke up and had to go. It just took too long to get there once the urge was strong enough to wake him. As a result
he noticed he was sleeping lighter and fewer hours at a time. The way the mind and body worked together never ceased to amaze
him. The way it compensated for deficiencies, responded to needs. Doing what needed to be done to assure survival without
the slightest conscious effort. We’re just amused passengers with a delusional belief that we’re in control.
As he washed his hands he studied his face in the mirror. Lines
had appeared at the corners of his eyes and the creases in his forehead had deepened. He could have done a month’s shopping
in the bags under his eyes. Finishing, he stepped back, still looking in the mirror. His once firm and athletic body had been
replaced by a thin, weak copy. Bony shoulders held up the old black t-shirt. Not concentration camp material but thinner nonetheless.
“…you’ll either end up in a wheelchair or
worse.” Wilson’s voice echoed in his head and
sent a shiver down his spine. He turned and left the bathroom as quickly as he could. He was not going to end up in a wheelchair.
Wilson was right, he needed to get moving, keep moving. In
the kitchen, on the table, under his bottle of Vicodin and a glass of water was a note.
“Dinner’s in the fridge. Call me later if you want
to talk. Time doesn’t matter… Jimmy.” He took one of the pills with the full glass of water then turned
to the refrigerator. Peering in, he saw the telltale red and white bag. Chinese- good, he never refused Chinese -it was just
as good hot or cold. Grabbing the bag he turned back to the table. He pulled out the smaller box of fried rice and the eggroll and set them aside. Pulling out the larger box he opened it to see what Wilson had chosen for him. House Lo Mein. He smiled. He couldn’t
help but laugh. House Lo Mein! It felt good to laugh. It really wasn’t funny, not funny at
all. Not a single thing funny about House Lo Mein, which of course, made it even funnier. He had
to sit down.
He wondered if Wilson
had planned that or if it was just a coincidence. It had to be a coincidence because it wasn’t funny. But again he couldn’t
help but chuckle when he thought of it. After removing the wrapper, he devoured the eggroll in three
bites. He wanted to call Wilson but didn’t want to bother
going back to the bedroom just yet. He’d call after dinner.
“At least I’m still coordinated enough to use these”
he mused, as he adjusted the chopsticks. Holding the container under his chin he shoveled in a mouthful.
Half the container was gone before he slowed. The food,
as well as the Vicodin, were doing their work. Relaxed and content, the pain fading into
the background, no longer demanding his attention. He leaned back and continued to eat as he looked out into the living room.
The blue-white light from the streetlamp shown through the window; the deep polished black of the piano absorbed the light
except for the edges, where it sparkled and outlined.
Another mouthful. He traced the lines
with his eyes, counted the keys, felt the vibration of the notes. A melody began to form. He was lost in its depths, chewing
thoughtfully as he sank into the endless black finish. It called to him, begged him to come out and play. He poked the chopsticks
into the remaining Lo Mein and pushed himself up from the table. He had to feel that melody, the
primal vibration of the lows, the exquisite sharpness of the highs, the smooth blending of the middle. He started for the
piano as he had always done, eyes closed, visualizing his fingers on the keys, music filling his head. As he lifted his left
leg to step forward the pain reminded him that he couldn’t do that anymore - not without the cane - not without paying
That surge of pain, fear and adrenaline spanned the years;
his right hand shot out and grabbed the nearest object. His cane clattered to the floor. His heart was pounding. His breath
came in ragged gasps. The remaining muscles in his thigh had tightened to a knot at the memory. A rivulet of sweat ran down
his back and he cursed under his breath. His eyes squeezed shut, waiting for someone to ask if he was alright. Shit, just
what he needed, someone else fussing over him.
As much as it hurt he placed his right foot back down and put
a little weight on it. The sweat beaded up on his forehead and ran down his nose, dripping onto the floor. Shit, shit, shit!
He knew what was coming. He’d open his eyes to worried looks and people moving towards him with concern in their voices
and pity in their eyes. Fuck! He might as well get it over with.
Opening his eyes, he looked around. The hall was empty. The
leg gave one last twitch to remind him who was boss then slowly started to relax. He pivoted on his left foot and leaned against
the wall, still grasping the handle to the wheelchair that had been parked in the right place at the right time. His breathing
slowed as the cramp subsided.
After a few moments he tentatively put more weight on the leg.
It didn’t cramp up, it hurt like hell and it felt like he had a rock between the bone and the remaining muscle but it
held. He shifted to his left leg and picked up his cane. He needed to get to a chair and wait on the Vicodin.
Going back to his office was not an option though. It was too close to lunchtime and the ducklings would be gathered. He still
didn’t want to deal with them.