On the second morning of our stay in the little house, it became painfully apparent that bathing was going to be a problem. My brother the handyman had installed metal rails beside the toilet and outside the bath tub. But the tub itself was resistant to accessibility—it was an old claw-footed porcelain thing that was years older than either of us. My uncle had apparently not been very interested in such modern conveniences as showers, and so we’d had to install a shower head on a detachable hose; we put a plastic chair at the back of the tub, but there was no way to anchor it; a bathing bench was out of the question because of the uncommon dimensions of the tub itself as well as the questionable integrity of the structure, which was clearly not designed to support a lot of weight. All this meant that there was no way Bobby could get from the chair to the tub and back by himself; and since he outweighed me by at least fifty pounds, I wasn’t sure how much help I would be.

Bobby sighed and threw his head back to examine the ceiling. The expression on his face was one of sarcastic acceptance and his tone was comically serene when he said. “Of course. Why wouldn’t this be extraordinarily difficult?”

It was nice to see evidence of his sense of humor, even if it was a little twisted in presentation. I smiled at him.

“Shut up—it’s fine.” I climbed out of the bathtub where I’d been examining the plastic chair. “Ok, look, I got it. This is no problem. Are you going to do this fully clothed, or…”

He raised an eyebrow at me, daring me to continue prodding him. I put a hand on my hip and stared back. He pulled off his dirty t-shirt and tossed it into a corner. Then he raised himself up out of the seat with his hands on the armrests as I pulled his pants down. His penis lay still and limp against his thigh, the plastic tube of the indwelling catheter snaking out of its head; I glanced quickly at it and then away, not wanting him to see me looking. I lifted each foot, slipped off the pajama pants he’d been wearing for days and threw them into the corner with the rest of the laundry I’d have to do sooner or later. I replaced his feet on the footrests and, with some difficulty in the tight space, he maneuvered the wheelchair so that he was side by side with the bath tub.

I stood in the tub again, in front of the chair with one knee on it to keep it still and held out a hand to Bobby. He set the brake on the chair and reached for my hand, pushing himself up and over with the other. My whole arm trembled under the effort of supporting half his body weight; our fingers pressed together so tightly we both had pink, splotchy hands. When he was seated, he reached over and lifted his legs in one at a time. I unhooked the shower head from its hook and handed it to him, stepped out of the tub and turned the knobs until he was satisfied. Then I pulled the curtain to and left him alone.

I went into the bedroom and rummaged through the bag I’d packed for him before picking him up at the rehab center.

to be continued....